What happens when two budding singers bow out of conventional opera careers but yearn for freedom, creativity, and fun? Leora Perlman and Meredith Greenberg left opera on anything but a low note. They took to the kitchen.
Ms. Perlman and Ms. Greenberg, both classically trained in New York, had performed on the operatic stage and with orchestras in the United States.
But they weren't completely happy, Greenberg says in a joint phone interview from New York.
Perlman and Greenberg first met at a summer music festival in Santa Fe, N.M., in 1994. One year, after traveling back to Santa Fe with their voice teacher, the women decided to earn a little cash by selling Italian ices and singing arias under an umbrella in an art-gallery district.
While getting great tips in the process, it became evident: Food and music were the ideal combination.
That was when they came to some conclusions about their bohemian life. "An opera career takes a long time to blossom," says Perlman. "You move a lot and there is always a director, a conductor, or a manager who tells you where to go or imposes artistic limitations."
The enthusiastic duo felt they needed a freeing experience. "Being in a show is a release, an escape but also a disguise," explains Perlman. "You leave the stage at the end [of the performance], missing interaction with the audience." The two were looking for a way to sustain that interaction.
A year ago, Perlman and Greenberg began cooking and performing in people's homes as caterers. "We like it when adrenaline is pumping," says Perlman. Their catering company, Divas' Delite, was born. They cook as a team before introducing themselves to guests with music from Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," for example, and continue singing throughout the serving.
Food and music come naturally to them. Perlman is the daughter of acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman. She was raised in a Jewish family where food was always something "cultural." She used to watch her mother preparing the traditional Friday meal of kosher poultry, and started cooking when she was just a youngster.
In fact, the women have an "insatiable desire to cook and sing at the same time." The kitchen is where they confess to spending 75 percent of their time.
Divas' Delite became their "little baby," a company that lets them share their love of food and music. Their clients generally hire them to celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday or graduation.
The marathon starts about three hours before the guests arrive. Beforehand, they and their clients will have decided what to serve from the Puccini, Bizet, or Callas menus that they adapt to the clients' requests. The dishes are ones they love to eat, that have a good match of ingredients to tease the palate.
They draw inspiration from Japanese and Vietnamese to Italian, Jewish, and American cuisines. Seared Tuna with Avocado-Scallion Coulis, homemade kreplach, Chilean Sea Bass in Coconut and Mirin Cream, and Fig Bread Pudding are among their specialities.
The two combine international flavors with operatic repertoire. "You cook the food, too?" is often the first reaction of a guest, after hearing them sing. "When can we see you in the Met?"
Perlman and Greenberg enjoy the intimacy of working closely with the people they entertain; something they missed when performing on stage.
Free of the rigid rules of stage and orchestra work, they have found flexibility while being able to take liberties with the arias and the lyrics.
Divas' Delite has gained notice not through a PR agent, but through word of mouth and a few well-placed press notices. A filmmaker even contacted them after reading a review in The New York Times.
"Of course, we are exhausted when the evening is over. But this job illuminates more than one part of us," says Greenberg. "We'll do it until the fascination is not there anymore." She nonetheless presumes that she will eventually find herself on stage. Then, she will remember some great learning experiences she has had and feel more confident.
Seared Tuna with Avocado-Scallion Coulis
1 ripe avocado
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon horseradish
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
FOR THE SAUCE:
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
FOR THE TUNA:
1-1/2 pounds sushi-grade fresh tuna (yellowfin, if possible), 1-inch thick
Two to three cups of cooked white rice
Scallions for garnish, optional
COULIS: Blend avocado, sour cream, horseradish, scallions, and lemon juice, in a food processor or blender; slowly add olive oil in a thin stream. Salt and pepper to taste. Mixture should be creamy in texture.
SAUCE: Heat vinegar, soy, sugar, hoisin sauce and cayenne in a small sauce pan; bring to simmer.
TUNA: Sear tuna in a very hot skillet on each side until browned, but rare in the middle.
Place a dome of hot rice on the center of each plate. Slice tuna thinly and fan pieces over rice. Drizzle coulis around tuna; pour heated sauce over the tuna and rice. Serves 4.
Mixed Green Salad with Maple-Soy Dressing
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 pound mixed greens or mesclin
Blend first 5 ingredients in a food processor or blender; toss with washed and dried greens.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor