Trade secrets of professional party-thrower to the glitterati, The Hill Food Company
Feeling a bit rusty after a hosting hiatus?
We’ve enlisted professional help from Georgia Doherty, Leith’s-trained chef and founder of The Hill Food Company, which throws lunches and dinners for everyone stylish; from Vogue to Ganni to Anya Hindmarch. She shares her secrets to unflappable hosting and making sure your dinner party is remembered for all the right reasons...
How do you go about planning a dinner party?
I always start with the guests when designing the evening. I keep dinner parties fairly small because I don’t have a huge amount of space. Also, as my job is cooking for hundreds at a time, a small dinner at home is a nice chance to actually chat...
Then I think about what I feel like cooking and what’s seasonal. I always do sharing platters in the middle of the table because it’s the easiest and nicest way to cook.
The format would be; a drink I’ve made, like a jug of margaritas or a cocktail with some snacks, followed by a main with some nice natural wine. I almost always do 2 courses. If you have snacks then you really don’t need 3 and it’s too much washing up.
Canapes or snacks don't need to be formal. Put out a tray of lovely Lovely English cured meats of fish and bread or really good crisps and olives and let people help themselves. I cook for a living and I’ve learnt that simplicity and good quality ingredients are always a sure-fire hit. For the main course I often roast a chicken with big bowls of seasonal salads, barley or roasted potatoes with things from the garden and lots of herbs. Then I make 2 or three sauces to have on the side with whatever is best at my local market.
What are the secret touches that a host can add to make sure the dinner goes down as top notch?
A dinner party shouldn’t be too formal. Think about how to make your guest feel at home. This will keep them relaxed and having fun. Some ideas I love are having really comfy chairs not too crammed in and blankets if you’re outside for when it gets colder. End on a high with a simple pudding (I love meringues and seasonal fruit) and really good chocolates or truffles.
How do you make your table spectacular in a small-scale home setting?
I don’t necessarily have lots on the table, just lovely, quality tableware. I have a huge collection, none of it matching. Fabric napkins are essential… I grow lots of flowers in my small garden, so I always use them if I can. And of course, lots of candle light.
What are your secrets to stress-free hosting?
Prepare. Do all the prep the day before so that when guests arrive you can be with them. If you do want to do a last minute dish like steak, make sure everything else is prepped and just add sauce/dressing. I always set the table the day before so I can enjoy the process without worrying about waiting for the doorbell. Your guests can sense when you’re stressed out and it rubs off on people.
Design your menu around the ability to prep the food. There’s nothing wrong with making a really delicious lasagna with special ingredients and a green salad you dress as you serve.
What is the biggest mistake a dinner party host can make?
Trying to do too much. It might seem like a good moment to try and impress with a new recipe but there’s nothing worse than it going wrong at the last minute, so really consider keeping to tried and tested. People don’t come for dinner for a restaurant experience, so no need to overdo it.
Who would be your dream guests at a dinner party?
People I would be very nervous to cook for but would love to sit around a table with… Ruth Reichl and M. F. K. Fisher. Bella, my business partner, because she would make sure the cutlery was the right way round and everyone had enough wine. Then, of course, Mrs Potts from Beauty & The Beast because she knew how to host and sing at the same time; And my granny, because she tells very good stories and is the greatest cook I know. Lots of female cooks basically!
Where would we find you during late afternoon?
Realistically in the kitchen, probably picking herbs or doing the washing up. On a rare day off, I would ideally be having a bath or pottering around the garden with a cup of tea. I never wear my shoes when I’m in the garden and love to potter, picking the herbs and edible flowers that we use in the kitchen and weeding things that probably aren’t weeds.
Thanks to Georgia Doherty at The Hill Food Company. www.thehillfoodcompany.com