Amber Guinness is well versed in romance. She was born in London, into England’s brewing-and-banking dynasty, but raised in Tuscany. She’s spent much of her 33 years at Arniano, her family’s 18th-century, stone-and-brick Tuscan estate. It’s where she learned to cook by watching her mother, Camilla, an interior designer, experiment in the kitchen.
Five years ago, after decades of splitting her time between England and Italy, she and her husband, the journalist Matthew Bell, moved to Florence full-time. The two met at Guinness’s cousin’s wedding, in 2014. He marched up to her and announced, “You’re the most beautiful woman here, and I’m not leaving until you kiss me.” They married shortly after.
That sense of romance and joie de vivre comes across in Guinness’s debut cookbook, A House Party in Tuscany, out now.
For years, Guinness resisted writing a book. She was content running the Arniano Painting School, an artists’ retreat she started in 2014 with her friend, the painter William Roper-Curzon. While he teaches visitors how to sketch cypresses and lemon trees, Guinness prepares homey Italian meals inspired by her family’s hilltop farmhouse.
“Guests would ask, ‘How do you make this dish? How do you do this?’ It became quite a constant refrain,” says Guinness. “Then they would start going, ‘Could you just make a cookbook?’”
Being an outstanding host and home cook is one thing, but Guinness assumed that developing recipes for a book required something of a different skill set.
For Guinness’s teacher, her mother, being a home cook is all about instinct—she never even looks at recipes. “Whenever you ask her how she makes something, she just sort of goes, ‘I don’t know,’ in this rather annoyed way,” says Guinness. “You have to watch her, and then you do it.”
A House Party in Tuscany is part cookbook, part memoir, and part ode to the art of entertaining. It includes the history of the Guinnesses’ Tuscan estate and recipes passed down from Camilla, along with instructions for traditional Italian dishes.
The recipes help tell the story of “the upbringing of an English family on a remote Tuscan hilltop,” Guinness explains.
It’s all tied together with photos by Robyn Lea, whom Guinness first met in October 2019. Lea had traveled to Tuscany to photograph Camilla for a book on creative women. Guinness liked Lea’s work and thought Lea’s aesthetic would complement her own.
The recipes are open-ended. “I don’t like cookbooks when they present a full meal to you and say, ‘Here’s the sea bass with lentils and potatoes,’” she says. In her cookbook, she puts main dishes and side dishes into separate sections, to “create menu options.” It “gives readers the building blocks to make their own feast.”
Writing the book led Guinness to imagine her perfect house party. “We’d be about eight people. Everyone would arrive in time for lunch, and it would be that perfect November day where it’s crisp but with blue skies,” she says. Lunch would be followed by a long walk, and the day would end with cocktails and dinner.
A House Party in Tuscany is out now from Thames & Hudson
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for AIR MAIL