Monday, October 6, 2008

My birthday dinner

I like to make things immensely difficult for myself, almost killing myself every year right around the time of my birthday and it isn't about growing older and obviously I am not getting wiser either! At least not in this respect....Almost every year, I throw a theme dinner party for my birthday. A month before I already prepare my invitation and I have my menu and table setting practically planned out. I usually give my friends this time to get their costumes together.

Sounds like fun right? It is, but all the behind-the-scenes work keeps me up many nights labouring away for one night's glory. It's well worth it, especially with my friends who do go the distance with me. That's what I tell myself whenever my feet start to throb!

Through the years, I've gone through most of the world's cuisines. Those were the years when the food dictated the theme.  Then it all changed. I could no longer think of a cuisine to do. The creativity kicked in and I started doing things the other way around. I developed  a theme first and then the food followed. It was quite liberating and challenging. Most of what I was coming up with were reinterpretations of classics, of course based on ideas already thrown around by extremely talented blogger chefs all over the web. 

Last year I did a Zodiac party. This year I wanted to up the ante so I decided to go with artists.

My invitation got a lot of oohs and ahhs but I got a lot of complaints regarding the level of difficulty of the theme and was told that interpretations should be allowed. Then came the barrage of hilarious characters: (the non-Filipinos may not understand some of these) Raggedy Andy Warhol, Cherry Pie Picasso, Mango Van Gogh, Tenga ng Degas, Matisse Tessoro, Jonathan Livingston Chagall and Star for all Cezanne... 
But after all that, they actually came in great costumes! We had Degas (okay, wrong pigmentation, no facial hair and hat but that Jigs just didn't wear an old costume gives this three thumbs up! Thank god for his girlfriend!), Degas' ballerina (Oona, who lends all credibilty to Jigs!), Andy Warhol (Raggedy pants, Troy!), Jackson Pollock (Poor Jay, we had just drizzled what I thought was quick dry embossed paint on his tee only to find out it took 12 hours to dry!), Manet's Olympia (yours truly), the bride of Chagall (Why no goat, Suzy?) and my friend Jojo who came as an Easel (another three thumbs up for the effort! He hates costumes!)

Once I got my theme lined up, I started to think of how to present it
throughout the dinner. I wanted art, color and composition to really be central to my table setting. I decided to paint 10x14" canvasses in  different colors arranging them according to the color wheel. These were both placemats and thank you cards. Each place setting was marked by an easel I had made from cardboard and on these I laid out the place cards. My centerpiece was simply a floral arrangement of red carnations, yellow Lisianthus, hydrangeas and mini gourds that had  a nature-morte feel to it.

The menu cards were simplified.  No explanations were made. I just indicated the course and the artist who inspired the the direction so as not to give anything away. I wanted my guests to be able to discern why I had paired the artist with a particular course. 

For the appetizer, the Sunflowers of Van Gogh was my jump-off point.  I opted to make an uni (sea urchin) mousse with some fish roe.  The Uni was difficult to find as a storm had just hit the Philippines. I found it though through trips to 10 different stores. Perseverance pays off!!! And to boot, I found a fresh delivery. It made an excellent and sweetly delicate mousse. 

I followed this with a Cream of Portobello that I had made with a subtle but rich vegetable broth.  The broth actually heightened the taste of the mushrooms---much more so than if i had used water or YIKES a chicken cube!

I could not scan a label of a new campbell's soup can as they look slightly different today than they did when Andy Warhol painted them so I tried as best I could to replicate them on photoshop. My font wasn't quite right but it got the soup across! My friend Troy came as Andy Warhol and we had a hoot having him pose
 with his "creation!"

The next course was the Salad and my inspiration
 came from Picasso.  I had always wanted to make a puff ball with a salad hidden like a 
treasure inside as described by Richard Bertinet in his book, Dough. But how to do the puff ball and connect it to an artist? Painting picasso's dove of peace on the puff! There is no more profound explanation than it was pretty... 

The next course fish, proved to be tricky. Color was the primary association here and Rothko was the artist. I had one guest, Carlo, who was allergic to crustaceans so my original idea of a lobster bisque en gelee would have had one fatality!
I opted to do a Soupe de Poissons en Gelee with a rouille that was slathered on one end. This gave me the most trouble as the gelatin didn't want to set properly. 6 packets later and a lot of freezer action, it finally came together. It was interesting but I still prefer it the classic way as a warm soup with the crusty bread and loads of gruyere! 

The meat course was dedicated to Mondrian.  My original thought was to make a twin lasagna of beet pasta with the meat sauce and a little bechamel then create a layering of vegetables
 thinly sliced such a squash sandwiched with bechamel and cheese.  I didn't have the time to make the lasagna so I just used my squarish, grid-like fondue plates and seared a striploin steak over a red pepper coulis and a side of roasted potatoes in duck fat.

The last course was a panna cotta a la pollock. I had half mounds of panna cotta mildly flavoured with vanilla beans and lemon rind drizzled with dark chocolate ganache and an orange syrup. Here we have Pollock matched with Pollock. Much as I love dessert, I thought it was, hands down, the infinitely inferior Pollock!

I loved all the effort and detail I put into this party but i love that my friends indulge me at least once a year and take the path of whimsy. To them I say, merci. Except Carlo, who didn't come at the last minute... =)


Phisch said...

Beautiful job, Pixie! Sounds like you had fun, too :)


Tia said...

This is my first time visiting and I have to say- you are truly inspirational. I LOVE the idea behind this theme dinner, and you have some great friends. :)

I look forward to reading more!

Raquel said...

OMG! That's a lot of work, pixie! But it sure looks like you had such great time! We do theme parties every year for my husband but not as elaborate as yours since most of my guests are the 'geriatric' crowd. :) This year, we did Islands theme in preparation for our visit to the Philippines. It was so much fun! I will be visiting your blog more often.
another daring baker

Everything's Herbed said...

belated happy birthday!
congratulations on a successful theme dinner. i bet you had a fun time organizing it.