I had an acting teacher in Conservatory that played a game with us called Essence.
Essence is the description of someone's PERSONALITY, not their appearance. One person leaves the room, while the remaining players in the room decide whose essence they want to describe. The person who left the room then returns, and asks each player a different question. “If this person were a bird, what would they be? If this person was a color…” The answers should describe the personality/essence of the secretly chosen player. At the end of everyone answering, the person asking the questions tries to guess who is being described.
For me, the take away of that game was to look beyond the obvious, to go deeper than the surface, and to seek out a true nature of someone. It is a tool that I use nearly everyday, all these years later. It helps in making quick summations, of making observations — not judgments, to get closer to a truth, and to generally stay open when meeting someone new or encountering a new experience. I look out for the small details and try not to be swayed by the broad strokes. (If I were a bird, my essence would be a wren because it sings loud and complex songs and exhibits bold behavior.)
This week I was invited to be on the press list of a dining concept launch called Project Sara here in New York City. From their own mission statement, “Project Sara is a vision, a movement that creates a bridge between undiscovered, unrecognized chefs and mixologists and the ever searching, adventurous diner through upscale settings, unconventional spaces, and unrestrained creativity.” They create evenings allowing chefs and mixologists to express their art in a one time only setting, and reconstruct, for adventurous diners, a dining experience beyond restaurants and banquets. Oh, and Sara means ‘essence’ in Sanskrit. Aha! (If it were a movie genre, the essence of this event would be an Adventure Film because the guests are taken on an unexpected ride, and guaranteed an exciting time.)
I have no problem doing things by myself and I invite new experiences into my life. I’m not necessarily a thrill seeker, but I’m not afraid of the unknown. I think those qualities inform my essence, so this evening of culinary adventure was perfect for me. But as I get older, oftentimes if something comes up on the calendar that is really new and I don’t know a soul attending, there’s a chance I may bail and not go. (I also have the essence of a homebody.) I was very generously offered a ticket and put on a list, and I had committed to being there, so bailing wasn’t an option. I was greeted by the founders of Project Sara, Abishek and Viraj, two men from India who immediately put me at ease and made me feel like I was in the perfect place at the perfect time. They were sweetly surprised with all of my own personal India tidbits. They loved that I have spent time in their state of Maharashtra. Plus they were charmed that I knew the meaning of Abishek’s name, “Sacred bath.”
I took my seat for the five course dinner, prepared by Chef Evelyn Garcia, and was at the table with three other food/beverage/lifestyle bloggers. Are these my new peers?! I secretly felt like I was in some special club. These women are at events like these every night of the week, sharing their experiences with their audiences and promoting the events and products that resonate with them. We talked about the food, what we tasted, how it was complimented by the wines they served with each course. We took out our phones and captured the beautiful plates set before us. It was glorious to eat and drink all the good things with my new found friends! If this festive fête was the launch of Project Sara, I can’t wait to see what their future holds. (If Project Sara was a toy, its essence would be a Transformer because of its ability to undergo metamorphosis.)
essence |ˈesəns|, noun: the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, esp. something abstract, that determines its character
I love this definition. Indispensable quality of something. We are all going to have opinions, likes, dislikes, but the true nature of something can’t be changed by one’s perspective. We are often judged on our appearance, positively and negatively, but those are just words that someone has assigned value to. Those words can’t change who we are underneath the surface. That’s good news that extends way beyond my little evening of being a food blogger at a fancy event. Staying true to ourselves will always overpower the opinions. The true nature of a dining experience is sharing good food and drink. It matters not where we share it, who prepared it, or what the menu is.
Chef Evelyn’s dessert reminded me of a Coconut Dulce De Leche recipe that ran in the New York Times that I learned from my chef friend Andy Olson. I took the essence of that recipe and added in inspiration from Chef Evelyn's offering. While you’re waiting for the coconut milk to boil for the Dulce De Leche, consider your own personality. If you were a dessert, your essence would be ________.
Coconut Dulce De Leche With Candied Blueberries and Kumquats
- 2 (13 1/2-ounce) cans unsweetened coconut milk (not low-fat)
- 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut chipsor flakes
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 6 kumquats, sliced into rounds and seeded
- 1/4 cup blueberries
- Flaky sea salt, for garnish (optional)
- In a large skillet over low heat, combine coconut milk and brown sugar. Cook gently, stirring and scraping down the sides of the pan occasionally, until mixture is a deep caramel color, smooth and spreadable, about 1 1/2 to 3 hours, depending on how powerful your stove is. The mixture should remain at a low simmer; do not let it come to a boil. Scrape into a bowl or container and let cool thoroughly, then chill for at least 2 hours and up to 5 days before serving.
- Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spread coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until golden around the edges, 8 to 12 minutes. Let cool.
- Combine granulated sugar and water in a small pan and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and add the blueberries and kumquats. Simmer for one minute, strain and set the fruit aside for the garnish. Save the syrup to mix into a cocktail or to make homemade lemonade.
- Spoon dulce de leche into 6 ramekins or artfully spoon it onto plates. Top each with the candied fruit and toasted coconut; sprinkle with salt if using and serve.