It started out as an idea for a collaboration. I saw what the ladies at Filigree Suppers were doing, and that their dinners often propped up women, using female chefs, artisans (potters et al), designers, photographers...you get the picture. And then I saw their Moroccan-themed dinner just as I was planning a long vacation overseas which included my first trip to a bucket list locale for me: yes, Morocco. It seemed like fate.
So I got in touch about wanting to do a collaborative dinner with them, and Brita and Elise were lovely and receptive. We discussed several possible themes, and they mentioned they'd wanted to do a female icons-themed dinner for a while. I immediately loved it! It was a great way to pay homage to the women who paved the way for us -- entrepreneurs, all, doing our own thing and able to do what we love, without risk or protest, without inhibition or second-guessing. And while we have many political figures and brave women in technology and medicine and business and human rights activism to thank for our enjoyed (mostly) equal status in today's modern age, we decided that for this dinner, for this fun theme, we'd honor female icons of style and the arts from the 20th century. And then I was able to turn on my creativity.
First thing was the menu. That was my job: to come up with a multi-course meal that reflected the season (full-on summer in mid-July), and my cooking style, while interpreting what these female muses of modern style contributed to us -- and it all had to taste delicious, of course. I thought about the categories I'd wanted represented. As a long-time ballerina, I had to have dance in there. Pavlova was a legendary ballerina, and already had a dessert named after her, which was the perfect light end to a summer meal. Dessert done. As a budding chef and a very young girl, I'd watched Julia Child cooking on television, like...well, like it would some day be my job. I had to honor her and the culinary arts in some way. I'd worked in fashion early in my professional career, and knew what a tough business it was, and how I admired those who were truly talented at the art of design, who had enormous personal style.
Who better encapsulates that than Coco Chanel, a woman before her time? I have always loved the Jazz Age, the roaring '20s (and on to the '30s and '40s), particularly New York and France in that period...though it felt like a time dominated by men in the arts (Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald et al).
The female figures representing that time? The fabulous Josephine Baker, of course, as well as personal favorite Dorothy Parker. A recent visit to Santa Fe and the museum celebrating the work of a favorite artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, had her top-of-mind for me. Jackie Kennedy Onassis is a no-brainer for any roundup of women of style. And finally, since we were having the dinner in the Hotel des Artistes, it made sense to pay tribute to one of its former inhabitants, modern dancer Isadora Duncan. The cast of icons was complete. Now, how to honor them and use their work as inspiration for my culinary creations?
While I took care of the menu development, a whole cast of women contributed to the success of the evening. Filigree Suppers (www.filigreesuppers.com) rounded everyone up, including lovely flowers by Peartree (http://peartreeflowers.com), paper goods by Fourteen-Fort (www.1440nyc.com), liquor for our cocktail donated by Brooklyn Gin (www.brooklyngin.com), and a wonderful photographer with City Love Photography(www.citylovephotography), contributing many of the photos you see here today. We had gorgeous ceramics on sale all evening from Red Raven Studios (www.redravenshop.com), and I contacted another fabulous female graphic designer, who'd created the lovely labels for our wine for the evening, Festival and Feast (www.festivalandfeast.com).
Our dinner event took place in the gorgeous, colorful, and super-cool apartment of equally gorgeous (colorful, super-cool), chic Beatrix Ost, who is herself a fashion and art icon and pretty much the definition of a Renaissance woman. Her duplex apartment in the Hotel des Artistes on the Upper West Side was the perfect location for our celebration of female style, creativity, and power.
The evening began with a cocktail hour. And which female icon is better suited to a New York gin-based cocktail than Dorothy Parker herself? The drink, called the Ascerbic Mrs. Parker, was created in Brooklyn at a bar called the Shanty. It features gin, orange liqueur, hibiscus syrup, lemon juice, and soda, and goes down as smoothly as Parker's witty lines.
To balance the rapier wit and cynicism of the cocktail's muse, we decided to pair it with some cocktail fare inspired by lovely, sophisticated Jackie O. I created two hors d'oeuvres in the former first lady's honor. One celebrates the Kennedy part of her: East Coast clam crostini were a nod to summer days spent with the Kennedy clan in Hyannis Port. Greek salad skewers represented the Onassis part of Jackie O, and were a perfect accompaniment to the cocktail and a refreshing light bite on a sweltering summer evening (the mercury rose well above 90 degrees that Sunday night!).
And so, after plenty of mingling and sipping and nibbling, the dinner part of the evening began. The ladies from Filigree made their introductions, and presented the hostess of the evening, and then I came out to introduce the actual food part of the event. I would explain each course before it was served, plated but buffet style on Ost's lapis-blue, oversized dining room table.
We began with the amuse bouche, inspired by Coco Chanel. Since the designer is known as much as anything for her iconic bags, I created a "Cocoa" Chanel beggar's purse as a riff on a beggar's purse (classically, a crepe filled with creme fraiche and caviar, tied with a chive).
I made a crepe with cabernet flour and cocoa, filled it with sour cream and smoked trout caviar, wrapped it in a bundle tied with a chive, and plated it with a spoonful of caviar and a fuchsia beet aioli double-C. The guests were treated to some wonderful lyrical opera music from singer Eva Glasmacher, singing from a balcony overhead, in truly dramatic fashion. Her performances were peppered throughout the evening, whenever inspiration struck her. I am always amazed at the powerful voice that can come out of such a petite frame.
After the amuse bouche, we continued on to the salad. I created this course to celebrate the work of Georgia O'Keeffe, one of my favorite painters, and an artist who celebrated women and the female form throughout much of her work. Of course, she's known for her flower paintings, and her adopted home of Santa Fe, New Mexico is known for its gorgeous desert sunsets in colors ranging from ochre to burnt sienna -- something I tried to reflect in my Georgia O'Keeffe Southwestern Salad.This included mixed field greens and herbs, roasted corn off the cob, chile-candied bacon, micro cucumbers, and edible flowers in sunset colors, all tossed in a piquant chili pepper-lime vinaigrette with cumin. Again, as it turned out, a nice refreshing course in the midst of a hot summer night.
Next up? A tribute to the sultry American triple-threat (singer, dancer, actress), beloved in her adopted France, and a performer ahead of her time: Josephine Baker. Her fans comprised most everyone in the entertainment industry, as she played to rapt audiences around the globe.
In an era of black and white (photos, film, and how many people viewed the world), she was a groundbreaking artist who refused to perform for segregated audiences in the U.S, and the first black woman to star in a major motion picture. Hemingway dubbed her "the most sensational woman anyone ever saw." I needed to translate her into a dish, and so, I created a Seared Coquille St. Jacque on squid ink couscous with pickled cauliflower and Moroccan spiced citrus oil. The dish is a nod to her becoming a French citizen, the couscous a culinary translation of her nickname, "The Black Pearl," and along with the spiced oil, is a reference to her time spent in French Morocco.I think (hope!) the dish was an honorable tribute to a true talent.
The final main course was a fairly obvious choice for me, since I most definitely wanted to include a culinary legend in the mix of female icons, and one who actually had a great impact on me from a very young age. Little did I know, when I was a young girl, the interesting life Julia Child had led well before she turned her focus on food. Some have said she was a spy. She definitely worked for the OSS during World War II in its Secret Intelligence Division in Washington, then in postings in Sri Lanka, and after marrying her husband Paul, moved to Paris where he was posted in the foreign service.
She didn't arrive at culinary school until she was 37, nor the idea of a profession in food until she was basically 40 years old. She is inspiring across the board! And what was one of her most well-known dishes? The classic Boeuf Bourguinon -- and my version was deconstructed. I used short ribs for the beef, slow-cooked them in a red wine sauce, and cooked the vegetables separately, each a little differently, from sauteeing the mushrooms in olive oil and rosemary and garlic, to glazing the carrots with butter and sherry vinegar, to making sweet-and-sour cippolini onions with balsamic. This was served on a bed of celeriac-potato puree, and finished with sea beans for a little pop of salinity and green in the dish. Served with some of the reduced red wine demi-glace, and topped with some purple opal basil, this lighter version of the classic was about as heavy as we could handle in the summer heat. As Julia would say, Bon Appetit!
Dessert was simple (an ode to ballerina Anna Pavlova), but challenging in the execution. I knew immediately that serving mini Pavlovas would be the perfect option from a diner's perspective: light, summery, fruity, refreshing. But from a chef's point of view...well, meringue can be tricky. Still, I managed to keep the meringue nests cool. Until the scorching, humid day of the event, that is.
We tried to rescue the meringues from melting, and although we salvaged them to some degree, they would never be their formerly crisp, crunchy selves.
Good thing we had lots of delicious organic whipped cream, berries, pineapple, and fresh mint to plop on top of the meringues, so all was not lost! We also put out a platter of goodies for our guests to take home, the final nod to our female icons theme: in black filigree-patterned cellophane bags, in honor of Isadora Duncan, we tucked in some almond-hazelnut biscotti for "duncan" in your coffee the next morning, wink-wink.
The crowd seemed to enjoy it all, and as the evening wrapped up and we enjoyed our final vocal performance, a lot of connections, conversations, and friendships had been sparked among the guests.
In coming together to honor iconic women in the arts and creative fields, we celebrate and appreciate the beautiful side of our existence, the little things that make everyday life a pleasure.
Wonderful hostess in a wonderful home...great supper club hostesses...creators and thinkers and makers joining together for a fun midsummer night's meal.
And that's really what these supper club evenings are all about, right?
Special thanks to all of those who attended, and to Beatrix Ost and her lovely family, all of the other creative ladies who helped with each facet of the event. And to my fabulous Blu Aubergine team of gals: grazie mille! I couldn't have pulled it off without you!