There’s no such thing as a simple meal for art patroness and businesswoman Kathleen Liechtenstein, “Maymay” to friends.
When she hosted a vegan dinner, she insisted that it be casual event with her neighbors in the south. But when you have a dining room filled with kinetic sculptures by Gabby Barredo, the food would invariably be artful.
Maymay has been known for astonishing guests with her dishes, for their unconventional yet alluring presentation. As this was a casual get-together, she eschewed the theatrical touches, such as black lights and over-the-top centerpieces. Yet the dark brown cutout place mats as anchor pieces were striking enough.
For visual impact, the white plates and stemware had sculpted clip-ons by Barredo; the coasters were also by the sculptor.
“When I’m stressed out, I think of recipes, tastes and menus. These make me relax,” she said. Entertaining keeps her in touch with her creativity and with the artistic process of coming up with unconventional combinations of ingredients.
For this event, each dish was created based on its unique color, texture and flavor, without the use of onions, garlic and eggs.
The amuse-bouche came in an intricately carved box from Bacolod. Intrigued, guests opened it to see a roll of grilled zucchini wrapping the artichoke and walnuts, flavored with orange and lemon zest and almond milk, served atop a bed of alfalfa sprouts. It came with crunchy tomato.
“I wanted to fry the zucchini with cocoa butter, but it would mean extra calories,” said Maymay.
The fruity floral salad was an assortment of sautéed fruits—dragonfruit, watermelon, pomelo with mustard dressing, blueberries with a pulpy filling, tamarind, apple, mango, Korean pear with lavender dressing, and kiwi. Drops of balsamic vinegar not only created an abstract effect on the plating, but also added a little tartness.
The fruits were cut in rectangles, artfully grouped together, generously lined with edible flowers that substituted for the usual lettuce. The color-blocked glass plate from Milan, customized for Maymay, emphasized their bright colors.
Then we nibbled on the fried bulgur balls, seasoned with parsley, olive oil and butter. Swirls of edamame dressing flavored with tahini and lemon added visual interest to the plate.
The meal got heavier with roasted cauliflower topped with fresh oranges. Maymay used two varieties of oranges, prepared with fresh orange juice, wine vinegar and citron sea salt. She won’t settle for any common salt. As if the subtle flavors weren’t enough, she sprinkled metallic dust from Manhattan to make the plate shine.
Our starch dish and main course came in the form of grape leaves with chestnuts, rice and bamboo. They flanked king oyster mushrooms that shaded bits of lychee, passionfruit and chestnuts.
Maymay made a pitch about her supplier, Ministry of Mushrooms, producer of gourmet mushrooms in Lipa. She then showed a giant milk mushroom which could be baked with olive oil or cocoa butter.
The climax was an eggless and dairyless sesame mousse made of puréed sesame seeds in coconut cream flavored with François Pralus criollo, a rare variety of cacao. The brand has a Bio Ecocert certification that guarantees that it is a product of organic farming. An accompanying black fig enhanced the richness of the dish.
“When it was my birthday, I made a chocolate altar, all made of chocolate, which is my passion,” recalled Maymay. Our Ladurée teas were served in dainty sterling silver tea sets made by Cordillera craftsmen.
As always, Maymay took a lot of risks, taking time by investigating the effects of virtually every combination of ingredients. But each plate was prepared with an ease that resulted in flavors that were always both pleasing to the eye and the palate.
“My next meal will be a lechon buffet,” she declared.