What is a memorable dinner party, if it’s not with interesting people and copious wine in a glorious setting? Not to mention great food of course. All of which, is effortlessly orchestrated by the perfect host. And what is great host, if they haven’t spent a summer at Peligoni, wining and dining our guests in their villas and upon our vintage yacht, Odyssey? For there’s no better way to hone your entertaining skills than as one of our villa hosts – something that Harriet Archbell, did last summer before embarking on a course at the prestigious Leiths School of Food & Wine.
Originally from Yorkshire, Harriet finished school before spending some time in Paris. She then went on to do a ski season in Courchevel before travelling through South America. She studied English at Newcastle university and did a short stint in the world of property before joining us at Peligoni last year, after which she never looked back and is now fully on the road to a culinary fused career. We managed to steal some of her time away from her course to chat dinner parties, life at Leiths and of course, good times at Peli.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WORK AT PELIGONI AS A VILLA HOST?
I had been working as an estate agent in London for almost 2 years and couldn’t bear the thought of another summer working late and on Saturdays whilst all my friends were finishing at 5pm! I had a bit of a background in food – I did a ski season after school and did private cooking jobs in Scotland and Northumberland during university holidays and always ended up making the birthday cakes at work ad hosting dinner parties. So it occurred to me, I could get paid to do something I love! I knew I needed a bit more training before becoming a chef so decided to sign up for Leiths three term diploma in food and wine, but that didn’t start until September, so double whammy why not spend the summer cooking on the beautiful island of Zakynthos.
I knew plenty of people who had either worked or stayed at The Peligoni Club before and loved the idea of the exclusive but relaxed vibe. I also loved the idea of not being confined to one villa for the whole season like on a ski season, and having the opportunity to cook in some of the most fabulous villas.
Harriet (bottom centre) and the 2017 villa hosts.
WHO ARE YOUR DREAM DINNER PARTY GUESTS?
That’s a tough one. Obviously a chef – I think I’d say Delia Smith as I reckon she’d be a good laugh and her cooking style is comforting and no-nonsense. I also want to pick her brains about how she created such a name for herself. I’d have Ellen Degeneres as she’s probably got some great dinner party games up her sleeve and some hilarious stories. Nadal – I’ve always been a a big tennis fan and follower, my mum is obsessed! He’s my favourite but I’m gutted he’s lost his way a bit, maybe I can give him a few words of encouragement over a yummy meal. The Obamas, I bet they’re hilarious after a couple of shots.
Sunset at Shipwreck
WHAT MAKES THE PERFECT EVENING?
It probably sounds cliche but somewhere much warmer than England! I’d be somewhere like Italy with a group of friends eating a delicious pasta dish and sipping amazing wine.
DESCRIBE YOUR COOKING STYLE?
Definitely modern British. I love British seasonal produce and the flavours all marry well together. I love to cook middle eastern and asian too but I’m not very good with spice!
WHAT IS THE COURSE AT LEITHS LIKE?
I’m absolutely loving my time at Leiths, the course is so well run, the teachers really know their stuff and I have learnt so much. It’s a bit like being back in school, every week changes but usually we have a demonstration in the morning, then cooking in the afternoon or vice versa. So today we deboned and marinated a leg and shoulder of lamb and made some delicious cinnamon beignets with chocolate sauce then spent the afternoon doing wine revision, so we had a nice little tipple for a Monday afternoon. Leiths is great because there are so many different types of people with different ambitions. Some want to be chefs in restaurants, some want food trucks, some want to run a cafe/deli, some want to be food writers or stylists. There are so many different avenues to go down in the food industry so I’m keeping my options open at the moment but will definitely spend at least 6 months in a restaurant kitchen.
An evening at the old monastery ruin
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS TIME?
5 years time – Hmmmmm, who knows. I’d love to have my own company eventually, I’m not going to give away any of my business ideas though! I do have a dream of owning a farm shop with a great butcher, bakery, deli and cafe so maybe that will come true!
WHAT IS THE BEST THING YOU HAVE EVER EATEN?
It’s a toss up between the humble pumpkin soup, but a very special one in Les Fermes de Marie in Megeve with truffle and cream which I had many years ago and still remember! Every time I go to the alps I have to have pumpkin soup, the French do it so well – I must find their secret. The other was a fabulous lamb dish I had at a restaurant in Yorkshire which has now sadly closed. Lamb is probably my favourite meat and this was with a red onion and goats cheese salad, but obviously jazzed up a lot. Now I’m really thinking about it though, I went to the Jules Verne restaurant up the Eiffel Towel with my mum and everything about the whole meal was incredible – especially the little Turkish delights we got at the end of the meal. I know that’s three but it’s too hard to pick one when there is so much good food out in the world at the moment.
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK FOR THE QUEEN?
I’d probably start with a crab and lobster ravioli with a lobster bisque, who knows if the Queen likes pasta, but I certainly do. I’m almost certain the Queen likes venison. I’d do a lightly peppered loin of venison with a butternut squash puree, wild mushrooms and a juniper and red wine sauce and for pudding I’d make a Yorkshire rhubarb (being from Yorkshire myself, the forced rhubarb is incredible at this time of year) and almond tart with vanilla ice cream.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD NIGHTMARE?
I have a couple! I’m not fussy, I just know what I like and what I don’t like. Firstly, coriander. I know a lot of people are with me on this, it’s like marmite. It really bugs me that it’s in so many dishes which that I love, especially the middle eastern and asian ones, but even the smell I can’t stand! Secondly, nuts. I know it seems a very odd one for a chef not to like but I’ve tried and tried and tried and can only just manage almonds – everything else is a no for me sadly. Maybe one day I’ll grow up! Saying that I am definitely one for trying new things if they’re put in front of me, one thing that Leiths is great for! We had a demonstration on offal the other day and who knew ox heart tastes just as good as a fillet steak? I’m still to be convinced on liver and kidney though.
WHAT IS YOUR HAPPIEST MEMORY FROM PELIGONI?
I thought of two, and then realised they both include sunsets, so sunsets! The ones from shipwreck beach are the best I have ever seen in my whole life. Absolutely breathtaking scenery, they were the best evenings on the rare occasion where we didn’t have any villa hosting on and no staff cars were being used we would drive up there and watch the sun from above the shipwreck. Then the monastery – this was the first year that the infamous monastery walk was turned into a dinner – quite a logistical mission to get food up there (sometimes for up to 32 people) and all the other supplies (plates, candles, glasses etc) along with a generator, the only source of light. But all the organisation and the treacherous journey there was worth it when you see the guests faces when they emerge from the walk to see the monastery, beautiful table and sunset. You also can’t beat an Odyssey trip!
Harriet was villa host at The Peligoni Club in 2017. If you would like to book a villa hosted evening during your holiday, you can do so here. If you would like apply for a villa host role at The Peligoni Club, you can do so here.