The Art Of The Party

Toast.Life chats to Kay Plunkett-Hogge about entertaining like a pro

Toast.Life chats to author, acclaimed food and drinks writer and professional ‘hostess with the mostest’ Kay Plunkett-Hogge to hear more about her fantastic array of books and to get her top tips for entertaining like a pro at home.

The Art Of The Party Cover

When it comes to dream jobs, I’d say that Kay Plunkett-Hogge pips most to the professional post, because as an acclaimed food, drinks and travel writer she tends to spend much of her time eating, drinking and, well, travelling.

“It is an amazing job, and I count my blessings” she says, warmly.

“What I love about it is very simple - it’s by sharing food with strangers that we learn more about the world. As a cookery writer, your work involves researching the food of other cultures, which means talking to people about how they make things, why they do so in particular ways. Those initial conversations break down barriers because, by and large, people like to share the things they know. Alongside this, you then have the chance to hear their stories, to discover the challenges they face. It takes you far beyond the stove” she adds.

“But it’s not like writing ordinary books - people forget the amount of time we have to spend not just researching, but shopping, recipe testing, washing up, etc. It’s a lot of work!” 

As Kay mentions, it’s not all fun and games; after all the cooking, sampling, and exploring is over, the pressure is then on to deliver a jolly good read too. This isn't something Kay has struggled with, however and her list of successful books is impressive, not to mention mouth-watering. See; Aperitivo: Drinks and Snacks For The Dolce Vita, A Sherry And A Little Plate Of Tapas, Heat: Cooking With Chillies, Adventures Of A Terribly Greedy Girl, The Art of The Party, and the highly acclaimed ode to fuss free and completely delicious entertaining that is Make Mine A Martini.

Kay Plunkett Hogge

“I would describe my style as conversational, approachable” Kay explains.

I try to wear what little knowledge I have as lightly as possible, and I try to see the humour in things. Someone once told me there was no place for ‘funny’ in food writing. Sod that!

Despite her literary success, Kay in fact began her career as a singer. She then went on to work in both the film and fashion industries (which she writes about in her latest book Adventures Of A Terribly Greedy Girl – A Memoir of Food, Family, Film & Fashion), but cooking always called to her. Growing up in Bangkok, Kay and her family had an inside kitchen that was use for conjuring up Western food, and a seperate outside kitchen, complete with charcoal braziers, for Thai cuisine.

Kay Image By JP Masclet

“I loved to eat - I was a chubby little kid - so I’d have Western food with the family, and then Thai food outside with our cook, Prayoon. I began learning by helping her. She could make pretty much anything from Thai to Scandinavian. She taught me so much. The outside kitchen was very much my happy place” Kay recalls fondly.

“When I stopped working as a model agent, one of the photographers I dealt with invited me to cater one of his shoots. It went so well I turned it into a bespoke business. The thing about a fashion shoot is that you have all the crew to feed — they’re all doing hard physical labour and need the fuel — and you have to factor in the dietary needs of the model, who might be an actor or actress having to make weight for a superhero role, or someone with particular intolerances, and you have to make it feel like everyone’s broadly sharing the same dining experience. It’s quite the challenge!”

Kay Credit JP Masclet

In addition to her own books, Kay has also co-authored a further six books, working with the award-winning chef Bryn Williams on his two books Bryn’s Kitchen and For The Love Of Veg, Academy Award-nominated actor Stanley Tucci on his second cookbook The Tucci Table, and with American pizza guru Chris Bianco. She also co-wrote Leon: Family and Friends with John Vincent and Cook Yourself Thin: Quick and Easy.

Kay also writes a monthly column in Delicious Magazine, and her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Sainsbury’s Magazine, The Times and Sawasdee (Thai Airways’ in-flight publication) amongst others, but one of her greatest successes to date (and certainly one of our favourite reads here at Toast.Life) has to be Make Mine a Martini - the ultimate guide to making entertaining as easy as 1-2-3, and awarded the Financial Times’ Drinks Book of the Year 2014. The tasty little manual contains a staggering 80 cocktail recipes conveniently organised by base spirit, and 40 mouth-watering canapé recipes to go with. Sounds like my ideal party…

“It was one of those projects where the title came first! I grew up surrounded by cocktail parties. I’ve always loved their conviviality, and the easy way they bring people together. But it was when I lived in Los Angeles, with its deep bar culture, that I really fell in love with the idea of the cocktail, and the stories behind so many of them” explains Kay.

“And when it comes to cocktails there’s something for everyone - from hard liquor through to something less aggressive. They make a joyful start to an evening, and there’s that little bit of ritual in their making. What’s not to love?” 

Kay's approach to throwing a party is to keep it simple (yet stylish), plan ahead and, above all, enjoy it. Released early this year was the triumphant The Art of The Party – a bible for stylish entertaining that contains 90 deliciously simple recipes for cocktails and finger food that can easily be scaled up and made in advance. Kay also draws on her own party-planning experience and dishes out indispensable advice on how be the perfect host, including handy tips on everything from guest list to painless clean-up.

“This book is really something of a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection - combining recipes from Make Mine A Martini, A Sherry And A Little Plate Of Tapas and Aperitivo. When the publisher, Mitchell Beazley, said they wanted to put it out, I said that you can’t do a compilation without a couple of new tracks on it, so there are 12 new recipes to tie it together. But, as well as this, it’s also more of a general entertaining book” she explains.

“I don’t really like the idea of entertaining ‘trends’ - I think it’s a question of doing what you feel like. Long Sunday lunches as the evenings draw in seems like just the ticket to me right now. Come December, everyone loves a Christmas cocktail party. I don’t think that’s about trend as much as it is about inclination”

Kay’s latest release - Adventures of a Terribly Greedy Girl: A Memoir of Food, Family, Film & Fashion – is a volume of memories, essays, a few recipes, life lessons, all tied together by food, and her next book Baan: Recipes And Stories From My Thai Home comes out in Spring 2019. There are more food-related projects on the horizon, and Kay is also making plans to write her very first novel; needless to say, there is never a dull moment.

“There are so many things I’d love to do - from winning the lottery to returning my elephant to the wild to opening a cooking school in the south of France!” she enthuses.

“You’ve gotta keep dreaming!”

Kay’s Top Tips For Entertaining Like A Pro

My first tip is to remember that you’re not a pro - you’re at home, you don’t have a full bar, you don’t have an army of wait-staff, so…

  • Plan, plan, plan
  • Pre-mix a cocktail or two
  • Make sure the canapés don’t see you stapled to the cooker so you can mingle with your friends
  • If it happens to be a work event, to make sure you greet everyone, and that you introduce people to others they may not know, or task a chatty pal to help out with any shy folks
  • Don’t wash up the glasses until the next day!
  • And have a good time!

For more information on Kay visit www.kaycooks.com or you can follow her on Twitter @kplunketthogge. All of the books mentioned in this article are available on Amazon UK.