One on One: Bananarama on Road Food, Dinner Parties and Tartiflette

As a teenager of the 80s, it was British new wave girls Bananarama who inspired me to buy baggy overalls and roll up the cuffs, wear slouch socks with penny loafers and tease my bangs into a frenzy so that they looked as if they were trying to escape from under my Boy George hat. I admired their casual demeanor on the set of Do They Know It’s Christmas? and I longed for their British accents.

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Having formed in ’79 (was it that long ago?) Bananarama often performed backup vocals for such bands as Iggy Pop and The Jam (!!), and lived above the rehearsal room of former Sex Pistols members Steve Jones and Paul Cook, who helped them record their first demo. They hit their stride throughout the eighties with hits like ‘Cruel Summer‘ and ‘Venus‘, a remake of Shocking Blue‘s 1970 hit, and have been a duo of founding members (and childhood friends) Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin – the blonde and the brunette – since 1992. (Two other members, Siobhan Fahey and Jacquie O’Sullivan, left the group in 1988 and 1991, respectively.) Bananarama is still going – they’re touring in Europe this year, are still involved in the music scene and playing charitable events – although you may not recognize them without their big hair.

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Keren (the brunette), who now lives in Cornwall, England (with longtime partner Andrew Ridgeley from Wham!), was kind enough to chat food with us, inspiring me to post what just happens to be one of my current favourite recipes. Read on:

RS: Did you grow up in a family that cooked and ate meals together? What are your favourite childhood memories that involve food?

KW: Yes we always ate meals together, but my parents both worked and shared the cooking depending on who got home first. Favourite meal was Sunday roast. My job was to do Yorkshire puddings etc. When Sara and I were bored in the school holidays, we used to make cakes and then eat them to fill the time.

RS: What was the inspiration for your band name?

KW: It came from a Roxy Music track called Pyjamarama. Our first single was sung in Swahili and our then manager threatened to call us the Pineapple Chunks if we didn’t come up with a name by the next day.

RS: What are your eating habits like on the road – do you have shows catered, and do you like to explore the restaurants and local food in each city you visit? Do you have any favourite food stops?

KW: We eat as often as possible when traveling… You never know when you might be delayed. We usually start by eating in the lounge at the airport, then on the plane, when we get to the hotel, before a show, after the show… Local food is always the best and we have very international tastes, but will resort to a burger and chips in an emergency.

RS: If you were to host a dinner party, what would be on the menu?

KW: I got bored of complicated cooking and not spending time with guests, so quite like doing slow cooked stuff (in wine obvs!) I can leave in the oven so I can join in the festivities… I like to try and copy stuff I’ve eaten. Last dinner I did a very authentic Tartiflette as I’d just come back from a ski trip in France.

RS: What items will you always find in your fridge?

KW: My fridge always has emergency ingredients. Garlic, chilli, ginger, onions, lemon, lime to flavour whatever else I have and chocolate… and champagne, wine and beer. Chocolate is the most important thing, obviously!

RS: What’s your favourite kind of pie?

KW: Steak and ale pie, or even better, my local bakery’s steak and stilton pasty (I live in Cornwall).

RS: Do you have a recipe to share?

KW: I don’t use recipes… I’d rather taste as I go.

Tartiflette-3

Keren’s mention of Tartiflette only increased my crush; I rarely hear mention of this gooey French dish made with bacon, potatoes, cream and a chunk of cheese baked on top to melt down into the rest of it – traditionally it’s made with reblochon, but I’m partial to the Canadianized version made with a small wheel of creamy, nutty Quebec Oka.

Tartiflette with Oka

I’ve streamlined the original formula from Aimee via Parents Canada.

1 1/2 lbs thin skinned potatoes, cut into large chunks
5-6 slices of bacon, chopped
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small wheel Oka cheese
3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream

Preheat oven to 350F. Cover the potatoes with water, bring to a simmer and cook until just tender, but still a bit firm in the middle. Drain well.

Meanwhile, in a heavy ovenproof skillet (cast iron is perfect), cook the bacon until almost crisp; add the onion and continue cooking for a few minutes. (If you like, deglaze with a good splash of white wine and simmer until the wine is reduced by half.) Add the potatoes, salt and pepper and mix well. Remove the rind from the bottom of the cheese and lightly scratch the top rind of the cheese with a knife. Place the cheese, rind side up, on top of the potato mixture. Drizzle the cream over the potatoes.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the potatoes are golden. Serve immediately. Serves 6.