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When Anthony Roth Costanzo throws dinner parties, he lugs a folding table out of a closet, angles it diagonally across his combination kitchen-living room, and squeezes around it as many New York luminaries as possible—Marcel Dzama, Wallace Shawn, Justin Vivian Bond, et al. “I’ve fit up to 17 people,” Costanzo says. To be in his diminutive apartment on a normal day, it’s hard to imagine how he does it.
Then again, How does he do it? is a cliché question when it comes to the opera singer and producer. People ask: How does he sing so high? (Costanzo is a counter-tenor, singing in the same range as a mezzo-soprano). How does he get naked in front of all those people? (In Akhnaten, the Philip Glass opera that opens at the Met on Friday night, Costanzo spends five long minutes on stage completely nude.) And, the question I asked the morning I visited him this summer: How does he get home at one a.m., bake two cakes for a photo shoot, sleep for just a few hours, then answer the door in the morning with cartoon-level cheeriness—all without a drop of caffeine? (Costanzo avoids caffeine, preferring, he says, “to manufacture my own energy.”)
“It’s surprisingly athletic to sing opera,” says Costanzo, who in some circles is known better by his initials, ARC. “Personally I can’t sing for three and a half hours, with no microphone, for four thousand people, unless I’m fueled up. So I have to eat a lot before the show. And after the show you’re starving, and you kind of want cake.”
Cake has become something of a calling card for ARC, though some people have warmed to it more than others. When he brings cake backstage at the opera, his cast-mates pounce—“there’s a great tradition of opera singers eating and feeling good about it,” he notes. The fashion industry, which ARC frequently collaborates with, has been more hesitant. Last year, Costanzo produced a concert of Philip Glass and George Frideric Handel works called, straightforwardly, “Glass Handel,” and somewhere along the way the designer Raf Simons came on board to design the costumes. Costanzo brought cake to the fittings, which confused the Belgian designer. “But this is so unusual,” Costanzo remembers Simons saying. “Why would one do this?” (Despite his protests, Simons allegedly ate not just one piece of cake but two.)
Cake is not on the menu for ARC at the moment. Even over the summer, he had started avoiding carbs in service of the aforementioned nude scenes. But that will not stop the singer from baking cakes and feeding them to his fellow singers. “The bigger everybody around me gets, the skinnier I feel,” he jokes. Here are the tools ARC uses to make his cakes—plus a few tools he uses to make the food he actually eats himself.—DT
As ARC gets into character, so to do his cakes. “In Ahknaten we put gold leaf on my forehead, hands, and feet. We actually use edible gold leaf because it means less irritation. I’ve started using that on desserts if I make a chocolate tart or a truffle and I want to impress people.” For his friend Justin Peck’s birthday cake, ARC turned to edible disco glitter. He covered a cake with frosting, followed by a thin layer of white chocolate, and finished with a thin layer of Crisco. He sprinkled gold disco glitter on top and then performed his trick: he brushed the glitter and watched it turn into a solid gold sheen. “Sometimes I make cakes where I do drips of white chocolate down the sides and I’ll use that technique to brush the drips in gold. Or I’ll put white chocolate on a Silpat and break it apart to make shards of gold that add texture to the top of the cake.” It’s just a fun way to garnish, he says.
Costanzo decorates his cakes with Italian meringues, peaked or spiked, then fearlessly brulees them with a butane torch. “It’s so fun and so easy and not scary like people think,” he says. And there’s nothing, he says, like the feeling of blowtorching the meringue on a piece of cake and getting it absolutely perfect.
Frozen Passion Fruit Puree
“I’ll use this passion fruit puree to make a curd that’s delicious with chocolate; it offers more bitterness and complexity than a lemon curd.” Breaking down fresh passion fruit is a lot of work, and he finds the taste of this puree to be more concentrated and way more convenient. “You can reduce some of it in a saucepan and fold it into a whipped cream, which is delicious.”
Heirloom Pink & Purple Westwood China Set
To serve the five (!) courses he dishes up at his signature dinner parties, Costanzo uses a set of heirloom Westwood china that he rescued from his aunt’s attic. “It could be very valuable, but I think it’s important to just go ahead and eat off of the beautiful things you have,” he says. “Otherwise, what’s the fun of having them?”
The set includes all sizes of plates and bowls, plus little teacups that he uses when he has people over for tea. It all sports a vibrant pink and purple floral design that fits with the eclectic group of people he has over. (ARC delights in setting up odd assemblies, mixing his 90-year-old filmmaker friend James Ivory with an executive from a record company and a student from Parsons who’s studying photography.) “It’s not necessarily something I ever would have bought for my apartment,” he says about the set. “But now I feel like it’s just perfect.”
“Art and making art is about community. The best art that’s made comes from relationships between people. I host these supper clubs and I have a guest book and every person either signs or draws in. I’ll have people over and they’ll all be drunk at the end of the night passing around the book so it’s very funny—there are famous people or not famous people, it doesn’t matter, they all sign this book.”
For Costanzo, fresh ricotta is a non-negotiable: for toast, for desserts, and even eaten by the spoonful with a little honey. And the cheapest, easiest way to get it is to make it yourself. You just need to keep cheese cloth in the house. “If you just boil some milk and squeeze lemon juice in it, curds form. You strain through cheese cloth and that’s ricotta.”
Tapered Rolling Pin
“I find that these tapered rolling pins give you more control than conventional rolling pins. If I’m making a tart or a pie I can actually feel a little better where the lumps are.” He also uses it to make the Italian flatbread piadina. “It’s literally just flour and water with a little salt and pepper and maybe some olive oil. You roll it out thin and fry it in oil as a flatbread. Top it with ricotta or another soft italian cheese. I’ll put peaches on it along with fresh arugula and olive oil and fold it into a sandwich. It’s very simple.”
Hidden Cutting Board
“I don’t have a super fancy kitchen but when I moved into this apartment there was a little wall cut out—I think it must have been an ironing board in the twenties when this building was built.”
At first he wanted to smooth out the wall and add plaster, but then inspiration struck. “I had this fantasy. I thought, What if I get [someone] to make me a very thin cutting board that would fold out when I need it, like an ironing board? So we made one that fit.” Now, if he has 17 people over he can pull this cutting board down and chop and prep on it. “I can serve dishes on it, or I can even throw all of the dirty dishes on it as I’m clearing them and moving on to the next course.”
Even though he’s literally making cakes that drip in gold, ARC still feels he can improve his decorating technique. That’s how he wound up with an elaborate set of piping tips in various sizes and shapes. “My goal is to move in the direction of making complicated roses and things to decorate my cakes.”
Brown Rice Miso Paste
“It’s so good. It stays in your refrigerator forever. I’ll use it for a little sauce I’ve developed: you take the brown miso paste, you take seasoned rice vinegar, and you make a vinaigrette with olive oil. It emulsifies beautifully and I’ll put it on fish or pork, or I’ll use it to dress a salad.”
Like all of us lucky enough to own one, Costanzo uses his Vitamix for everything: namely the soup course for his dinner parties. “I was very briefly vegan and I craved cream; I recommend everyone have one moment of being vegan because you learn about other ingredients you didn’t otherwise know about it. I learned I love making cream out of cashews. When mixed into a tomato sauce, it’s transcendent. It offers so much more nuttiness and complexity than regular cream. I don’t know if it’s healthier, but you can pretend it is.”
Originally Appeared on Epicurious