Tuesday 27 July 2010 | Recipes feed


Stylish suppers from an Aga queen

Amy Willcock shows us how to throw the perfect dinner party.

 of  Images
Stylish suppers from an Aga queen: a plate of antipasto is varied enough to tempt everyone
Dip in: a plate of antipasto is varied enough to tempt everyone Photo: CHRISTOPHER JONES
Stylish suppers from an Aga queen: Bunny Cove and Amy Willcock
Bunny Cove and Amy Willcock Photo: CHRISTOPHER JONES
Stylish suppers from an Aga queen: Fillet of beef with peppercorn and coriander crust
Fillet of beef with peppercorn and coriander crust Photo: CHRISTOPHER JONES

Amy Willcock, better known as the queen of Aga cooking, has turned her attention to dinner parties. Along with her friend Bunny Cove, who used to work in fashion, she is running demonstrations in her Isle of Wight home on how to throw the perfect celebration supper.

At a time when paying for a party in a restaurant seems extravagant, a splendid dinner at home is the perfect solution, and easy enough for a girlfriend. So I set Willcock and Cove a trickier challenge: birthday dinner – for George Clooney.

Unfazed, they arrive joshing like Trinny and Susannah, laden with food and advice. Willcock is in charge of the food while Cove shows how to decorate the table (bunches of herbs and salad leaves, cheaper and less girlie than flowers) to create stylish effects.

It seems it's about the whole show, not just a meal on the table. Willcock agrees. "The cooking isn't the most important thing. It's the atmosphere and warmth that matter. Don't attempt to cook more than two courses. If you can't make it better than you can buy it, then buy it."

Our first course is charcuterie, roast vegetables, olives, artichokes and breadsticks all from a good local deli. Willcock rumples each piece of ham delicately before laying it on a huge platter. "Arranging food well is very important. It needs to have texture."

"And height," adds Cove. "Cake stands are great for lifting dishes and flower arrangements, and they create more space on the table."

The cocktails, a tangy, refreshing mixture of Moscato d'Asti and fresh lime juice, are poured, and the guests arrive. "Where's George?" cries Willcock. "I'm afraid it's just me," says my husband Richard, sheepishly. "Even better," says Cove, the perfect hostess.

  • Amy Willcock's "On The Table" demonstrations cost £25.50 for two hours, including coffee, recipe sheets and tasters (01983 760331; www.amywillcock.co.uk for dates).

Amy Willcock's tips on how to be a good host:

  • Lay the table and then sit down to check the guest's eye view. ''It's vital, like sleeping in your own spare room every now and then,'' she says.
  • Polish glasses. They'll really sparkle in the candlelight.
  • Put glasses and drinks (a bottle of wine is fine) on a tray, ready before the first guest arrives.
  • Don't feel that the table plan has to alternate between men and women. It's more important that people get on.
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