Interview with Anne Petersen | Legendary Dinners
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
Anne Petersen: I’m Anne Petersen and I’m the author of the book, Legendary Dinners from Grace Kelly to Jackson Pollock.
Suzy Chase: You are the woman behind Salon a spectacular German lifestyle and design magazine that I definitely want to talk with you about a little later, but for now it’s about Legendary Dinners. For me, a great dinner party is a break from the ordinary and a chance to connect with what really matters connection and inspiration. Do you think dinners are going to be different post pandemic? Like will they be more grand or maybe smaller and more intimate?
Anne Petersen: I think post-pandemic parties will definitely be more intensive and I’m sure that we will all remember how easy it is to have people over, to meet, to share a table and have a good evening. And as you said, connection and inspiration, I think we are all interested in other humans. We are social beings and I think there’s no substitute to real social context.
Suzy Chase: What makes a great dinner party?
Anne Petersen: What makes a great dinner party? I think everything is important. Like food location, decorations, fashion, the music and I think the party is always a big exaggeration, it’s an exception, it’s a special moment and it is something that follows very specific rules. Like it is allowed to be overdressed. It is allowed to be drunken. It is allowed to address the stranger. It is allowed to make a speech. It is allowed to take your shoes off and dance on the table because it’s a party. And we celebrate who we are. Humans
Suzy Chase: I’d love to hear about the research process for these 20 menus and how they made the cut.
Anne Petersen: The book brings together a number of stories that we have all printed already in Salon. And we tried to choose iconic events, parties that became historic like the wedding of Grace Kelly or Prince Rainier of Monaco, which is still an inspiration for brides all over the world today, or Truman Capote’s spectacular black and white ball also copied thousands of times or the most luxurious state dinner ever, the feast that Richard Nixon gave to the astronauts after the moon landing, Apollo 11. So I think what we did in the book is we really collected from Coco Chanel to Claude Monet or Karen Blixen to Thomas Mann, even Goethe’s 66th birthday or Napoleon’s wedding. So a big, a wide variety of different dinners and events. We tell the stories and we cooked all the recipes again. And of course it’s easier if you have the old menu card or the invitation, but some of the recipes we did adjust interpretations because for example, of Coco Chanel at the Côte d’Azur, we had no recipe, but you get hints in different books about her. And we did not cook everything historically correct, but we found a modern version for today. Most of the time.
Suzy Chase: I like that you combined both archival images with contemporary photography of the food, because so often with books like this you have to look at old grainy photos of the dishes that they served.
Anne Petersen: Yes. I think that’s the fun of the book. And, and, and this is why it’s, it stands also for the whole magazine Salon and all its contributors for the whole team, because it is chefs on the, on the one hand side, put it the recipes, stylist, the very excellent authors, the photographers. I think the book has so many different levels, the recipes, the stories, the food, the table tops, the porcelain and the flowers and I think you read about an event and you dive really into it with all the details and also all the gossip of the time, which is also very nice. I think like with Truman Capote’s black and white ball and all the hysteria in New York who was invited and who was not. Yeah, I think it’s a coffee table book and eye candy, but also an historical book and definitely a very good cookbook with reliable, good recipes.
Suzy Chase: With modern dinner parties we could just text people or ask them to join us, but there’s something special about receiving a dinner party invitation. In the book you give examples of wildly creative invitations. Do you have a favorite invitation?
Anne Petersen: Yes. I really liked the Bauhaus invitations because they were a university for graphic design and art in the twenties. And in general I love paper invitations and I think that the dinner party is really an occasion where you can still send paper invitations. I think it’s more uncommon to write long letters or even postcards from holidays, but I think dinner invitation is something different. And if it’s a really beautiful one, I think it’s nice because people can hang them up and pin them on their board. And then they know maybe in two weeks time, three weeks time, they will attend this party. I think that’s, that’s very nice.
Suzy Chase: You just brought up the Bauhaus parties. They were so creative and wild and it looked like a ton of fun. And do you have a photo of their sandwiches and it very much fits with the geometric art style. Every recipe in the book is something on whole wheat bread. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Anne Petersen: Yeah. I think this whole wheat bread, that is a typical German thing, maybe also from Denmark, but that you just put a lot of different things like carrots and walnuts, pesto, marinades with beans on bread in this case. Yeah, well, they, they cut it in very geometric forms and this is also just the fun they make. They also bake this gingerbread figures. There was an artist she was called Gunta Stölzl and she founded that those gingerbread figures, the Bauhaus was famous for it. You can still find these real figures in the Bauhaus archive in Berlin and I think it’s a nice inspiration to create all kinds of crazy elephants and whatever you can imagine, not only for Christmas and decorate them also wildly.
Speaker 3: Marie-Hélène de Rothschild believed those who are in small spirit who are mean narrow-minded or timid should leave entertaining with others. And I agree. I’d love for you to chat a bit about her invitations and her elaborate parties.
Anne Petersen: Yeah. I think she was really legendary and especially her surrealist ball in 1972. So every detail was planned exactly. For example, also for this costume party at her castle was decorated in Alice, in Wonderland. So 150 guests were invited, press was not allowed and everybody had to come in costumes. The special thing about it that you wore evening dresses, but your head had to be costume. So it was just the heads. So Audrey Hepburn put a birdcage on her head. And the only one who came without a mask was Salvador Dali because he said his face was disgusting enough.
Suzy Chase: I mean, when I think about her, I think they had more money than they knew what to do with.
Anne Petersen: I think so too. Yeah. If I think about this costume ball, I sometimes think about the FIT costume ball in New York but also, uh, let’s say about these I think very ridiculous costumes that for example, Heidi Klum is wearing for Halloween. You know what I mean? Now you can buy everything at Plastic Fantastic. You know, and that was another time, like she had a real head of a gilded deer head with diamond tears. They really had to make an effort like Audrey Hepburn with the bird cage on her head. It’s different. And of course I think she was able to throw a lot of money out of the window. Definitely the big windows of her big castle but I think, yeah, I think it was a lot of fun. Like the guests arrived at the party. There were, on both sides of the stairs and on their way to the ballroom the whole service people and the stuff that were dressed as cats and they were lying there and sleeping and just moving around. It had a lot of humor. What’s interesting about Madame de Rothschild is also, she had stage fright before each of her parties. And also, at this time at the surrealist ball, she just started to relax a little bit when most of the guests were gone or as she put it, the guests were reduced like a good sauce.
Suzy Chase: So Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh who just passed away at the age of 99 was a Greek, Danish, German, Prince who married Princess Elizabeth. Now Queen November 20th, 1947. I was interested to see that the menu was in French and on the menu was Filet de Sole Mountbatten. I thought it was curious that they added Phillip’s last name onto the name of the dish. Do you know why they did that?
Anne Petersen: That was to welcome him in, into the family because that was a sign of recognition and acceptance for Phillip. I mean, he was a very handsome guy, a lot of aristocratic titles, but no money, five years older than her. And I don’t think that everybody was so thrilled about this marriage in the beginning, especially in the Royal family. This wedding is also interesting because it was two years after the war. They were not sure if it was appropriate to have this big wedding. And that’s also why the menu was quite simple, just three dishes, fish, poultry, and then ice cream. And it was in French. But why? Well, because French is the preferred language of gourmets and that even at Buckingham Palace.
Suzy Chase: Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner live the Bohemian life in my neighborhood in Greenwich village, it was the hub of the city’s artist colony. And that’s one of the reasons why we live in this neighborhood today. It’s retained much of its already residents and artistic feel. So they left Manhattan for a big place in the Hamptons where they could host dinner parties for the movers and shakers of the New York City art scene. His art was so complicated and abstract, but I found it interesting that they entertained with simple dishes like borscht and roast chicken stuffed with herbs. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Anne Petersen: Yeah. I think both loved good, simple food, but there were no good cooks and they apartment in Manhattan even had no kitchen. And when they moved to the countryside in 1945, they bought the house and build the kitchen and started to host dinner also to not lose the contact to the Manhattan bohemian society. And Krasner learned to cook took charge of the baking. And I think together they were great hosts and yeah, borscht, it seems to be something that they have cooked very often because Krasner she’s a child of Russian Jewish immigrants.
Suzy Chase: Coco Chanel, whom I would assume would host elaborate high style dinner parties was very toned down, dress was informal as were the meals. Lunch was served buffet style with food service and antique silver dishes from England on a long table at the end of the dining room, like salad nicoise with tuna steaks and fried chicken with asparagus artichokes and fava beans and crispy fans of grapefruit with pine nuts, the juxtaposition of fancy fashion and informal meals intrigues me.
Anne Petersen: I think the interesting thing about Coco Chanel is actually at which state of her life she was when we did this menu because she just turned 40 years and she met the Duke of Westminster. And the Duke of Westminster was at that time, the richest man of Great Britain and she met him on his big sailing ship. And so in this period of her life, she bought the piece of land at the Côte d’Azur and had the La Pausa built on it. And this became a swanky relaxed retreat for herself and all her friends. And for her love the Duke of Westminster, there was not a strict menu guests themselves from a large poofy eating as much as they wanted or as little, I think, I guess Coco Chanel probably did not eat a lot. And that was also something the buffet style for her was also a possibility to be not forced to eat so much because you cannot see how much she would eat.
Suzy Chase: That’s interesting. Huh?
Anne Petersen: That’s for example, one of the menus that we had no exact menu card for that. And we wanted to do a dinner with Coco Chanel and contacted the Chanel archive in Paris. And we also thought about maybe do something was the Ritz in Paris. What we didn’t do, because that is the period where she was really collaborating with the Nazis. And it was also the time when in Paris, a lot of people, they were really starving. And I think in the Ritz, they were still partying with champagne and had everything. So that is all, it’s not the nice part of Coco Chanel. So this is a little earlier.
Suzy Chase: You’re the editor in chief of Salon, a beautiful lifestyle magazine. And I collect vintage interior design coffee table books, and must have over 50 in my small collection here in my small New York city apartment. I was talking to India Hicks on this podcast about her brother, Ashley, who you mentioned on your Instagram, I think yesterday or the day before. Yeah, they’re related to Prince Philip. So he got me through the pandemic, locked down with his wonderful Instagram Lives of him flipping through interior design books, discussing the background and history of interiors. What are some interior design styles or interior designers that influence you?
Anne Petersen: I also love Beata Heuman. I don’t know if you know her. She just released the book Every Room Should Sing. And in the last issue we did a big story with François Halard who is a very famous European, interior photographer. And I think another favorite book that I recently bought is The Life of Others by Simon Watson. It’s also an interior photographer that I really like.
Suzy Chase: What is your favorite style of interior design?
Anne Petersen: Very eclectic. So it’s a mix of old and new and very colorful, um, yeah. To use a lot of color to use even wallpaper. And I think it’s important to have some old furniture because it gives the room a soul and makes it warmer. It gives more atmosphere. Yeah. I think that that’s my style.
Suzy Chase: Now to my segment called Last Night’s Dinner where I ask you what you had last night for dinner.
Anne Petersen: Yeah. I had asparagus with butter sauce and caramelized breadcrumbs and chopped eggs. And that altogether was potatoes and ham, which is typical German.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media on Instagram?
Anne Petersen: You will find Salon @Salon_Magazin. And you’ll find myself at @Anne_Petersen.
Suzy Chase: I’m thrilled to celebrate the return of the dinner party with this book. Thank you so much. And for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast!
Anne Petersen: Thank you Suzy. For having me. It was great fun.
Outro: Follow Cookery by the Book on Instagram. And thanks for listening to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book.