For recipe developer, columnist, and hostess extraordinaire Skye McAlpine, home isn’t so much a distinct place as a feeling, and one that is strongest when she gathers the people she loves most around a table with a brilliantly understated meal. As someone who splits her time between London and Venice, she finds entertaining to be the best way to settle back into either home and make it feel like hers again, though she hesitates to use that specific word to describe it.
“Entertaining is short-hand for having friends over,” McAlpine says. “I just don’t like the word because it has all these connotations and pretentions and obligations, like you need to put on a show for your friends when you just want to enjoy being in their company.” And now that the home still feels like the safest place to gather for the foreseeable future, the art of effortless entertaining is more important than ever to master.
The dinner parties of McAlpine and many of today’s popular counterparts—think Alison Roman, Athena Calderone, Jenni Kayne—embody this next-generation of the millennial “hostess with the mostest:” one who is less focused on wowing guests with her culinary prowess and massive china collection and more concerned about the quality and seasonality of her ingredients, showcasing a few unique tableware finds (albeit with an irresistibly Instagram-able aesthetic), and, ultimately, that her guests are having a damn good time.
“We all lead very busy lives, and we’ve needed to grow up slightly from this feeling that entertaining is all about putting on a show or putting out restaurant-style food,” McAlpine says. “For me, it’s really about simplicity, choosing recipes and foods with minimum effort and maximum impact. There’s nothing more delicious than a homemade roast chicken and potatoes with a big salad. It’s very simple to do, and it’s so joyful when someone cooked that for you, specifically in their own home.”
McAlpine’s second book, A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two to Twenty (available for preorder now and debuting July 28), helps readers master the art of simple, sophisticated entertaining so they can feel confident enough to host a dinner party anytime the fancy strikes. The collection of 100-plus recipes pays homage to McAlpine’s unique upbringing, split between Italy and England, along with her husband’s Australian heritage. The book also features McAlpine’s quirky collection of swoon-worthy vintage tableware, which you can replicate, thanks to her new collab with Anthropologie, and vignettes of her historic Italian home.
“The recipes in this book are all ones that I cook often at home, ones that I love to cook and eat,” she says. “I focused on choosing ones that lend themselves well to a crowd. There are a lot of recipes you can make ahead—at least a majority of the recipe—and ones that are forgiving if your guests aren’t on time.”
However, this book is more than just a cookbook. It’s a thorough guide to throwing a successful dinner party from start to finish and helps you redefine what “successful” hosting looks like. She offers guidance on how to plan a menu, schedule your cooking with the time you have available, and serve the right amount of food, whether it’s for an intimate gathering or dinner party that’s bursting at the seams. It’s a book you will not only ogle over page after page, it will become a bible for entertainers of all styles and creeds.
“Building a menu is all about how many people you have coming, how much time you have available to cook, and how much time you’re realistically willing to dedicate,” McAlpine says. “If you’re having lots of people over, choose dishes that are really simple, not just in the number of steps, but in effort. For example, avoid dishes that require a lot of chopping for a huge party, and consider a blend of no- or low-cook recipes.”
When McAlpine is curating a menu for a dinner party, she’s less concerned with what’s going to impress, but rather what she would be excited to eat, what would make her feel comforted and happy. One of her favorite ways to serve food is in big dishes at the center of the table, which she says naturally invites everyone to dig in and converse with those seated next to them.
“If you can make it easier to cook for friends, you’ll do it often, and that’s what I want to do for people: boost their confidence and inspire them to do it more often using what you have, with an emphasis on the people around you.”
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