Skye McAlpine on the joy of cooking for sharing & why she’ll always call Italy home

Skye McAlpine - cook, author, columnist and founder of tableware collection, Tavola, inspires us to cook from the heart and entertain without fuss. Her family moved to Venice when she was a young girl and it is where her heart remains despite being largely based in London with her husband and sons.

The author of two cookbooks - A Table in Venice and A Table For Friends, Skye's cooking and entertaining style is influenced by the Italian way of making an "art of simplicity and celebrating it". As she tells us, "the best meals never feel fussy or pretentious, but are always warm, generous and welcoming."

Here we chat with Skye about the joy of cooking for sharing, the inspiration behind her tableware brand Tavola, her desert island ingredients, her favourite places in Venice and how fuss-free entertaining is what our friends really want...

On growing up in Venice
My family moved to Venice when I was six years old and it’s been home ever since. Now, I divide my time between London where my husband works and Venice where my heart lies

On an Italian / English upbringing and the love of sharing meals
It’s impossible to grow up in Italy, I think, and not love food… My parents always ran our kitchen as an open kitchen when I was growing up and we always had friends (new friends, old friends, friends-of-friends who might have been passing through town…) join us for lunch and for dinner. In retrospect, I think it was a way of building a family and a community in a new home. So, I think I grew up with the belief that food is always more meaningful than the sum of its ingredients and that meals always taste better when shared with others… When I left home to go to university in the UK and for the first time I had access to a kitchen I could call my own, is when I really learned to cook and I started hosting my own little (and fairly chaotic) dinner parties… And I’ve never stopped! Sharing food with friends, cooking for them and indulging in their company, is one of my greatest pleasures in life.
On her cookery journey and cooking for a crowd
I’m not a trained chef - I’ve just taught myself to cook from cookbooks and from watching others do it. So, I’m not especially skilled - anyone who has seen me chop an onion would tell you that! But I do love cooking for a crowd - I love meals to be welcoming and chaotic, with children and grown-ups and everyone else in between gathered round the table… And over time, I’ve developed a way of cooking, a repertoire of recipes, that allow me to cook something that feels special, that I can be proud and excited to share with others but that isn’t stressful to put together, and that I can practically do while balancing the busy business of work and everyday life. Most of those recipes are gathered together in A Table for Friends - I wanted to write a cookbook that helped make cooking for the people you love something fun and enjoyable to do rather than stressful in any way.

A favourite recipe for... feeding a crowd and for a dinner date for two
At this time of year, as it’s getting a bit colder, I love to make the confit duck pie if I’m cooking for a crowd: you basically layer shredded confit duck leg meat (which you can buy ready-cooked in tins) in a roasting tray and top it with creamy mashed potato, peppered with little pieces of sweet apple and raisins. It’s THE most delicious thing, so simple to make, but also you can make it up to a couple of days in advance and store it, covered in the fridge - then all you need to do is pop it in the oven before serving. It’s also so deliciously rich, you don’t need much more than a good green salad to go with it.
For two… I love either the spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce or the tagliatelle with Gorgonzola, walnut and pear. Super quick and easy and super yummy.

On the inspiration behind the launch of Tavola
I love laying the table and making it feel beautiful and special, even if supper is going to be something as simple as scrambled eggs on toast or fish fingers and a green salad. I love how however messy and chaotic your home feels, however much it feels like the world around you is spinning out of control, you can create a haven of peace, a beautiful special space at your kitchen table. I also live by the belief that you do eat (partly at least) with your eyes, so if you can toss some mozzarella and juicy tomatoes or a simple pasta made with shop-bought pesto sauce onto a beautiful serving dish, rather than eating it from the pan or any old thing, then suddenly you have a meal that feels very special. And so Tavola was born out of that: many of the designs are inspired by vintage plates or pieces that I’ve long wanted to own (like the perfect white plate with a simple coloured edging to give it a pop of interest) that I couldn’t find in the shops and really wanted for my own table…

On what Italians do best with their cooking and entertaining...
I think the way Italians make art of simplicity and celebrate it is hugely inspiring. The best meals never feel fussy or pretentious, but are always warm, generous and welcoming… And somehow, that’s what I associate with eating in Italy

What should every host have ready to hand in the kitchen?
A tub of really good ice cream and ground coffee, so if you’re pressed for time you can make ice cream affogato (where you pour a splash of hot coffee over a scoop of ice cream) for pudding. Everyone loves it and it’s zero effort. If you wanted to go that extra mile, you could pop some extra topping bits (like chocolate flakes and a tub of salted caramel sauce - there’s a really good, super easy recipe for that in A Table for Friends) on the table and everyone can make their own ice cream Sundaes - that’s always the best fun

"However much it feels like the world around you is spinning out of control,
you can create a haven of peace, a beautiful special space 
at your kitchen table."
Skye McAlpine

Best tip for entertaining?
Keep things as simple as you can; don’t cave to the pressure of feeling that you need to put on a show for friends - all anyone wants is to come and spend time with you and feels so lucky to be in your home - you could serve baked potatoes and salad, followed by ice cream and they would be over the moon (I know I would); and leave the washing up until the next morning - no one wants to end a happy evening doing the washing up

What makes a beautifully laid table for guests?
Beyond the obvious plates, cutlery, glasses, etc… I think a few bud vases with some flowers in them make a big difference and instantly signal ‘this is a special meal’; candles because everyone and everything looks glamorous by candlelight (we have these really pretty candlesticks at Tavola that are made in clear Murano glass and shimmer so prettily by candlelight); and proper linen napkins - because nothing feels so luxurious to touch as a proper napkin

“Sharing food with friends, 

cooking for them and indulging in their company, 
is one of my greatest pleasures in life…” 
Skye McAlpine

3 favourite pieces from Tavola?
We just brought out a new collection of plates - the ‘Lido’ plates - they’re made based on a 1950s design with a really pretty scalloped edge and come in pink and yellow, the colours of my kitchen. I absolutely love them. We also do these really cute ‘Tutti Frutti’ jugs - they’re hand-painted moulded ceramic with cherries or strawberries or lemons on them. They’re super cute and look great with flowers with them, as well as to serve drinks. I also use my ‘Fragola’ mug with i handpainted strawberry design on it, daily

3 desert island ingredients?
SO tricky! I love chocolate, so I would have to take a good supply of that with me - I feel like somehow if you have chocolate you can always throw together a good pudding of some kind; pasta; and a good chunk of cheese

3 favourite haunts in Venice?
I love breakfast at Rosa Salva - they do delicious, freshly baked pastries and unbelievably good host chocolate. I love Al Covo for a special meal - the food there is exquisite and I literally have dreams about their fried zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and mint. And I love Il Bacaro del Gelato for ice cream - they do a dark chocolate ice cream topped with pistachio butter which is to die for.

Other favourite places in Italy?
I always love spending time in Rome; and in the summertime, we love going to the Amalfi coast for sunshine, swimming and lots of yummy food

What’s next for Skye McAlpine?
I’m working on another cookbook at the moment which I’m super excited about; and also working on lots of new designs for Tavola which are coming out over the coming months…

Skye shares an autumnal recipe for a 'Super Simple Chocolate & Marscapone Tart' here.

Let’s play favourites ...
Flower - peony
Scent / Fragrance - Vilhelm Parfumerie’s Lilac
Travel destination - Marrakech
Place in England - Oxford
Book - The Secret History
Podcast - Past Imperfect
Wellness ritual - yoga, when I can… Failing that, long walks in the park when I’m in London or by the waterside when I’m in Venice
Colour - pink
Music - Elton John classics
Muse - my girlfriends
Season - summer
Restaurant / Meal - tagliolini gratin followed by torta all meringata and chocolate ice cream at Harry’s Dolci in Venice
Era or decade - 1950s
Time of day - early in the morning
Quote - 'Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life'


See more at Skye McAlpine Tavola and follow Skye at @skyemcalpine