September 3, 2021
Wine & Dine

A mid-century soiree: The table is set

Frock up in your finery, grab a coupe of sparkling wine and step into the home of Cath Kerry and Roger Vincent for tonight’s dinner party.

Catherine Kerry is very particular about the way she hosts her guests. There is etiquette to follow to ensure the night runs as smoothly as possible.

“I’ve got very strong ideas on why people gather and how to throw a dinner party,” Cath says.

“I have ideas on what makes the best guest and the absolute faux pas. One is not telling the host about dietary requirements. I’ve had people tell me they eat everything and then I serve oysters and it turns out they don’t eat oysters.”

Cath, a former professional cook, says those in the industry are fanatical about wanting to please people. “My aim is to make everyone happy,” she says.

Catherine Kerry with a glass of the very special Daosa Blanc de Blancs.

Cath was born in France to a French mother and English father, before moving to her father’s homeland, and then coming to Australia as 10-pound Poms.

“They originally had a farm in Algeria and my mother was a great cook and my father loved eating. There were other Englishmen after the war who married Europeans and didn’t like the foreign food, but my father really loved it.

“When we came to Australia and went down Hindley Street, we were able to buy all this food that we couldn’t get in England.

“My father gave me a great sense of confidence; I was never, ever ashamed of being a migrant or of my mother having an accent. We were never ashamed of who we were and that was the greatest gift he ever gave me.”

Tonight’s menu features roasted capsicum and cherry tomatoes, and Barossa “boudin noir”.

Cooking with her mother gave Cath a passion for food and that very quickly morphed into a love for food history and correct etiquette. “Something I really loathe is when someone walks in and asks if they can do anything to help. Don’t they know I’ve just spent two days working on this so that every last sprig of parsley is done?”

Another faux pas is inattention to punctuality, and that goes for the host, not just the guests.

“The biggest compliment that was ever paid to me once was a guest who said they weren’t aware that I’d ever left the table.

“Although I’m an accomplished cook and technically proficient, what I aim to do is something that people don’t know I’ve done. When people come over, I like everything out of the kitchen. It’s all tucked away. You’d hardly know I’d done a thing because I don’t want anyone to feel guilty.”

True to her word, in the hour before her guests arrive, Cath could simply sit and twiddle her thumbs if she wanted to.

“Control freak” generally isn’t a term you’d associate with the host of a fun-filled night, but Cath’s domination over the minute details is executed in such an unassuming way that it only adds to the good time.

Every ingredient has been prepared, sitting in wait in its own bowl, ready to be sprinkled, drizzled or thrown into sizzling oil. As Cath says, “I’m not Jamie Oliver, my guests haven’t come here to watch me chop an onion.”

Sitting on the kitchen bench in her original mid-century modern home is a notepad that reveals how Cath has been spending her day. The to-do list has a strikethrough on every item.

Former National Portrait Gallery director Angus Trumble relaxes in the sunken lounge of the original mid-century home.

For Roger, the sign of a good evening is intelligent conversation. “We had a dinner party here a little while ago and there were eight of us,” Roger says.

“COVID and Donald Trump weren’t mentioned once by anyone at the table and it was a time when everyone was talking about those things. I think that is a sign of serious sophistication.”

At 7pm sharp, the guests begin to file in and there’s not a thing for Cath to do, other than give her undivided time and attention. The evening begins with the pop of a cork from a magnum of Terre a Terre Daosa Blanc de Blancs. The bottle is from one of tonight’s guests, Dick Wilson, a retired doctor and current grape grower.

Cath met Dick when she was working as a chef at the Bridgewater Mill and Dick was growing grapes for Brian Croser. Dick has brought along his wife, Liz, who is part of the gastronomy book club that Cath started.

The sunken lounge area of the Fitzroy home is the perfect place to enjoy drinks.

Happening upon the scene, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled across a 1950s cocktail soiree.

Cath and Roger have maintained the charm of the home, which was originally owned by Czechoslovakian immigrants, Josef and Vera Jarosik.

The warmth of the Carey Gully stone complements the cedar wall panelling, and colourful accents take it all firmly into mid-century. The tones of the green carpet and orange furniture are echoed in the colourful windows that look out to the rambling front garden.

Cath says pappadums are an excellent nibble with drinks.

The carpet is one of the only things to be changed over the years. It was looking a bit threadbare, but Cath went to lengths to replace it with a similar green tone, in an age where creams and taupes were almost the only carpets on offer.

The couple also removed a bar in the corner after furniture designer Khai Liew – while at a dinner party at the home – remarked that it was pointless without a fridge. Cath’s brother ripped it out there and then.

A wistful tune plays over the stereo system tonight. The fingers on the piano belong to Tom Vincent, Roger’s son, an internationally-renowned jazz musician turned Buddhist monk, who now lives in Hobart.

Cath’s friend Megan Black – who she met through Megan’s husband, her long-time friend and one of the founders of Circus Oz, David Black – remarks on being punctual.

A guest list that gels well is an imperative.

“I was worried we’d be late; I know how much Cath likes her guests to be on time,” Megan laughs.

Joining the other guests is food personality Rosa Matto, who was at the home earlier in the day helping Cath julienne beetroot, and former director of the National Portrait Gallery, Angus Trumble. Still a Canberran, Angus is back in Adelaide doing a talk for the Association of Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Societies.

Cath and Angus met when Cath ran the Art Gallery of
South Australia’s restaurant and Angus was the curator of European art.

While at the National Portrait Gallery, Angus received the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at an event. “They had just been to an overcrowded event and he looked like thunder,” Angus says. “I sent them to my office upstairs, which is private, so they could decompress.”

As everyone sips the exceptional sparkling from the Holmegaard coupe glasses, they nibble on pappadums, a pre-dinner snack Cath says goes perfectly with drinks.

Just beyond the group, the dinner table is set. To most people, laying out the cutlery and crockery is just another chore to be done, but it’s Cath’s greatest passion.

She owns 11 dinner sets and talks animatedly about each one, noting details about the years they were produced, the history behind the patterns and how she came to be in possession of them.

Tonight’s entree set is Danish porcelain manufacturer, Bing & Grondahl. The plates were made around 1950 and Cath has combined two patterns. On them, Cath will serve roasted capsicum with cherry tomatoes.

The wine and conversation flow freely in the Kerry/Vincent household.

The water glasses aren’t all quite matching either. Of the eight glasses, two were a gift from Cath’s friend, renowned ballet dancer Meryl Tankard.

As for the dinner set, the 1910 Wedgwood plates are warming in the charming Magic Maid. On them will be a Barossa boudin noir with apple and beetroot. To finish, it’s a shiraz jelly with crème anglaise and berries.

As Cath stands at her button-padded vinyl breakfast bar, with a backdrop of burgundy splashback tiles, she taps her temple and remarks, “I’m actually living in the ’50s up here.”

The chef is not a fan of modern gadgets, but revels in the useful kitchen contraptions that made life in the mid-century that little bit easier. She has dishes that are specifically crafted to hold asparagus, artichoke and oysters.

When the table is littered with bread crumbs after the cheese course – remnants of the fougasse bread from Muratti – she’ll use the little crumb sweeper to whisk them away.

But as beautiful a table as Cath conjures, she loves nothing more than to find it scattered with the debris of a fun night as the hours creep on.

Another big sin of the host is washing up while guests are still there. So once everyone’s gone, the dishes are left untouched, patiently waiting for tomorrow.

“I never wash up at night because I like to try a few wines and the last thing I want to do is face a load of washing up. If I’m tired, I can damage things.

“And if I have it in my head that I have this washing up to do, it’s a kind of bad karma. I just want to enjoy the night.

“The next day, I just quietly play with my things and it’s really lovely to get them all together, wash them, and put them all away. It’s a lovely feeling to connect and you think of the dinner and all the things people said.

“I get as much pleasure out of it the next day.”

This story first appeared in the July 2021 issue of SALIFE magazine.


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