When you’re at a house or apartment party, where do you end up spending most of your time hanging out? The living room is the heart of the party, a place to play it safe, where the music is loudest, there are plenty of people to mingle with and there’s a spot on the couch you can sink into if you’re feeling like staying out of the spotlight. Bedrooms are reserved for casual drunken hook-ups and intense smoking sessions where passionate opinions are traded amongst small groups of insiders. Bathrooms are the domain of sniffers, scopers and those who just need to lie down in the tub and close their eyes for a minute. The real hot-spot at any party, where the action takes place, is the kitchen.
There are some pretty clear reasons why the kitchen party is the place to be. The fridge is in there, so you’re always close to your supply of cold beverages. Everyone else from anywhere on the party map has to come through the kitchen to grab or refill their own drinks, giving you a chance to mingle with a constantly cycling cavalcade of partygoers without having to wander the premises. Obviously, if there is any food at this party, the kitchen is also the origin point of it being trafficked around, so you get first dibs on whatever kind of tiny sandwiches or stuffed appetizers there might be.
The history of the kitchen party is a rich and complex one, with roots in the decadent balls held by the European nobility in the late 18th century. Some of the more brash and adventurous youth of the upper echelon made the discovery that while their parents and colleagues were adorning themselves with powdered wigs and throwing stuffy, self-serving dinner parties, the kitchen and waiting staff of their grand manors were secretly reveling in raucous festivities of their own, on bellies full of pilfered wine and pastry. Already bored with the scandalous waltz that was still titillating their elders to no end and still several years away from the first “Carnival of Carnality” hosted by Sir Edmund F. Orgy, it became common practice for the young socialites to disguise themselves as bawdy scullions and wenches and join the celebrations in the bowels of the mansion’s kitchen.
The kitchen party has come a long way since these auspicious beginnings, and, like those first, intrepid party trailblazers, it takes a certain bold kind of partygoer to stand the heat of the kitchen. Only one with the constitution, charisma, and candor to tackle any conversational subject matter or wild eruption of shot-fuelled bacchanalia can survive. The kitchen is a tank of sharks, circling around each other, waiting to chew on whatever comes along to test its mettle. There is nowhere to hide in the harsh, unforgiving kitchen light, no dimly-lit corner in which to seek refuge that you would find in, say, a den, porch, or linen closet.
This noble tradition is being carried on today by stalwart champions of the cuisine, but what lies ahead? With kitchens becoming more compact and efficient, the natural staging area of the stove-side soiree is being reduced. This, coupled with the growing number of young people who are beginning to fancy themselves experts despite a staggering lack of knowledge or experience on the subject, is ensuring that kitchen partying is quickly becoming a dangerous practice. There have been reports of massive raves held in industrial sized commissaries and cafeterias. A rising trend of kitchen-related violence as a rite of passage in hip-hop culture has led some to believe that it’s an outdated and barbaric form of partying. Eggbeater related injuries and deaths are at an all-time high.
But there is still some hope for the continued practice of this storied mainstay of carousal. A movement to preserve the history and carry on the legacy of the kitchen party ideals has begun to rise. Some on the vanguard of the movement to restore dignity to the kitchen party have taken it to its next logical step, moving from the kitchen in general to cupboards, dishwashers and vegetable crispers. Stories of grassroots festivals breaking out at Crate & Barrel stores are becoming commonplace. One thing that is abundantly clear is that as long as there are kitchens, there will be kitchen parties. And as long as there are kitchen parties, I’ll be peeing in your sink.
Photo by Johnny Scott