'This will bring up a little bit more of the heart energy,' explained Josie Castaneda as she added a splash of hibiscus syrup to a flute of fizzy liquid and handed it to a woman vexed by recurrent dreams of leading people in tasks they cannot complete. The rosy healing potion was among the custom cocktails that awaited 30 guests at Methods & Madness, a dinner party held on Sunday night in New York.
Castaneda, who specialises in 'folk remedies for modern times', was the warm-up act in the latest of an ongoing series of collaborative, conceptual dinners orchestrated by chef Tessa Liebman. 'I know what my job entails, and I've been doing it forever,' says Liebman, who recently left a top catering firm to focus on solo projects. 'Methods & Madness is my way of spying on what everyone else gets to do all day.'
Having previously translated the working processes (methods) and inspirations (madnesses) of a typographer and a perfume-maker into multi-course dinners, Liebman looked to New York-based photographer and collage artist Caroll Taveras for her latest culinary collaboration.
'There's a synergy between the way Caroll works and an artisanal approach to food,' says the chef, who referenced her friend's Latin American heritage and use of large-format, film-based photography in an appetiser of Colombian Pan de Yuca, which guests smeared with fresh, hand-churned butter.
'Tessa came to my studio, observed my process and asked me a bunch of questions,' says Taveras, whose dreamy collages studded with old family photos and backed by spacious skies evoke Dalí and Kahlo.
Diners could try their hand at artful combinations by snipping from herbal bouquets with tiny golden scissors to season their beet and goat cheese terrines or cauliflower purée. The palette cleanser was a frozen version of Morir Soñando ('Die Dreaming'), a milk-and-orange juice drink popular in the Dominican Republic, followed by fish sancocho (stew) and a flan based on Taveras' family recipes.
With plans to take Methods & Madness to other cities, Liebman is eager to add a jewellery designer, sound designer and choreographer to her list of collaborators. In December she'll collaborate with Venezuelan-born cheesemonger Waldemar Albrecht-Luna, aka El Señor Queso. The plan is to highlight half a dozen small-batch cheeses in as many courses.
'It'll be East meets West across a range of preparations,' says Albrecht-Luna, who divides his time between New York and Portland, Oregon. 'Guests will begin by sampling all six cheeses. I believe people's palates need to be understood and curated - just like an art piece would be.'