Preparation is everything for Amber Guinness, author of A House Party in Tuscany, who has mastered the art of hospitality.

Tuscan temptress | what makes a good host | Celebrating easy Italian food

Cool, understated elegance that belies inner sparkle and sizzle.

For Amber Guinness, Italian hospitality is an art form. In her 18th century farmhouse in Tuscany, where guests come to eat and paint, this passionate home cook shares her template


Before I had even finished browsing through Amber Guinness’s new cookbook, I had made pea and mint soup, an asparagus and ricotta tart, and a potato and onion frittata.

I had also searched out an Italian providore and stocked the pantry with tins of peeled plum tomatoes, creamy cannellini beans, olives with provenance, a wheel of pecorino, and pasta every which way. Oh, and a mezzaluna to chop herbs for a punchy salsa verde.

Part cookbook, part memoir, A House Party in Tuscany is a celebration of seasonal Italian food, magnificent landscape and the three Ls: Lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle.

Magnetic grounds of Arniano, an 18th-century family farmhouse in Tuscany. Photo: Robyn Lea.

Guinness is surely living the dream. When not in their Florence apartment, she and husband Matthew Bell are ensconced in Arniano, the 18th century picture-book farmhouse she grew up in, 30 minutes south of Siena, where they cook for guests who come for residential painting retreats.

For the 33-year-old who has parlayed being a great host into a career, it’s all in the genes. Amber owes her “nurture by food” life to her parents, Jasper and Camilla Guinness, who bought the derelict Arniano in 1989 and undertook a three-year renovation.  (Although it could possibly be traced back to her great-grandmother Diana Mitford, who married brewing heir Bryan Guinness; his mother expressed amazement at Diana’s ability to fry eggs: “I’ve never heard of such a thing, it’s too clever,” she reportedly said.)

“Sun-dappled spring lunches outside with my mum and dad, and hosting in general was such an integral part of my childhood,” Amber says. “Friends would always be coming for lunch or to stay the weekend. The atmosphere was always miraculously relaxed. I associate this style of hosting with them and have tried to devise strategies to emulate this and remain relaxed myself.”

The drinks tray is always equipped with enough glasses, a full ice bucket and slices of lime or lemon before guests arrive. Like her father, Guinness has a master’s degree in topping up empty glasses.

Then there’s the imperative of presentation. “My mum can make anything glamorous. Even a frozen shop-bought Swiss roll. She’ll plate it up on a bed of raspberries, and no one will question that it isn’t home-made, such is the beauty and the deliciousness of the dish.”

Making the region’s seasonal produce shine. Photo: Saghar Setareh.

Jasper Guinness died from cancer in 2011, and it was three years before Amber, who had studied history and Italian at the University of Edinburgh, could bring herself to live again at Arniano, where she could sense his presence in every nook and cranny.

in 2014, in a pub in West London, she and a friend, landscape and figurative painter William Roper-Curzon, came up with the idea of a Tuscan retreat that would marry cooking, eating and painting.

Painting classes at Arniano capture the glorious colour palettes of spring and autumn, with residences held in April, May and October.

“We’ve doubled the number of courses this year to seven and are holding two at new locations,” says Guinness. “One at William’s family home Pylewell Park, in Hampshire, and one in Provence.”

Planning is everything: first, the menu. Photo: Robyn Lea.

Central to all of them will be the hospitality that Amber Guinness has buffed until it shines. Her mantra: “preparation is everything”.

Write a menu and list before you begin, says Guinness. “If you have a plan then it’s harder to get stressed out. Knowing how long things takes is hugely helpful, start with the time you want to eat and work backwards so that you know what food prep you have to do and in what order.”

Chopping and food prep. Tick.

“When I worked in an office, I took this to the extreme,” says Guinness. “If I had people coming for dinner, I would get up an hour early before leaving for work, so that everything would be prepared for the evening ahead.

“I like laying the table before I do anything else as it gives a sense of achievement early on in the proceedings.”

A pretty table is a thing of joy, she adds. “My mother, who is an interior designer, never allowed a large or overly fussy centrepiece to detract from conversation across the table. She preferred a single bud in lots of small vessels lining the table. Or pots of herbs.

“For my wedding [in 2017], the tables were lined with lots of old antique bottles and in each one was a single pink, white or deep red peony. So luxuriant and blousy.”

Entertaining is as much about the host having fun and spending time with the people they are cooking for as anything else. If the past two years have taught us anything, says Guinness, it’s that “time with friends and family is precious so don’t waste the opportunity slaving over a soufflé in the kitchen when everyone would be just as happy with a roast chicken and salad.”

From her mother, Camilla Guinness: keep the flowers and foliage low. Photo: Saghar Setareh.

In Tuscany, the seasons dictate what the star ingredients will be anyway. In winter, it’s cavolo nero and blood oranges; in spring, fresh peas, broad beans and asparagus; in summer, tomatoes and peaches; in autumn, porcini mushrooms, white truffle, artichokes and peppery olive oil.

“I find cooking very soothing and meditative,” says Guinness. “I like that cooking keeps your hands busy and away from your phone! But like anything, the more you do it the better and more relaxed you get, and with certain recipes I now find that I can make them while on autopilot.”

A foolproof lunch for unexpected guests?

“Guests would be welcomed with some salami, a bowl of olives and crisps along with Matthew’s Pink Wink cocktail (prosecco, sparkling grapefruit, Campari). I would make penne with cavolo nero and pancetta. It’s so rich and filling that I wouldn’t bother with a starter (and what unexpected guest would expect three courses anyway?) For dessert, I would make a berry clafoutis with Amalfi lemon cream. It’s a fabulous, warm pud, and if you remember to put it in the oven as you sit down to your pasta, it will come out just as you’re ready for something sweet.”

To toast the occasion, a local red, maybe? Tuscany is dominated by the strong, punchy Sangiovese. To the south lies Montalcino, home to wonderful reds and the acclaimed Brunello. To the north is the Chianti region.

A House Party in Tuscany by Amber Guinness, published by Thames & Hudson, rrp $65.

Amber Guinness’s most memorable meal, however, wasn’t at Arniano.

“In June 2020, soon after Italy opened its borders, restaurants and bars, my mum was able to come to Italy. We were reunited for the first time after the longest period in my life that I hadn’t seen her.

“We drove to a favourite beachside restaurant, she had a Diet Coke, Matthew and I had a glass of peaches in white wine, and we all swam in the sea. For lunch we ate spaghetti alla vongole, followed by a whole baked seabass with zucchini, cherry tomatoes and potatoes, and finished with ice-creams on the beach.

“Sunlight was sparkling on the water, and everything was so delicious. The flavours intensified by the company, and sense of freedom that we had being together in such a beautiful spot. That sunny day, and glorious lunch feels particularly memorable in amongst the months that preceded and followed it.

“Living in Tuscany,” adds Guinness, “makes me very happy.”







Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

'Tuscan temptress | what makes a good host | Celebrating easy Italian food' has 1 comment

  1. September 20, 2023 @ 9:22 am 20bet

    Your article gave me a lot of inspiration, I hope you can explain your point of view in more detail, because I have some doubts, thank you.


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