Interview with India Hicks | An Entertaining Story

Intro: Welcome to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book with Suzy Chase. She’s just a home cook in New York City sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.

India Hicks: Hello, my name is India Hicks, and I have just recently published a book called An Entertaining Story.

Suzy Chase: Part cookbook and part reflection on parties past, this book is a good reminder for us all about how to throw a dinner party. How have you been entertaining during this crazy time?

India Hicks: So the first couple of months, like most of the world, we were locked down on our properties and certainly not allowed out. I live on a very small, tiny Island in The Bahamas called Harbour Island, and it’s only three miles long and half mile wide, but The Bahamas took the lockdown very seriously, the prime minister is a doctor and he could see that it would be very detrimental to a nation such as The Bahamas where there is no medical infrastructure whatsoever. So the lockdown was so harsh and draconian that we were not actually even allowed out on our properties. We weren’t allowed to the beach. I very, very luckily, have a garden, a large garden and so I was at home with, my other half, David and my five children and it was rather than an amazing time all together. But one of the things I really noted was even though we weren’t entertaining as such, we certainly weren’t inviting friends over we didn’t see anybody for a couple of months I still wanted the time that I had together with my kids when we were actually sitting together at supper to feel memorable and meaningful. So yes, of course, breakfast, everybody made their own and lunch sometimes we even skipped if we just were making sandwiches, but dinner, we insisted the kids learn to cook something as they went along. And when one kid said he was gonna make cheese, souffle’s we thought, right, this is a real cause for celebration. It was quite an intrepid first meal for him to be undertaking but I really went to great lengths to lay a beautiful table, to make sure that the candles were lit to make sure that the linen was starched to make sure that there was a pretty tablescape because I think it was a lovely evening for us to sit together as a family. So it was interesting that the world had stopped and the way we had entertained had stopped, but the way we were gathering together as a family hadn’t stopped. And I think that that’s still warranted making the extra effort around the table. We also celebrated a lot of birthdays. I think we went from March, April and May to having three different birthdays in every month. And we certainly went to great extent to make beautiful and imaginative cakes. I made a Corona cake. I can’t cook Suzy at all. So you’re talking definitely to the wrong person for your podcast, but I can bake and I certainly can decorate and I made this Corona cake and it had a face and a big blue mask across the top. We did have a lot of fun with that. I had never made, I think we call it Royal icing. You call it something different, I think in America, but I’d never made it before. And I found a recipe that involves melting marshmallows to make the icing. So that was kind of fun

Suzy Chase: Organized by meal this book begins with the most important meal of the day. And what is that?

India Hicks: Well, I felt that that was drinks time. There’s something really comforting about the drinks not only cause it involves alcohol for the most part, but also it’s the prelude to what comes next. And I think sometimes we rather take it for granted. And in my book I talk about let’s, let’s make the most of it. So if you are not necessarily able to set up a very pretty arrangement at the end of a dock during a sunset on a tropical landscape, don’t worry about it that’s okay but if you can find a new corner of your apartment to set up an interesting drinks table, that’s just lovely. If you can have it in the garden, that’s even better. So just be a little bit more imaginative with the way that you actually host drinks. I also, as I said, cannot cook. I am, what’s known as a culinary idiot, but I certainly can lay out a platter of all different kinds of choices so that when you’ve invited someone over for drinks and it may be a grumpy mother-in-law, it may be a new colleague you’re trying to impress. It may be the mother of a school friend of one of your kids, but it is nice to give somebody something to eat while they’re having their drink and I said that it’s so easy to lay an imaginative platter and it may have honeycomb on it and different types of cheeses and different types of salamis and it may have dried fruits, but it’s just fun to put it together and you can do them by color scheme, or you can do them by vegetable or fruit piled up together, however you want but I think it’s, I think it’s a fun and an inviting way to start a drinks hour.

Suzy Chase: Your culinary skills or lack thereof have been inherited from your mother. You said she can barely boil an egg, but she’s very good at peeling grapes. Is that hilarious?

India Hicks: Well, it’s only hilarious when you really realize that that’s the truth. I didn’t want it to sound like she’s absolutely useless, cause she’s certainly not in the times that she might’ve not have spent in the kitchen. She certainly made up for, with having a very extraordinary progressive mind. And she is very well versed on everything. Deeply knowledgeable version of encyclopedic memory, even at 91. So I think it was actually a good thing. She wasn’t in the kitchen because she was doing a lot of other very worthwhile things.

Suzy Chase: Since you got those culinary skills from your mother, you have Claire Williams around. Can you tell us about her?

India Hicks: Definitely. We call Claire our top banana and I’m lucky enough to have had Claire join our family 16 years ago. She came out from England and at the time I was working and traveling quite a bit for, and so needed a nanny to be there with the kids. David was also working. And so Claire arrived as a Mary Poppins type figure into the household. And soon it was evident that actually she, she enjoyed her food as much as she did looking after the children. And so she sort of graduated into the kitchen, which has now become very much her headquarters. And so there are recipes in the book, but do not for a moment, think that I have either tested them or tried them. They are very much Claire’s recipes. And I asked if we might borrow some for the book. We chose them very carefully because I thought the book is actually quite relevant for right now what’s going on in the world because we are talking about entertaining again in a very meaningful way, where when you get the opportunity to be with people, you want to make the most of it because God knows how long we’re going to have those opportunities. Now, you know, any stage the British government is going to shut us back down I’m actually in Paris right now, the bars and restaurants are going to close. So when I’m with people, I want to make sure that it’s really the people I love and want to spend time with or who inspire me or educate me or excite me. And so having that time together, I think you don’t necessarily want to be overly thinking about your menu. So all of the recipes that we’ve included in my book are actually very relevant for right now they’re comfort food like honey roasted sausages or mackerel pâte or chicken pot pie or an apple crumble. There’s nothing very fancy. It’s all very doable.

Suzy Chase: One of my favorite photos in the book is on page 46, where your mother’s cutlery mingles with your fathers. I would be remiss if we didn’t chat for just a bit about your parents. So there’s really nothing more elegant than that photo of your mother with her breakfast tray on page 202, I read Daughter of Empire this summer next to the pool. And did your mom have a life? I also have to say, I’m crazy about your podcast with her. And basically any time you sit down with her, I’m curious to hear just a little bit about her and that breakfast and by the way, her memory is incredible.

India Hicks: Well, I’m so glad Suzy, you’ve really done your homework. Not only can you can number the pages in my book, but you can also reference the title of my mother’s book. Yes I’m lucky to have had an amazing mum who has been inspiring in many ways and we are completely different characters and yet we get on incredibly well. We share the same sense of humor. She has a very dry wit that’s extremely amusing, she’s a brilliant raconteur and as you say, her memory is sharp as a tack and I think the podcast came about because we just had enjoyed reminiscing. And then I realized that when I put tiny snippets of these conversations up on Instagram or social media, people had a real thirst for them they wanted to hear more. I mean, she’s of a generation that that is really a dying breed. I think the war babies who went through a war and put up with an awful lot of bullshit that we all scream and shout and stamp our feet over, they just got on with it. And so it was great to have the chance for us to sit together and for her to tell her stories and for me to ask the questions and of course, you know, even my mouth dropped open on a couple of occasions for the kind of the shock of the life that she led and the generation, the upbringing that she came from, where certain things were just taken for granted and, you know, our generation is so incredibly different but it was a wonderful opportunity to do that.

Suzy Chase: Another book I read over the summer, was your father David Hicks’ scrapbook. Your father is up there with my all time favorite interior designers, Mario Buatta and Sister Parish, can you give us a brief overview of your father and a couple of his more notable design projects and then tell us about his love of ice cubes?

India Hicks: Well, my father was a very unique character. Certainly, you know, I said that he set the world in light with his very dynamic designs, which he did. I mean, he shook up the very quiet English drawing rooms and he mixed colors together that were vibrating, vibrating, never clashing, He said. He mixed geometrics. He put old with new and he really did things in a very different way. And his work is emulated today as much as it was in the sixties, when he was at the top of his career, he was a whirling dervish, extremely decisive, extremely opinionated. And people paid a lot of money for that opinion because he did have world class taste. He traveled a great deal. He was very adventurous. He was very experienced in the world of design and really knew every beautiful house, every beautiful garden, every beautiful hostess. And he was a bon vivant he loved to live life to its fullest. He had some very notable projects. He designed the Prince of Wales’ bachelor apartments at Buckingham Palace. He designed the bowling alley of The White House. He designed the American Airlines tie that geometric A when the American Airlines first dress their air stewards. So certainly he’s had an illustrious career. He was very definite about certain things and an ice cube, as you say was one of them. And he felt that the ice cube should be large. And it shouldn’t be these ridiculous pity, things that come out of ice machines there’s those were useless in his opinion. So he had these very large, there was some metal ice trays. And I remember a handle that we had to leave a back in order to release these oversize ice cubes into this would never work. That handle never worked right. Handled it ever. Right.

India Hicks: Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of your family, your brother, Ashley got me through the quarantine with his delightful Instagram lives where he flipped through the design books and did virtual home tours. Your whole family got me through the quarantine basically.

India Hicks: That’s very nice to her. Ashley is brilliant and funny and very acerbic and has a very dry English wit, but he’s actually at extraordinarily well-read and knowledgeable also. And whilst I was creating my book on Christmas cakes and birthday parties, he was devising a book on tombs and I think for my mother, it must be very funny to see two very different children, both publishing books, actually his book on tombs never did get published. So he’s probably rather annoyed that my silly book on Christmas crackers did.

Suzy Chase: He says, we all love jib doors. I love it when he says that.

India Hicks: That’s very him.

Suzy Chase: So your father once wrote in your little autograph book, good taste and design are by no means dependent upon money. Can you talk a little bit about the dinner that you had in LA when you still had your company?

India Hicks: Oh goodness. Um, I love the fact that you’ve read all this and my father was absolutely right. You know, good taste and design are not dependent upon money. And there have been many occasions where we have borrowed things or been very careful and crafty in the way that we have hosted events. And I don’t think you need to have overly exorbitant budgets to have a wonderful evening. And when I was in LA and we had, I think it was about 60 or 80 of these amazing women who I had worked with for a while come and join us. We wanted to thank them for their time with the company we put together this incredible long table, very, very dramatic. And we kept the wondering what are we gonna be able to do down the center of it and I realized that we had this overstock of towels, swimming towels. And I said, why don’t we use the swimming’s towels? We can repurpose the swimming towels to go down the middle of the table. And they were blue and white. And then I said, right, that’s our theme, blue and white and we hired some blue and white dinner plates and then I found these big blue on white paper lanterns very Oriental looking paper lanterns off Amazon. And we tied it with fishing wire onto the end of some bamboo poles. And we’ve got some vases that we put them in. And I think the effect was pretty dramatic. And I think it made the woman feel very thanked. And we were, as I said, very careful and crafty with the budget, the girl who was helping me with the event had a brilliant idea, which was, she said, never let a friend invite a friend. It’s just got to stick to the list. And that’s so true. You stick to your list. You don’t let someone bring an extra guest.

Suzy Chase: Unless it’s me! Yeah, the table runner and the whole table looked like, let’s say a blue Staffordshire ad or something like that.

India Hicks: Good. Why do you think it was at that level?

Suzy Chase: So Pretty. So what is your philosophy when it comes to seating arrangements or placement as the French say,

India Hicks: I like a placement as I say in my book, I think there’s nothing worse than kind of lingering, waiting to know where you’re going to set or who you’re going to end up with or feeling like you’re going to be chosen last for the tennis team. I think it’s nice when a hostess immediately, it says, right, Suzy you’re going to be sitting there, David, you’re going to be sitting there. Timothy you’re going to sit there. I also think it gives an opportunity for the hostess to have really thought a little bit through first. So we know who would be interested by sitting next to so and so would they actually spark a good and interesting conversation? Will it make the evening more meaningful for them? I think there’s nothing worse than sitting next to somebody, you know, terribly well, who you see all the time. What is the point of that? If you’ve got the opportunity to meet somebody new or be inspired by somebody or learn from somebody that’s so much more interesting

Suzy Chase: At one dinner party, your mother was sitting next to Lenny Kravitz and she called him zinni crayfish.

India Hicks: Yes. The next day she said, how fascinating that chat was. Was he a musician that zinny crayfish?

Suzy Chase: So once we’re seated then comes the hard part. The small talk you stack the guest list with someone you think will be riveting. Tell us about Captain Bob. Speaking of riveting.

India Hicks: Well, anyone who comes to Harbour Island, know Captain Bob, because he runs the local grocery store, but he’s a good friend of ours and his wife and I both have the boutique together, The Sugar Mill, but Captain Bob, he’s a wonderful local character and he was at sea for many, many years on a fishing boat and they would go out for crawfish and it was such a valuable commodity that they literally took guns on board the boat because there are modern day pirates out there. They would be at risk of having their cargo thieved. So I love the idea that, that he has fought modern day pirates out at sea. He’s also been struck by lightning and he’s been bit by a shark. I mean, who doesn’t want to sit next to somebody who tells those kinds of tales?

Suzy Chase: I love that you’re not afraid to use baby’s breath on a table. I always used to think of that as kind of, let’s say like a filler for flower arrangement, but it goes so well with the rustic wood table.

India Hicks: But I love a filler for a flower arrangement, especially one that you can then dry and use afterwards. Again, it comes down to budget. That’s fantastic. I can’t bear the waste of flowers when they’re, when they’re dying and you don’t know what to do with them.

Suzy Chase: I know that’s such a great idea because you think, Oh, I’m just going to throw this away.

India Hicks: Yeah, don’t dry it.

Suzy Chase: How is entertaining in The Bahamas different from entertaining in England or LA?

India Hicks: Uh, more challenging just from the fact that, you know, we have one boat that comes once a week and if the boat doesn’t come, then you’re kind of screwed. You know, in England you can pop out to the local supermarket to get something that you may have forgotten on Harbour Island it’s just much, much harder, much more limited in resources, much more limited in the selection of things that you can get hold of. I think that oddly that’s made me more resourceful in the way that we decorate. So, you know when you pull out your white tablecloths and you realize that actually it’s still got wine stains on it, and there is no way that you’re gonna be able to get those out, think about, oh, I’m going to take the bedspread off my bed and use that as a tablecloth cause actually that looks so much better when it’s washed and pressed on the table than the white tablecloth with the wine stains. So I think we are forced to think creatively.

Suzy Chase: Paris is always a good idea, they say. You’re in Paris right now with your partner, David Flint Wood and I see that they’re shutting down the bars today.

India Hicks: Well, that’s what I’ve heard but I was out and about earlier and I didn’t notice a tremendous difference. So we’ll see what happens. But I think, I was very keen to make sure that life moved on and forward as much as possible. Yes, there are some very dramatic and very necessary restrictions on our lives. But we found a way that we were able to come to England and I was able to spend six weeks of my mother. And then we got on a train and came to Paris and we found an apartment that, that people had left the city they didn’t want to be in the city and we were able to get the apartment very inexpensively. It’s got an amazing view. And for David and I just for a couple of weeks, it’s been so lovely. I know I can pop back on that train and get back to my mother or kids at any stage I need to. And even if the bars are closed, you still get to walk around in an amazing, beautiful city. So I’m very, very grateful to be here and I’m very happy to be here. And I don’t really mind at the bars are closed because we can always get a bottle of wine and just sit in the window ourselves and drink it and look at the view.

Suzy Chase: Now to my segment called last night’s dinner where I ask you what you had last night for dinner.

India Hicks: Oh my God. I had, probably not what you’re expecting. We had artichokes with a lot of melted butter and David cooked them in lemon juice, which was rather nice. And then we had a big French baguette with some Camembert cheese, and then I finished it off with half a box, and I’m quite proud of that, half a box of After Eights.

Suzy Chase: Wow.

India Hicks: Yeah, yeah. That’s what my stomach said as well as I went to bed.

Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media and where can we find your podcast?

India Hicks: Oh, these are the really lovely questions on Instagram, India Hicks Style. I write every word I post every picture. I edit every look and feel of it. So it’s very much me. I have a blog. If you go to IndiaHicks.com you’ll find my blog there and the podcast, any platform that has podcasts, you’ll find it’s called The India Hicks Podcast.

Suzy Chase: This has been a once in a lifetime treat for me. I cannot thank you enough for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.

India Hicks: Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure for me and how amazing as well that we can talk from Paris to New York with such ease.

Outro: Subscribe over on CookerybytheBook.com. And thanks for listening to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book.

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Suzy Chase

Suzy Chase

Cookery by the Book is the #1 Cookbook Podcast hosted by Suzy Chase.

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