Tuesday, April 3, 2007

"Entertaining with Kathi" Food Column ~ April 12, 2007

This story is scheduled to be published in the newspaper on April 12, 2007.

“Art is his raison d’ etre!”

“Raison d’ etre?” I repeated, “What is that?”

Rolling her eyes at my naivete, my design school roommate said, “ his basic reason to exist.”

“Oh, I see.” I responded. But what I really saw was how much I had to learn in order to try to fit in to my new life in New York City.

“I like his invitation. It’s different in an avant garde sort of way,” I said as I propped the elongated and zany zebra-stripped invitation, to my very first Manhattan soiree, on the overly crowded surface of the standard-issue dormitory chest.

I glanced at the photo beside it that had been snapped six months earlier. My eyes misted at the shot of graduation caps flying in the air in front of the chapel of Cottey College, the small private woman’s college near the Ozarks of Missouri that had been the setting of my previous collegiate life.

But during this particular time frame I was in a setting where eyes shouldn't mist and where little time was allowed for nostalgia. I was on a fast track, trying to acclimate to four seasons of culture shock in a concrete jungle.

The artsy invitation was my first clue that this party would be worlds removed from anything I had ever experienced up to that point in my young life. Imagine if you will, a SOHO loft in the 1970’s where fashion, art, safari and theatrical finesse come together for a good cause in a fun, fabulous and outrageous soiree.

Perhaps it was at that event and subsequent other chic parties during my New York City design school days that the first true kernels were planted in my imagination for a lifetime attraction to food and entertaining as art, and to the skillful mixing of contrasting mediums in ways that surprise and delight the senses.

Servers in antiquated artiste frocks with palettes as trays, served elegant hors d'oeuvres that tasted as though they had dropped from the heavens above. Tour guides decked-out in safari attire discussed the mediums used to create the bigger than life renditions of wild zebras, tigers and elephants that roamed the jungle-like walls of the loft. Overhead three-dimensional monkey sculptures clung to a whimsical forest canopy while unusual and striking sounds drifted through the party space.

The piece de resistance and grand finale was the intricate spun sugar sculptures that adorned decadent chocolate, forbidden sweet and exotic fruit displays arranged on a magnificent candlelit and star-studded rooftop garden. Hidden away in this spun-sugar dream, the surrounding city looked like a harmless out-of-this-world charming fantasy of dazzling sequined lights.

The take-away lesson for me came from witnessing the host’s stroke of brilliance in UN caging his creativity to benefit a bigger-than-life cause. The night came alive and roared with its own unique artistry- it’s own raison d’etre.

More About Spun Sugar

That event marked my first conscious memory of spun sugar. But spun sugar is by no means a twentieth century invention. As far back as 16th Century Italy, intricate spun sugar sculptures were all the rage in the dining rooms of the affluent. In retrospect, it is no wonder that my artiste friend, a tall, dark and drop-dead gorgeous man of Italian and French ancestry would dabble in sculptures of spun sugar.

Visually, spun sugar is a gastronomic embellishment that will create a sense of WOW to your next soiree. Here is the secret for making spun sugar in your own kitchen.

Spun-sugar is fairly easy to create. Simply cook sugar, water and cream of tartar in a saucepan to a hard crack stage. The next step involves dipping a fork into the hot sugar syrup and drawing out fine threads. But be careful, you don't want to burn yourself. These threads can be swirled directly onto the dessert or they can be transferred to a wax paper-lined surface until the dessert is plated. Spun sugar should be made the day of the event.

Just a whisper of these shimmering, golden strands of spun sugar will add a spectacular flourish of artistry and a fashionable crowning touch to a luscious edible white chocolate basket of fresh strawberries or most any spring dessert. Bon Vivre!

I love hearing from readers. Your kind words make my heart leap with joy! Please feel free to contact me at askkathidameron@aol.com with any questions or comments.

(c) Kathi Dameron 2007
Photo Credit: Shane Atkin & SXC

Kathi Dameron is a former caterer and event designer. She owns Kathi Dameron and Associates.

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