Sculptor Impy Pilapil enjoys having friends over to savor a hearty meal, which she has lovingly prepared. Years before entertaining in the kitchen became the norm, she had designed hers as a vital part of the living space. It is customized as a food preparation area, casual dining room, and a display of some artworks.
The artist said her love for cooking stemmed from observing her late mother. Her taste sensibilities veer towards wholesome and hearty food. To pursue her passion for good food, she honed her culinary skills by attending cooking sessions with chefs from all over the world.
While studying art in Italy, Pilapil was exposed to authentic products and simple food, inspired by classic Italian cooking. Back in Manila, she refined her skills by participating in culinary workshops in five-star hotels.
“I learned organization and efficiency in handling the kitchen from chefs,” said Pilapil. “Chefs pointed out the appropriate places for everything. That’s why I renovated my kitchen according to how I moved around the space,” she said.
The artist’s kitchen makes a powerful visual impact with chartreuse walls and a sculpture on the work table as the focal point. The drawers for utensils are within reach. Pots and pans are stored under the burner. A drawer on the right side is devoted to condiments and spices.
Who are the lucky souls who can partake of an expert meal in a home surrounded by artworks? “Close friends and family are often invited. I keep it intimate—a group of four or five. Lunches and dinners are occasions not to be missed,” said Pilapil.
As soon as guests arrive, they linger around the living room, admiring the perfection of the sinuous lines of her sculptures made from glass, marble, and stone. While she’s cooking, they come in and out of the kitchen for appetizers, drinks, and conversation.
“Some friends prefer to stay in the kitchen until dessert and coffee. Sometimes, I put the dinner table right in the middle of my sculptures and a new ambiance is created,” said the artist. “My home studio evolves every day. There is constant movement, as new artworks are created while some others go to their new homes.”
She added that learning and reinventing recipes are a constant in her life.
For this photo shoot, Pilapil invited her inner circle of artist-foodie friends for dinner amidst the towering sculptures. Regardless of the venue, Pilapil pointed out that the secret of a successful meal lies in the simplicity of the presentation, focusing on the quality of the ingredients.
Her standard starter consists of panini (grilled sandwiches) or a cheese tray with freshly baked breads. “Salads and other greens are prepared upon request,” she said.
The fresh salad greens, sourced from the biodynamic farm of artist Reimon Gutierrez in Pampanga, become exciting with edible flowers, slivered almonds, cranberries, and other add-ons. Pilapil also prepares endive or buttercress lettuce wraps, filled with julienne carrots, turnips, water chestnuts, and potato chips for crunch.
Pilapil would normally stand up from the table and get the main course—roast lamb, with mustard and garlic—from the oven. In a country where lamb isn’t a favorite, Pilapil’s version is hit. “It doesn’t have the gamey taste,” she said.
The creamy and tender Tuscan free-range chicken, stuffed with prunes and apples, is another popular main course. On special occasions, Pilapil recreates her version of Julia Child’s slow-cooked beef bourguignon with snowball onions, red wine, and herbs.
Other friends request her signature paella with lots of chorizo. This was a favorite dish of her longtime friend and patron, the late business leader Washington SyCip.
Still, other guests hanker for traditional Filipino cuisine. The kare-kare or oxtail stew is prepared with old-fashioned way. Pilapil uses the mortar and pestle to grind the toasted rice, which is used for thickener. Peanuts are also ground to make the stew. For the pochero, a classic meat and vegetable stew, she simmers the brisket for a richer texture. Pilapil ends the meal with either a rich panna cotta or a crisp apple turnover with filo pastry.
“A happy and healthy meal is the goal,” maintained Pilapil. “Hence, sodas and other soft drinks are not made available unless guests request them.” The meals are instead accompanied by organic or special wines by Philippe de Rothschild.
Aside from her great cooking, Pilapil’s artistry extends to her dinnerware. The plates are characterized by her playful sinuous shapes, the waves and the moon.
“A great dinner or lunch party should look effortless,” she said.
Photographs by Philip Escudero