March 28, 2018
Meet The Expert: Cook Skye McAlpine On Her Pink Kitchen, Where To Find The Best Copper Saucepans And A Chance To Win Her New Book
Skye McAlpine is my kind of woman – a mother, self-taught photographer and cook with a PhD in Ancient Literature who loves pink. Add into the mix that she spends half the year residing between Venice and London, has just written her first cookbook, and has the most Instagramable kitchen on the planet and you can see why a) I needed to meet her as soon as possible and b) convince her I was the new best friend she had clearly been searching for.
Skye’s a life-long foodie thanks to her parents. “You can’t grow up in Italy and not be interested in food,” she says. “Both my parents loved food and we ate and entertained a lot at home.” But it was at university, where she had her own kitchen, that she really started to cook and buy endless cookery books which she would read like novels.
Below I chat to Skye about her journey from uni kitchen to star cook. She shares her kitchen interior tips and offers Minford readers an exclusive recipe from her book. And if you like her style (and frankly who doesn’t) scroll on to shop her kitchen.
Photographs by Sarah Maingot
You chose the millennials favourite shade for your kitchen well before anyone was thinking about pink…
I’ve always been obsessed with pink. Oh the mockery that I endured over the years because of my love of it – from any number of stylish people! But it is one of my lifelong obsessions. My mother is incredibly chic but hated pink and because of my blue eyes she always dressed me in pale blue as a child. All I ever wanted was a pink dress. The pink Smeg fridge in the kitchen is one of my favourite things. It’s just a colour that makes me happy.
You commissioned Tara & Percy of The Jersey Ice Cream Co. to help design the space you already had. Tell me about what you did with them.
They kept the structure but they changed the walls and plastered them pink. They did the table and the island. We had a fixed island before and we wanted to change it to make the space more flexible so they built one that was on wheels so we can wheel it through into the living room. The table extends to seat 20 people. I love having lots of people round. You can always do a buffet bar but for a proper celebration you need to all sit down. The old island had marble on top of it so not to waste it they sliced it in half and made an island that was half wood half marble and then used what was left to make a console table.
I’m such a fan of marble worktops; we had wood before and I changed it to marble and I love it. So many people worry that it’s going to get stained or scratched but it’s beautiful aged and it feels so nice.
There are lots of practical things about the space. My shelves are lined with kilner jars. I’m very keen on the jars, because I can see what I’ve got. They are practical and beautiful. It’s so depressing when you open the cupboard and it’s full of boxes and packets.
What are your top tips for dinner parties and entertaining?
They are beautiful and really useful. I use them for serving everything from cheeses and bread to meringues and pavlova. I brought about five from Debenhams and they are brilliant.
Cake Stands for display
You can use them for cakes but I also just use them for putting piles of fruit like pears or grapes on the table as a centrepiece. You can play with different heights to add layers to the table. My favourite is from Sophie Conran.
Buy flowers from the supermarket!
I buy heaps of flowers, a lot of which are from the supermarket, although there’s a relatively limited range of what you can get. From spring onwards it’s great because there are all the tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Then come early summer there are all the wonderful peonies. Through the winter it’s trickier so I buy loads of the white roses. To make them look less perfect I prise the petals open and mess them up a bit.
An extra table and chairs
I’m a big advocate of having some form of extra table. Even just a spare trestle that comes out for special occasions that you put white sheets over. There are endless extra chairs dotted around the flat that we repurpose as side tables. And then we have six old vintage bentwood chairs that we store in a cupboard. I’m super keen on bentwood chairs as they’re not that expensive and timeless.
Where are your favourite places to buy things for your kitchen?
London antiques markets & charity shops. All my china is either very plain white or vintage. It’s all odd and mismatched. I don’t even attempt to match it.
The Vintage List sells glassware inspired by English antique designs. I couldn’t find wine glasses that I liked so I found their small glasses for wine and I have them in all their different patterns. And I have their tumblers in the grecian pattern and flower pattern.
Daylesford for beautiful white ceramics
What are your favourite things in the kitchen?
That’s so hard but I think it’s my copper pans. Some are old antique ones that we’ve had refurbished and some are from a wonderful family run Italian company called Ruffoni. They are all handmade. My husband brought them for me as presents. They are not cheap but they will last you a lifetime. They are not just for show, I completely cook with them and once you’ve cooked with copper you can’t go back. The only issue with copper pans is that you need to be careful with the heat. If you put them on the heat without anything in them you can burn the pan. But if that happens you can pack it off to these refurbishment people and they bring it back to life again. The get more beautiful with age.
Get The Look
Smeg Fridge Freezer, from £1280 || Sophie Conran for Portmeirion Footed Cake Plate, £37.50 || Ruffoni Historia Decor Copper Saucepan, £245 || The Vintage List Set of 6 Wine Glasses, £72 || Kilner Large Glass Jar, £5.50, & Medium Jar, £5 || Jasper Conran White Marble Pastry Board, £30 or similar from John Lewis || Dunelm Enamel Skimmer, £7
So how did you end up cooking for a living in the first place, jumping from academic to food writer and blogger?
I realised how much I enjoyed writing about food; it never felt like work. I was doing my PhD but I got the confidence to try doing it for work rather than just for fun. So I started the blog – From My Dining Table. When I started I was still finishing off my PhD so it was sort of half and half and by the time I finished the PhD the blog had taken off and I was getting freelance work as a food writer. I’d signed with an agent and so was working on a book proposal and teaching workshops at home in Venice.
And now you’ve launched a book!
The book is a celebration of Venetian home cooking with simple day to day recipes. I wanted to showcase real life in Venice. People think it’s like Disneyland but it’s a city that lives and breathes. I love the contrast between old and new, that’s what’s so special about the city for me. I wanted to find a way of telling that story.
FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF SKYE’S NEW BOOK ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS SIGN UP FOR THE MINFORD WEEKLY UPDATE. SCROLL DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THE HOMEPAGE AND FILL IN YOUR EMAIL. (ALL CURRENT SUBSCRIBERS WILL BE AUTOMATICALLY ENTERED). THE WINNER WILL BE CHOSEN AT RANDOM ON APRIL 9TH.
ALMOND PASTE CROISSANTS
Just like the kranz, kiefer became part of the Venetian way of eating when the Austrians occupied the city in the early nineteenth century and you will see these buttery almond croissants drenched in icing sugar for sale first thing in the morning in bakeries, coffee shops and pasticcerie across town. Smaller than standard almond croissants, they are exquisite. I often manage two for breakfast, not least because they are very moreish.
The recipe here is very simple, as it uses ready-rolled puff pastry. The most important thing to remember is to seal the croissants well, so the filling doesn’t ooze out while they cook. Otherwise, you can’t really go wrong.
2 x 320g ready-rolled puff pastry sheets
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
30g flaked almonds
2 tablespoons icing sugar
For the filling
90g ground almonds
70g caster sugar
1½ teaspoons apricot jam
a pinch of salt
1 large egg white, lightly beaten with a fork
Heat the oven to 220˚C/Gas Mark 7. To make the filling, put the ground almonds, sugar, jam and salt in a bowl and mix well. Add the egg white and stir until you have a thick paste, rather like marzipan.
Lay out the puff pastry sheets on a work surface and cut out 5 triangles from each one, 12–14cm wide at the base and 24cm long on the sides. Spoon a teaspoon of almond paste on to the base of each triangle, centred and about two-fingers’ width away from the edge. Resist the urge to overfill here: you really just need a teaspoon, or the filling will spill out in the oven. Fold the bottom edge of the triangle over the filling, trying to tuck it under, and roll the pastry up as tightly as you can. Gently fold the tips under into the horns of a croissant, pinching where needed to seal. Repeat this with the remaining pastry triangles, then arrange them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
Brush the croissants with the beaten egg yolk to glaze, then sprinkle liberally with the flaked almonds. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden all over. Remove the tray from the oven and sift the icing sugar generously over the piping-hot croissants, so that some of it melts into them. Let them cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack. Eat warm or cold.