Born in London but brought up in Tuscany, Italy, Amber Guinness learned to cook at her mother’s side in the kitchen at Arniano, the farmhouse restored by her parents Jasper and Camilla. While at university she started working in her spare time as a cook for private events and photoshoots.
In 2014, she co founded the Arniano Painting School, with her friend, the artist William Roper-Curzon. The courses, residential painting holidays, centering around creativity and food, keep the house in Tuscany feeling alive and vibrant, with William teaching guests to oil paint, and Amber cooking delicious meals for all.
Here she shares with us her outdoor dining ideas for a relaxed and effortlessly stylish lunch with guests.
'There is nothing I love more than cooking for lots of people, which is what I do at The Arniano Painting School – and it is also the subject of my new cookbook A House Party in Tuscany. Arniano is my childhood home near Siena, which my parents bought in 1989, where they would regularly cook for a cohort of guests when I was growing up. Nowadays we host week-long painting retreats at the house,' tells Amber.
A terrace with far reaching views is the most perfect spot to invite guests to take a seat for pre-dinner aperitifs.
'I try to emulate the hospitality my parents were famous for, while up to 15 guests capture the beautiful surrounding landscape on canvas,' she says.
Layered linens, garden flowers and mismatched plates bring life to the table under the vines, with candlelight for when day turns to night.
'Cooking two meals a day for 15 people sounds daunting but is in fact very rewarding. I love seeing the happy faces of our painters as they come in from their easels to see what feast awaits them, before sitting together to chat about the day over a plate of spaghetti and a glass of wine.
'It’s the same joy I’ve always had when cooking for friends and family, and over the years I have strived to remove all unnecessary stresses from hosting that make it seem more frightening than it really is.'
'Eight years ago, after our first painting course, I began keeping a note of particularly successful meals, as the menu is the first thing I start with when planning any gathering. These are an invaluable resource to refer back to for inspiration.
'My folder of recipes and menus, tattered and covered in food stains, was the starting point for my book and I have recreated my favorite menus at the end of each chapter to hopefully provide inspiration to others.'
'When it comes to entertaining, preparation is key. And as someone who is naturally quite chaotic, I find that drawing up a plan and a shopping list helps me to relax and remain in control. I know I will have so much more fun if the food prep is (on the whole) done.
'If I have laid the table, done all the chopping and prep long before anyone arrives while listening to the radio, I find that cooking and assembling just before dinner is much less stressful and time-consuming.'
'The same goes for having everything ready for when the guests arrive for drinks o’clock. So ensuring the ice bucket is full and the ingredients for whatever drinks we are serving are sitting ready along with some delicious titbits.
' This way I can avoid having to imitate a jack-in-the-box, jumping up and down to get more ice, snacks or drinks.'
Letting guests serve themselves is a cornerstone of easy entertaining.
'Timing is everything, so having even a vague idea of how long everything takes is hugely helpful. Start with the time you want to eat and work backwards. How long will each element of the meal take and what can you get away with making in advance?
'If you don’t have the luxury of time, go easy on yourself and cook something straightforward. Home cooking is all about being with friends and family, so it is vital for the host to have a nice time, too. The aim is always for the host stay relaxed and enjoy themselves, as when they do, things tend to fall into place.'
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Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, Channel4.com/4homes. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she has also taken on the editorship of the magazine.
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