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Dinner party masterclass

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Masterchef’s Michel Roux Jr answers your most pressing entertainment problems

How much time should I spend preparing before my guests arrive and how much time once they are here?

Aim for 90% work beforehand and 10% once they are there, it should really just be a question of assembly. But, failing that, have guests in the kitchen with you. It is such a convivial space so ask them into the kitchen to have their aperitif while you are preparing. Dinner party etiquette is to keep guests occupied and well looked after.

Is soup a cop-out for a starter?

In my view no, I am a lover of soup. It doesn’t have to be boring, put an accompaniment on the side like a little cheese stick or olive bread.

What music should I play at a dinner party?

I am against music at dinner. I enjoy the music of my food, the sounds of my guests eating, the clinking of glasses and the clattering of cutlery on plates.

What is the perfect amount of time to leave between each course?

Twenty minutes, from the minute the last person finishes eating. And if one person eats very slowly? It is bad form to clear the table if someone is still eating, but a polite nudge to get them moving is allowed.

From start to finish how long should a dinner party last?

I love my food but I hate to sit for more than a couple of hours. So two hours is the maximum for me.

Any food cliches I should absolutely avoid?

No, you can make anything work. There is nothing wrong with dishes like prawn cocktail, just make your own mayonnaise and get fantastic fresh prawns. Take retro dishes but bring them up-to-date.

I have trouble getting the right starters and tend to make them too big so everyone's stuffed. Help!

A starter has to be light, no more than five or six mouthfuls. Sharing plates are very fashionable at the moment, and people can help themselves and take as much as they want. I love charcuterie, with wonderful salamis and sausages, chorizos and hams, pates and lots of pickles. That’s a great way to start a meal.

I'm hosting a lunch party on December 28th. Everyone will have had their fill of Christmassy food, but still expect a slap-up meal. What do I cook?

The last thing you want at this time of the year is complicated food, so offer one lovely course like a beautiful heart-warming traditional stew. It's comfort food with no pressure, just just put one big bowl on the table and everyone can dive in.

I've got friends arriving at 8pm expecting three courses, but don't get home from work until nearly 7pm. What can I serve that will still wow them?

Head to your local deli for cold meats which make a really easy starter. For the main go for fish, a portion of seabream cooked skin-down will only take four or five minutes. Top with a dressing made with tomatoes, basil, challottes, lemon juice and olive oil. Cheese is also a great main meal; two or great cheeses, chutney, artisan bread served warm with a salad and a glass of red wine. Remember, leave the cheese out of the fridge for at least thirty minutes because you should always serve cheese at room temperature.

What is the perfect seasonal, non-fattening dessert?

At this time for year the best seasonal fruits are pears and apples. After Christmas a baked apple stuffed with leftover Christmas pudding is simple, delicious and not fattening. Or have pears poached in red wine, served hot or cold with a scoop of ice cream.

Any tips for the impressing my guests with original table settings?

I like simplicity and nature, so find some golden-red autumn leaves and sprinkle them on the table with pine cones, fresh pine leaves for the great smell, chestnuts, and globe artichokes. Strewn across the table that looks great.

Michel will be appearing at MasterChef Live, London Olympia, on Friday 12th and Saturday 13th November. mastercheflive.com

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