Remember dinner parties? Squishing around a dining table, clinking glasses, and breaking bread? We miss them too. Thankfully, there’s a new cookbook to flip open if you’re in need of some escapism. Legendary Dinners: From Grace Kelly to Jackson Pollock is a compendium of history’s most famous dinners, from Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball at New York’s Plaza Hotel in 1966 to a JFK-hosted dinner at the American embassy in the West German capital of Bonn in 1963.
While JFK’s trip is remembered for the president’s iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, the meal was noteworthy too. According to the cookbook’s editor, Anne Petersen, a young Kennedy was looking to make a point by serving a French menu. “I think what he wanted to show was that even though he was an American, he was very fine and sophisticated,” she says. Once dinner parties return, what better way to prove that you’re fine and sophisticated, too, than by recreating JFK’s dinner in Bonn?
Here, Petersen explains what makes a dinner “legendary” and why the cookbook is striking a chord in 2021. She even shares two dishes from J.F.K.’s dinner in Bonn for Sharp readers to try at home.
First off, what classifies a dinner as “legendary”?
There are just certain parties that become really iconic. For example, Grace Kelly’s wedding was the first that was very well documented, because it was filmed. Or there’s Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball. The guest list was a masterpiece; everyone in New York was scared of not being invited. And then there are also those special occasions where you can really feel the changing times, like John F. Kennedy’s visit to Germany, or the dinner celebrating Apollo 11 and the first man on the moon.
Have we lost some of the “art of entertaining”?
It seems people used to have more fantasy about really big parties. They made such an effort. For example, the invitations for the Bauhaus parties in Dessau were art pieces. The parties were so full of creativity and costumes. It makes a difference to go the extra mile, and I think this is something the book shows: don’t take it so seriously and don’t be afraid of being a little bit kitsch. Just go for it.
Legendary Dinners is already a bestseller in Germany. Does it owe any of its success to the times we’re living in?
I think there’s some nostalgia, yes. It’s funny; people had orgies in Germany in the Middle Ages after the plague was gone. Humans are interested in humans, and it’s in our nature to want to be together. There is a nostalgia [for parties] and yearning for people. [Legendary Dinners] is a cookbook, but it also allows you to travel somewhere in your mind. It takes you somewhere.
Saumon de Norvège en Bellevue (Norwegian Salmon Bellevue)
Ingredients (serves 8):
- 1 fresh salmon with skin (gutted, gilled, and scaled; about 2½ lb / 1 kg)
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 3 slices organic lemon
- 3 leaves white gelatin
- 1 cup / 250 ml fish stock
- 1 cucumber
- 1¼ cups / 300 g crème fraîche
- 7 oz / 200 ml whipping cream
- 20 hard-boiled quail eggs
- 4 tbsp trout caviar
- 10 cherry tomatoes
- 2 handfuls fresh herbs, such as
- chervil, dill, and chives
45 minutes + 70 minutes for cooking + cooling
Level of difficulty:
Heat the oven to 300°F / 150°C (gas 1; convection ovens 250°F / 130°C). Rinse the salmon inside and out under cold water and pat dry. Season the inside of the belly with salt and pepper, then place the thyme and the lemon slices inside. Place the salmon on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bend the tail toward the head, tying it in position with kitchen string. Cover the baking sheet with aluminum foil and roast the salmon for 70–90 minutes.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and leave the salmon to cool. Pull off and discard the skin. Soak the gelatin 5 minutes in cold water. Heat the fish stock until it simmers, but do not let it boil. Squeeze out the gelatin, then add to the fish stock and stir until it dissolves. Leave to cool a little.
Wash the cucumber, then slice very thinly. Brush the fish with the fish stock (you might have to heat it so it can be brushed; do not boil), then cover with cucumber slices and brush with the fish stock again. Cover loosely and chill until the gelatin sets. Just before serving, season the crème fraîche and whipping cream with salt and pepper and beat together until stiff. Transfer the whipped cream mixture to a pastry bag with a star tip and use to decorate the fish. Garnish with the quail eggs, trout caviar, cherry tomatoes, and herbs.
Today, Kennedy would probably choose a full-bodied Chardonnay from California, a wine with plenty of fruit and delicate, spicy notes of vanilla.
Soufflé Glacé Grand Marnier
Ingredients (serves 8):
- ½–1 tbsp / 15–30 g softened butter for the soufflé dishes
- 4 organic oranges
- 1 cup / 200 g granulated sugar
- 2¾ cups + 2 tbsp / 650 ml whipping cream
- 5 egg yolks
- About 7 tbsp Grand Marnier
- Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
- 4–8 kumquats sliced, optional
35 minutes + 4 hours freezing
Level of difficulty:
Lightly grease the outer rims of eight soufflé dishes (about 6 tbsp / 90 ml volume; 2½” / 7 cm diameter) with the butter. Tightly wrap a strip of baking paper (2¾ × 14½”/ 7 × 37 cm) around each dish and affix with a paperclip at the top edge.
Wash 2 oranges under hot water, then rub them dry. Thinly grate off the zest and squeeze out all the juices. Simmer the juice with 3 tbsp sugar until reduced to 7 tbsp. Stir in the zest and set aside to cool.
Beat the whipping cream until stiff. Fit a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water without it touching the water. Set aside a larger bowl with ice water. Add the egg yolks with the remaining sugar to the bowl over water and use a hand-held mixer to whisk until foamy and thickened — don’t let the mixture get too hot. Transfer the hot bowl to the bowl with cold water and continue beating until the mixture is cool. Stir in the orange syrup and fold in one third of the whipped cream. Add everything to the remaining cream, then stir in 3 tbsp of the Grand Marnier.
Divide the mixture equally among the soufflé dishes — the mixture should come above the rim of the mould. Leave to cool completely, then place into the freezer for 4 hours. Take the soufflés out of the freezer 5 minutes before serving and carefully peel off the baking paper. Dust the soufflés with cocoa powder. Using a melon baller or a teaspoon, make a small hollow in each soufflé, then divide the remaining Grand Marnier among them. Used the sliced kumquats to garnish the soufflés. Serve immediately.
Legendary Dinners: From Grace Kelly to Jackson Pollock is now available in Canada.
Lead Image: Reinhard Hunger