Anna Pallai’s career has taken a retro culinary turn. Formally the publicity director at Faber, Anna helped to manage the careers of comedy personalities from Harry Hill to Ricky Gervais. However, it was the “personal culinary nadir” of 1975-80 that Anna found humorous, collecting recipes of 70s dinner parties and posting them on social media. Her nostalgia-soaked chucklesome findings have now been published in a book 70s Dinner Party by Penguin Vintage.
We spoke to Anna about her journey back in gastronomic time and her favourite 70s dishes.
What sparked your interest in 70s dinner party food?
My Mum had a collection of old Robert Carrier and SuperCook ring binders that she’d had for years. I used to look through them when I was younger and give a thumbs up for food I thought looked nice and a thumbs down for the others. I was flicking through them again last summer and realised that some of the dishes were quite extraordinary, like a ‘broccoli souffle ring’ and ’eggs cooked like tripe’.
I started posting the pictures on Facebook because they made me laugh and then moved to Twitter when I realised I ran the risk of alienating all my friends.
Where were you looking for inspiration?
I have spent hours in charity and second hand bookshops, as well as on eBay. Recipe card sets were very big at that time so I now have boxes and boxes of these clogging up my front room.
What was the process behind creating the book?
I thought the best way to structure the book was to base it on dinner party courses, from canapés to desserts. I originally had a section on ‘laying the table’ as so many of the books I have included chapters on napkin-folding and floral displays, but this had to be dropped from the final edit due to space. I was lucky enough to have a brilliant researcher on hand, Clare Bowes, who spent hours tracking down copyright holders and clearing permissions for me, and we found that nearly everyone she contacted was very happy to be included in the book.
Do you have a favourite dish from the book – the most garish or delicious in your opinion?
My favourite dish is the Cauliflower Surprise – a cauliflower which has had slits cut into it which are then filled with a Birds Eye beef burger, and then the whole thing is served on a cheese sauce. It looks like something from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I’m also fond of the sandwich loaves which are ‘iced’ with green cream cheese and mayonnaise.
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