Blur musician, cheesemaker and Chaplin & Cork’s ambassador Alex James shares his top tips for giving your dinner guests the VIP treatment when entertaining at home. 

I spent years living out of a suitcase, touring the world. Maybe that’s why there’s nowhere I’d rather be than at my own dinner table with friends and family.

I love cooking. We have five young kids so meal times can get a bit hectic but over the years I’ve learned a few things about hosting a crowd.

Good Ingredients are Key…

It may sound obvious but if you shop well, then you’re off to a flyer.

Chefs spend a lot of time and effort sourcing the best produce – in fact the world’s greatest cooks are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths for their ingredients.

Of course that’s not totally necessary, although it can be quite good fun – but in short, the better your ingredients, the less you have to work with them or spruce them up. I love visiting my local farmer’s market and picking up some fresh produce and unusual ingredients to use in my cooking.

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…As is Good Preparation

The best restaurant kitchens are always meticulously organised, with all of the preparation work taking place early in the day to take the pressure off during service. I always try to make sure that I’ve got as much done as I can ahead of time. So if you’re going to roast up some spuds, make sure they’re oven ready before everyone starts arriving and maybe get a few cloves of garlic peeled and ready to throw in halfway through cooking.

Having plenty of chopped fresh herbs prepped for throwing around is always a good bet, too.

Don’t Show Off. At Least, Not Too Much

Usually, the simpler things are, the better. I think the more you entertain, the easier it gets and you learn to relax and enjoy your evening.

These days I tend to do most of my experimenting on the kids and stick with stuff I know and love if we’re hosting a crowd.

I think if you feel relaxed and happy in the kitchen, it rubs off on your guests. When it comes to choosing a dish – shoulder of pork is more or less fool proof.

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A big joint like a whole shoulder will be more forgiving than a smaller cut and will slow-cook beautifully throughout the day so all that needs done once people start arriving, is for you to prepare a delicious, rich and fruity cider gravy.

READ MORE: Alex James recipe: Roast pork with black pudding stuffed apples

Get Everyone Involved

I’ve found at the majority of dinner parties that guests quite like getting stuck in and helping in the kitchen – whether it’s fixing drinks, helping with a salad dressing or setting the table.

Think about some simple jobs beforehand so you are ready to delegate when your guests arrive.

Serve Cheese

Well I would say that wouldn’t I? But I think even if you’ve got a super-indulgent pudding lined up, it’s worth rolling out a cheeseboard, too.

It’s almost impossible to mess up cheese and when you get it right, it’s sublime. I’m particularly fond of serving cheese with cider at the moment.

Chaplin & Cork’s Somerset Gold connects brilliantly with my Farleigh Wallop goats’ cheese. They are both award winners so it’s a match made in heaven – they really do bring out the best in each other.

The Small Details Make a Big Difference

My granddad was a chef and a stickler for detail. Woe, betide anyone who attempted to serve hot food on a cold plate in his kitchen.

He was a big fan of cider, too and insisted on serving it in glasses that had been chilled in the freezer beforehand.  You get a lovely mist on the glass that way.

I still have some of his glasses and continue to impress guests by serving cider at the table in that way, often garnished with a crisp, green apple wedge.

And if All Else Fails…

There will always be hiccups, that is guaranteed. It’s how you deal with them that counts.

I cooked some steaks when all the family came over to celebrate my dad’s birthday. I was just back from touring South America so I did them Argentinian style on the barbecue.

I heard Auntie Janet whisper ‘Look – he’s burned them!’ as they hit the table but in the end she liked her crispy steak so much I had to do her another one.

Dinner isn’t just about food, it’s the company and atmosphere that make for a memorable evening so keep smiling and everything will fall into place eventually. It always does.

• Alex James is the brand ambassador for premium cider, Chaplin & Cork’s and he has partnered with the brand to create a range of recipes and perfect pairings. Follow @chaplinandcorks or visit www.chaplinandcorks.co.uk for inspiration and to find out more.

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Alex James

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