Skye McAlpine’s joie de cooking is as irresistible and infectious as her summer-berry cloud cake. The London-based cookbook author and Sunday Times food columnist has spent the past seven (professional) years on a mission: to spread her love of sharing meals with friends to the masses.
It’s worked. Two books later (A Table in Venice and A Table for Friends), she now has more than 212,000 Instagram followers, who salivate over her every artfully arranged plate of spaghetti with pistachio pesto.
McAlpine has an impeccable eye, as evidenced not only by her work in the kitchen. (Hers, for the record, is lemon yellow—anchored by a custom Lacanche range with a whopping 14 burners—and was designed by her close friend the architect and designer Ben Pentreath.) McAlpine’s talents extend to interior design and table-scaping, and regarding the latter, she spent much of the pandemic concocting a new tabletop collection, Tavola by Skye McAlpine.
The name is a nod to Venice, where McAlpine spent much of her upbringing, and where she continues to spend summers and holidays. Each glass, plate, and serving dish has been lovingly made by the hands of skilled artisans—with glass blown in Murano, and cocktail napkins produced in collaboration with Coco & Wolf.
“The heart of what I do is the belief that we should share food with friends more often, feel more happy and more confident doing that,” says McAlpine, Zooming from her London library, whose bookshelves are filled with, among other treasures, an enviable assortment of long-forgotten cookbooks.
“I’m not the kind of cook who will obsess over a recipe, or who enjoys challenging myself to chop an onion especially fine. I’m very big on low effort and maximum rewards. I’ve learned along the way that the plates, glasses, and linens make a huge difference to how the table looks and feels.”
Will anyone notice that the cake is dreadfully dry and its drizzle is a runny mess when it’s presented on McAlpine’s frutti di bosco cake stand ($83), which is festooned with molded, ceramic fruits and flowers? Probably not, which is exactly the point. “Even if you’re having eggs and toast for breakfast, it’s no extra effort to use that plate,” she says. While you’re at it, some orange juice would go nicely in that rose-colored Lily tumbler ($105).
Even though McAlpine entertains at home at least twice a week (in non-pandemic times), she readily admits that she’s no professional cook. She only turned to the kitchen around eight years ago, as she was wrapping up her Ph.D. in classics. (On translations of Ovid’s Art of Love from the 17th and 18th centuries, to be exact.)
The objective, of both her recipes and her approach to the table, is to make life a little more beautiful and delicious without further burdening an already overtaxed population of young (and young-at-heart) food-lovers. “We have a misconception that entertaining is for a certain kind of person, or you need to be a proper grown-up or on a huge budget before you can do it,” she says.
If any further proof is required that an ad hoc affair, with a few smart touches and tried-and-true recipes, is the way to go, just turn up at McAlpine’s home for Sunday lunch. It’s an open-door affair, and guests are prone to announcing themselves without a formal invitation, which is exactly how McAlpine likes it, as do her husband, Anthony Santospirito, and her two young sons, Aeneas (aged nine) and Achille (aged two). “We’ll have anywhere from 2 to 12,” she says, smiling at the thought. “And there’s always room for more.”
Ashley Baker is a Deputy Editor for Air Mail