THE last thing Ms Trish Hanley of Professional Party Planners expected was to win the prestigious Betty Crocker Homemaker Scholarship while at school. ''I was not the least bit domestic,'' she said, ''and I came in for a lot of teasing as a result. Suddenly, I was being followed by kids saying: 'Please make me a cake'.'' From a typical New York family, where her elder sister cooked because her mother worked long hours, food did not feature highly in her childhood. It was a visit to France which opened Ms Hanley's eyes and palate to the pleasures of fine food. ''We went to Vichy for a year and ate out in restaurants and hotels,'' she said. ''I'd never tasted such food before and didn't know what half the ingredients were.'' ''Being naturally curious, I'd go into the kitchens afterwards. Several chefs took it upon themselves to teach me how to cook. When I'd finish with one, he'd contact a friend and I'd cycle off to learn some more.'' Back home, her culinary education was not celebrated by her family. ''I'd turn my nose up at frozen vegetables,'' she said. The next influence came while studying for a degree in Chinese politics and economic development, and Mandarin. As an extracurricular activity, lecturers would invite the students home or out to restaurants to sample Chinese cuisine. ''When we went to lecturers' homes, we'd make the meal together. I learned to make things like northern Chinese dumplings and breads.'' After her studies, she came to Hongkong to teach at the Chinese University, and in 1984 founded Professional Party Planners. Although Ms Hanley does not cook professionally, she enjoys entertaining. Her emphasis is on family-style meals where atmosphere is as important as the food. For Sunday lunch, she said a Mauritian theme went down well. ''When I was last in Mauritius in 1991 I was given a book called The Best of Mauritian Cooking which I now use as inspiration. It contains some delicious recipes within my capabilities and reminds me of my holiday.'' Guests are met with a tropical punch, Mauritian music, batik tablecloths and colourful flowers and plants. The food is a balance of signature dishes and simple grilled meats and salads. Millionaires salad, a Creole-style dish made with palm hearts, smoked marlin ravioli and rouget in banana leaf set the scene. Dessert is tropical fruit and rich, sweet coconut bars. RAVIOLI OF SMOKED MARLIN (serves 4) 30g cooked white tuna or firm white fish 125g smoked marlin trimmings or smoked salmon 120ml double cream 16 slices (approx 330g) smoked marlin or smoked salmon Salt Blend the tuna and marlin trimmings in a food processor for one minute. Sieve into a small bowl and place it on a bed of crushed ice. Slowly stir in the cream and season to taste salt. Lay out eight of the marlin slices and divide the creamed fish between them, piling into the centre of each slice. Cover with the remaining slices, press down a little and cut into a desired shape, square or round. Take a small cutter and press round the edges to close the filling in a ravioli-like pouch. COCONUT BARS 750g unsalted butter 805g brown sugar 300g plain flour 4 eggs, beaten 1 tsp baking powder 120g fresh or desiccated coconut 2 drops vanilla essence 1 tsp salt Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Blend the butter, 180 g of the sugar and the flour. Press into a well-greased 15cm-square baking tin and prick with a fork. Bake until light brown. Beat the remaining ingredients together and spread over the baked crust. Return to the oven for 15 minutes. When cool, cut into 2.5 cm squares. Makes around 200.