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A Silver Ball

One guest arrived with a mysterious silver key, another, a tiny silver archer's bow. At F&W's silver anniversary party, silver took many forms—from the silvery foods created by a dream team of chefs to the silver-gelatin portraits everyone brought home to remember the evening.

All that glitters is not gold. Some of it is silver. At F&W's silver anniversary party—the Silver Ball, to celebrate the magazine's 25 years of publication—we all had silver in common: silver clothes and silver-obsessed careers and silvery foods to eat. I happen to have a silver dining-room ceiling, which was made for me as a present by a gilder with whom I was once in love, and so F&W's editor in chief Dana Cowin, a close friend of mine, asked if she could give the party at my house.

The invitations came by messenger: white-chocolate spheres coated in silver-covered dragées (tiny candy balls) prepared by John Down, an owner of Christopher Norman Chocolates. When we broke open the spheres, we discovered small, square invitations, which asked, mysteriously, that each of us bring a cherished silver possession to the dinner.

The dozen or so guests began to arrive at my house at seven o'clock, all dressed in some form of silver. Dana was aglitter in a dress by Alberta Ferretti, with a thousand sequins that sparkled like ice crystals, and tanzanite earrings designed by another one of the invitees, Mish Tworkowski of Mish New York. The splendid writer Amy Fine Collins was draped in a short Geoffrey Beene couture dress so shiny you got dizzy looking at her. Michele Oka Doner, the sculptor, wore one of her signature silk sheaths. The men all had silver ties of one kind or another (except the architect Erich Theophile, who had no tie at all): from purest silver to silvery blue to silvery green to silvery gray.

Our meal was prepared by three F&W Best New Chefs, chosen not only for their skill but also for their originality—they are destined to be superstars. Playful and brilliant, they want diners to experience food in ways that stimulate the imagination as well as the taste buds. We began with a variety of canapés that had been prepared by Fabio Trabocchi of Maestro in McLean, Virginia: The selection ranged from the richest foie gras sandwiched between thin, sweet wafers to a refreshing Campari jelly wrapped in impossibly smooth sheets of fresh pineapple.

During cocktails we were called one at a time into the library, where one of the guests, photographer Andrew French, had set up a 1940s tripod camera, with which he made 8-by-10 silver-gelatin portraits of us with our silver treasures. Mish arrived with a silver key; he told some of us that it would open his store and others that it would open his heart. Margaret Braun, the sugar artist, brought a silvery ornament, like a spire, she had made of porcelain-like fondant. John Loring, the design director of Tiffany, came with a silver beaker. He had given it to Jackie Onassis as a gift; years later, he bought it back from her estate for two hundred times the original price. Dana brought the last object her father bought before he died, a curvaceous Wiener Werkstätte vase he had discovered at a run-down thrift shop.

Thus documented, we went upstairs for dinner, and here the silver theme became both literal and symbolic, as each chef created his own culinary metaphors. Starters from Cornelius Gallagher of Oceana in New York City included a shot glass of corn soup (the bottom half cold, the top half hot) with Sterling caviar, as well as a dish of herb-poached shrimp with brown butter, pickled daikon and cauliflower "couscous" (made by chopping cauliflower florets in a food processor until they turn into a coarse crumble—an ingenious idea). Our main course, prepared by Laurent Gras of Fifth Floor in San Francisco, was beautifully seared veal loin in a Silver Oak Cabernet sauce, topped with slivered chorizo, on a bed of silver thread (cellophane) noodles, with a second sauce of coconut, corn and chanterelles. And then came dessert, another course from Fabio Trabocchi: lychee panna cotta, served with small, spherical vials of basil-infused grappa, which we were instructed to pour over the top. This was accompanied by crystallized basil leaves (I rather greedily ate not only my own but also most of the ones on the plate next to mine). We finished the meal with white-chocolate zabaglione-filled truffles from Christopher Norman, served in bowls designed by Calvin Klein's Judy White, another guest. Throughout the meal we drank a creamy Chardonnay and a luscious Cabernet from Sterling Vineyards—I never realized how many variations on the words sterling and silver could be brought to bear in one dinner.

The flowers were done by the remarkable Mary Krueger and Andrés of Carmona Design, who match these chefs for originality and style. Inspired by the birth of F&W, they took a great silver sphere and split it in half, filling it with calla lilies and roses that seemed to burst through the center: They called it Metamorphosis. Krueger and Andrés created place cards with monogrammed "crystal pearls" displayed on silver-leafed scallop shells, like Botticelli's Birth of Venus. For the mantel, they filled silver cups from H. Theophile with peonies and silver-leafed poppy pods. The table was set with silverware made for me by Edward Munves at James Robinson in New York to a design we worked out together based on flattening an 17th-century cannon-handled knife. James Robinson specializes in hammered silver, which is beaten out of a bar of silver rather than stamped out of a sheet; it is denser and finer than stamped silver.

The conversation ranged broadly. Amy Fine Collins talked about her new book, which deals with the challenges of driving, and rather proudly showed her license. Erich Theophile told us about living in Nepal, where he first worked with local silversmiths—entire families devoted to the craft. Restaurant designer Adam Tihany spoke about his continent-spanning career; his wife, Marnie, gave casting advice to screenwriter Robert Harling, who is working on a film version of the television show Dallas—"some good proposals I'd never thought of," he said. And of course everyone talked about the great adventure of the food. I was awed that this parade of exquisite flavors and textures could come out of my kitchen; I kept thinking I'd never be able to roast a simple chicken in there again.

Feeling bonded by this spectacular experience, we sat around the table and talked until nearly midnight. When the guests left, five hours after they'd arrived, they did so with much exchanging of cards and phone numbers. Each received a bag to take home; inside was the portrait by Andrew French, wrapped in silver tissue, set in a silver box, tied with a silver cord and marked with a paper name tag edged in silvery metal.

Andrew Solomon is the author of The Noonday Demon, a best-seller and National Book Award winner.

Published September 2003
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