I am sitting with the lovely Alexandra Dudley in the Farmhouse Kitchen at Thyme. A ‘serial dinner party host’ Alexandra is a true entertainer, her debut cookbook Land and Sea: secrets to simple, sustainable sensational food has received widespread acclaim and pouring over the recipes in this enticing cookbook, you can recognise a kindred soul to Thyme's ethos. Her relaxed approach in the kitchen, celebrates zero-waste cookery, sustainable sourcing and seasonality; and so it is no surprise that she is joining us for a dinner party workshop at the end of the month. However, today we are enjoying lunch and talking Easter; and it couldn’t feel more spring-like in this country house kitchen, with daffodils and tulips nodding in the sunshine beyond the windows and a table set ready for a sharing platter that celebrates the new season in our kitchen garden and farm.
You trained as an artist … is your approach to hosting a dinner party as much about how a table looks, setting a scene, as it is about the food?
I’ve always loved setting the table. Even as a child it was the one chore I’d jump to. I think that whilst having a perfect table setting isn’t essential to a dinner party, it does make a difference. Even just one or two things will do it, whether it’s proper napkins or flowers.
Entertaining at Easter is so often about family gatherings … how can we make sure a menu appeals across generations?
I’m a big fan of sharing plates for larger gatherings, especially if you are feeding people with different likes, dislikes or dietary requirements. I love to fill my table with big colourful dishes that everyone can hand round and help others too. It creates more of a party feel too.
Are you cooking for family and friends this Easter? How will your day unfold on Easter Sunday?
I’ll be in the mountains this Easter which is rather lovely but we always have a drinks party at home. It’s a team effort between me and my mother on canapés and small bites. We keep it very simple: smoked salmon with a lemony crème fraiche on rye; fresh crab with crushed peas on spelt crackers; and perhaps some quails eggs.
Do you follow recipes ‘religiously’ or do you recommend a more laissez-faire approach?
I am definitely in the latter camp. I’ve always believed recipes to be more a guideline than a strict set of rules. They are there to inspire and to fall back on but the best cooking comes from instinct and what I like to call ‘happy accidents’. Often they are the things that make it your own. It could be something as simple as using basil in the place of coriander, or perhaps taking the seasoning from a marinade and applying it to a soup instead.
If you were to include one traditional Easter dish to impress - what would it be?
I know most people would say lamb here, as it is one of the traditional dishes. But I find the vegetables some of the most exciting things about Spring. Especially asparagus and if you can get your hands on it; wild garlic. It’s incredibly simple but I think a big sharing salad with steamed asparagus, garden greens and a good wild garlic pesto is a lovely thing to serve at Easter. You could give it a bit more of an Easter spin and dot it with soft boiled eggs or quails eggs.
How can we all ‘impress without the stress’ and ensure we don’t need to sleep all day on Easter Monday?
Planning is key and I really do believe it is little things that make the difference. You don’t have to pull off a Michelin star dinner to leave a spark. It could be something as simple as homemade crackers to go with some good cheese or going to the effort of making a (simple) pudding.
Alexandra's Easter recipe share is a delicious 'Roasted Spring Onion Salad with Lemon' perfect for the feasting table.
Join us in the Farmhouse Kitchen for her Seasonal Dinner Party Workshop on Friday 26th April, Alexandra will be using seasonal ingredients from our farm, flowers from the cutting gardens and even introducing you to a botanical cocktail from Thyme's own mixologists ... explore what it is to be a truly successful dinner party host.