There are several different games I play with family and friends. Most of them have to do with music or food. “Name the top three most important Beatles albums in order.” “Who is the ‘best’ American rock-and-roll band of all-time?” “Name your top three restaurant meals.” The queries are endless. Everyone has an opinion about music and food and everyone believes their taste is better than everyone else’s.
One of the dinner table games I enjoy is about an actual dinner table. I often ask people: “If you could invite six people in all of history to sit and have a meal with you, who would they be?” I love this game.
A dozen years ago I wrote a column about “ultimate dinner guests.” The column eventually made it into my first coffee table cookbook with Wyatt Waters. My list changes often, but back then the list of dinner guests included Louis Armstrong, Willie Morris, Muddy Waters, Paul McCartney, Shelby Foote, and Winston Churchill. That’s actually an excellent list of guests that would foster stimulating dinner conversation, but it is different from the list I would compile today.
There are two rules: You can’t have historical religious figures and no family members are allowed. If those rules weren’t in affect, most would choose the leader of their faith as a dinner guest. I surely would. Being a Wesleyan-leaning protestant, Jesus would be the perfect dinner guest. There would be do doubt who would deliver the pre-meal blessing, and if anyone got tripped up on a historical, philosophical, or trivia questions Jesus would be the go-to guy. I don’t think he’d be picky about the menu either. He’d be happy to eat whatever he created. If we ran out of food, he could create loaves and fishes with the snap of a finger. There would be no need to go to the liquor store for wine— just bring Jesus some water, he’s got it covered.
If I were Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, the same would apply (though it might be smart to sit in front of the Buddha if you want seconds). I would seat Gandhi next to The Buddha which should even things out.
If family members were allowed my father and paternal grandfather whom I never really knew would certainly be there. I would also invite other grandparents who helped raise me. Selfishly, the dinner conversation would be monopolized by questions of my father that I was never able to ask. That is why family isn’t included in the game. It’s too personal. Whereas, that would be my dinner of a lifetime, it would be boring to an outsider because it’s all about me.
This game is about creating stimulating dinner conversation. Da Vinci, Beethoven or Mozart would be a blast, but I’d have to waste another seat at the table for an interpreter. I am a huge football fan, but I can’t think of any player, past or present, that I would have in my final group of six.
The list is ever changing, but today if I were asked to compile a dream list of six dinner guests in all of history the list would include John Lennon, Mark Twain, Muddy Waters, Benjamin Franklin, Louis Armstrong, and Cameron Crowe.
Paul McCartney made the published list a decade ago, but I have read and seen so many of his interviews since then, I feel he has probably answered most of the questions I would ask. Plus he’s a vegetarian and I would be serving my grandmother’s leg of lamb. Lennon, I believe, would stir up more stimulating dinner conversation (Yoko would have to stay home).
Mark Twain was brilliant, talented, and witty. Almost every word from his mouth was a pearl. I would imagine that in this group he would lead the conversation. Whereas Twain would drop witticism by the pound load, Ben Franklin would dispense clever advice in his own manner. He could also speak in first-person detail about the days surrounding this country’s founding. Franklin would also love today’s craft beer scene.
Muddy Waters would talk about how the blues were created and Louis Armstrong could wax poetically about being there at the birth of jazz and touring through all of its incarnations for over 50 years.
My ultimate dinner guest would be Cameron Crowe. As a kid I didn’t want to be an NFL quarterback or an astronaut. I wanted to be Cameron Crowe. At 16-years old, Crowe, as a journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, went out on the road for weeks at a time with all of the major rock bands of the day. I read his work and dreamed of living the life he lived in the early and mid 1970s. Today he writes and directs movies, one of which, Almost Famous, is my all-time favorite movie, and is a fictional telling of his early life as a rock journalist.
Who would your six guests be? Tweet your reply to @robertstjohn #sixdinnerguests, post it on Facebook or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Interesting lists and guests will be featured in a future column.
Leg of Lamb with Raspberry Mint Chutney
Preheat oven to 375
1 Leg of Lamb, bone in, about 6-7 pounds
12 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbl fresh chopped rosemary
1 Tbl fresh chopped thyme
3 Tbl kosher salt
1 Tbl fresh ground black pepper
Using a paring knife, cut 12 small pockets, spread out in the lamb leg.
Insert one clove of garlic into each pocket.
Rub the leg with the olive oil, the rub the herbs, salt and pepper over the leg.
Place the lamb in a large roasting pan, and place it in the preheated oven.
Roast for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and continue to bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes to achieve a medium- medium well temperature. If using a thermometer, it should register 155 degrees.
Remove from the oven and allow the lamb to rest for 10 minutes. The temperature of the lamb will rise a few degrees while resting. Slice thinly around the bone and serve.
Raspberry Mint Chutney
1 Tbl olive oil
1 /2 cup shallots, minced
1 Tbl garlic, minced
1 Tbl fresh ginger, minced fine
2 tsp curry powder
1 /4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 /2 cup sherry
3 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup mint jelly
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp water
1 /2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbl fresh mint, chopped
In a small sauce pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and cook shallots 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger and seasonings, and cook 3-4 more minutes, stirring often. Do not let garlic brown. Deglaze with sherry and reduce by half.
Stir in 2 cups of the raspberries, chicken broth and bay leaf and simmer 15-20 minutes, until reduced by half. Stir in mint jelly and cook three minutes more, stirring constantly. Dissolve the cornstarch with the 2 teaspoons of water and stir it into the simmering sauce. Allow the sauce to thicken then remove from the heat and strain. Stir in the vinegar, fresh mint and remaining cup of raspberries.
Serve at room temperature.