Laila Gohar and Ignacio Mattos: ‘The most important element is abundance’
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“I generally like projects that are long, laborious and a little bit tedious,” says Laila Gohar of her preferred hosting style. In a professional capacity, the New York-based cook concocts surrealist installations – such as chairs made out of cake, butter sculptures or asparagus towers – for fashion and art events. For more intimate gatherings with family and friends, Gohar prepares meals that turn humble ingredients into something hearty and delicious.
Take a French cassoulet, which is often made over two days and has numerous steps, “but is something that can involve various members of the family and friend group”, she says. “It feels like a big, slightly overbearing hug, but in a good way. The whole thing takes a while to make, and once you eat it, you go into a bit of a coma.” In her version, Gohar includes tarbais beans, duck confit, pancetta and pork sausage sourced from the restaurant of her boyfriend, fellow chef Ignacio Mattos, who owns New York haunts Estela and Altro Paradiso. “My boyfriend and I often cook together, and we divide up the tasks. So with something like this, I started confiting the duck the night before, then he jumped in and made the base, so we sort of alternate.”
Gohar serves her cassoulet with a sharp radicchio salad, followed by raspberry tart for dessert, all with a backdrop of some striking, maximalist tablecloth. “The most important element to communal eating – beyond the company – is abundance,” says Mattos. “The tablescape needs to be full, generous and jovial; once the table is covered in food, wine, flowers, people feel comfortable to pass around a plate, and that plate is a great ice-breaker.”
For Gohar, who is originally from Cairo, eating communally with friends is how she celebrates in the absence of having family close by. “I’m a foreigner in this country and most of my family is not around, so I don’t get to spend many holidays with them. But I’ve been in New York for around 12 years, so at this point I have a lot of friends that are like family, and we come together as a sort of chosen family.”