FOUR HOURS before the dinner, art patron and entrepreneur Kathleen Liechtenstein, “Maymay” to friends, was fashioning logs from Valrhona dark chocolate. That would be the dessert of her theme dinner for Ballet Philippines (BP) which was set to announce its forthcoming season with its opener, the revival of Agnes Locsin’s Encantada. Written by Al Santos, the story is about an enchantress who protects the forest, and how man suffers from his crime of savaging nature.
“I didn’t want to be literal. It would end up being a Filipiniana,” explained Maymay who had just prepared her rendition of a Filipino menu for the 80th birthday of architect Francisco Mañosa.
As homage to Encantada, the chocolate log roll served as a culinary depiction of the finale where the forest undergoes a cataclysm. Maymay filled the log roll with caramelized banana and chocolate. Then for the sorbet, she squeezed pulps of santol, apple, and mango into a bowl of agar-agar. Meanwhile her assistant sliced artichokes, tomatoes, and cheeses as the scent of fresh basil wafted in the air.
There wasn’t a single recipe book or paper in sight. Everything was concocted in her head.
Aside from her fragrance business, Maymay is president of the UN Women, founding president of Zonta Club Alabang, past president of Rotary Sampaguita, and of the Cosmetics Chamber Industry of the Philippines.
However, she is better known for her fabulous fetes that defy convention. She has a separate address in her subdivision dedicated solely to entertaining. Sculptor Gabriel Barredo has decked the place with his works so that it could easily pass off for his museum.
His kinetic chandelier and table in the dining room always manage to leave guests in awe. Branches dance from the chandelier, casting shadows on the ceiling. “It looks as if the ceiling is moving,” said Barredo. “Maymay is daring. How many clients allow you to play?”
For the furniture and home accessories, Barredo used wood, fiberglass, and found objects. He even chopped a Baccarat chandelier and turned it into a dining table. “No material is sacred to me,” he said.
Underneath the glass-topped, 12-seat dining table are 100 antenna rays from gammon radios that extend like tentacles. “You can swing then forward on the center and on the side of the table. The table makes you feel like you’re dining in the sea with moving objects that create an element of surprise,” said Barredo.
While munching dates from the Middle East, guests watched the video of the premiere of Encantada in 1991 and listened to the music performed by Joey Ayala and the Bagong Lumad.
The dining room was set in the story of the spirit of the forest enchantress—theatrical black lighting was used at the start of the dinner, with towering white phalaenopses gleaming in the dark.
“I get inspired by something I see and create a theme around it. Then I concoct the food to suit the guests. Depending on the time element, I order the ingredients from around the world from my list of purveyors,” she said.
The ingredients revealed her credentials as a global foodie: Gjetost cheese from Holland, champagne jelly from the Borough market in London, fresh olives also from the UK, herbs de Provence from Cannes, aratilis from Cavite, to name a few.
Maymay tossed together complex but homey dishes—prosciutto-wrapped sole filled with sun-dried tomatoes, champagne jam, caramelized onions, and seaweed salsa or Angus short ribs rubbed with ceps and black truffles. Instead of the usual sorbet, the palate was cleansed with frozen watermelon cubes and pulverized sherbet, their fruity tastes just popping up in the mouth. The main course, Angus beef sous vide, reflected the trend in molecular cooking. The meat was cooked vacuum-sealed in low heat for a day to make it tender and flavorful. The dessert wasn’t the usual cake or pastry but the chocolate logs accompanied with hokey-pokey or honeycomb—“You’ve got to be sure with the temperature of the sugar and baking soda,” she said—and frosted pansy and wild beehives that underscored the ambiance of the wilderness.
To emphasize the environment theme, the deforestation, Maymay had trees sculptured to hold the appetizers. Tree trunk slabs served as plates, and the cutlery had tree bark designs. Little kamagong trays were used to serve coffee and tea.
Elements representing the earth provided contrast—in an aquarium plate, with little fish floating, was used for the fish fillet. Deli meats followed a salad on a rough slate dish. The sliced meats were on luxurious mother-of-pearl dishes.
The dinner became a multi-media performance, a multi-sensory experience, with a very personal touch. Guests had their portraits sketched and Maymay’s daughter Lauren, a microbiologist and a soprano, sang arias and Broadway songs in between courses.
For a touch of luxury, BP president Margie Moran-Floirendo gave guests Tiffany notebooks with which to remember an enchanting dinner.
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