Imagine you are having friends over for dinner at the end of a working week. There will be four of you, and you want to cook an interesting, informal three-course meal without having to put in hours of preparation. That is the challenge of this year's Independent cookery competition. We have teamed up with Lurpak and the Four Seasons Hotels group to find a home cook worthy of our pounds 1,000 cash prize, and ready to be whisked off to Italy (with a partner) on an all-expenses-paid food trip. Be warned: there are only two weeks left before the deadline for entries.

The meal should take only two hours to cook, with a maximum of an hour's advance preparation, and three principles should govern the menu. First, it must be seasonal, using ingredients at their best (the final of the competition will be held on 27 June). Second, it must be well balanced, with respect to flavours, textures, temperatures and colours. Third, we want you to demonstrate an awareness of ingredient quality, showing you have used shopping skills to make discerning choices. (At the same time, your shopping plans should not be so elaborate that they cannot be carried out in a lunch hour or on the way home from work.)

Our judges will be looking for an honest reflection of the food you like to eat, so do not rush off to your cookbooks to find sophisticated dishes and techniques with which to impress. The judges will be: Jean-Christophe Novelli, chef at the Four Seasons Hotel in London W1; Annie Freel, marketing director for Lurpak; Shaun Hill, head chef at Gidleigh Park; and from the Independent, Emily Green (restaurant reviewer), Sophie Grigson (cookery writer) and Joanna Blythman (food writer).


Type or clearly write your menu, complete with individual recipes. On a separate sheet, attach your name, address and daytime telephone number. Post it (no faxes) to: The Lurpak/Independent/ Four Seasons Cook Competition 1994, Weekend, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB, to arrive by Friday, 27 May. Entries cannot be acknowledged.


This will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel on Monday 27 June for the six entrants whose menus have shown the most promise. Each must bring his or her ingredients. All utensils will be provided, but you may bring any items which you particularly like. Not more than pounds 40 should be spent on ingredients; finalists' costs will be reimbursed, including travel expenses up to pounds 100.


The Cook of the Year will win pounds 1,000 and a three-day, all-expenses-paid food tour to an Italian city, with a partner, and accompanied by Joanna Blythman of the Independent. The other five finalists will each win pounds 500, plus dinner for two and an overnight stay at the five- star Four Seasons Hotel in London.

(Photograph omitted)