Lifestyle

Laila Gohar on How to Make an Edible Centerpiece

This month, she’s introducing her first major project under her own name. Gohar World is a line of home décor pieces created with her sister, the painter Nadia Gohar, 32. It’s something they’d discussed for years, but that didn’t quite start materializing until the pandemic, when Laila’s events-based work largely came to a standstill. Available only online for now, Gohar World is launching with about 40 items — more than half of which were produced in Egypt — including table linens, glassware and wearables for both people and food: There is a bib for adults, and a lace bonnet for a tomato.

“In the same way that you dress yourself, we think that you can dress your food,” says Gohar, whose expansion into housewares will also include product collaborations with Hay and Byredo, coming later this year. It’s the next evolution in a career that has always been difficult for her to define. “I actually hate when people call me a ‘food artist,’” she says. Sometimes she corrects it and other times she lets it go, but the phrase generally makes her roll her eyes. “I’m not an artist that makes commercial work that gets sold at a gallery, and I’m not a chef in the traditional sense. I don’t work in a restaurant or associate with a restaurant. I’m somewhere in between, so I understand why people say that about me. But something about it feels pretentious and makes me uncomfortable.”

For a long time, she found it difficult to define herself at all. And this, too, is what makes her feel a bit like that koi fish jelly. “Eventually, I learned to accept the fact that I don’t fit in,” she says, “and that’s part of what makes me stand out.”

The surreal centerpiece is deceptively easy to make, Gohar insists. She has made versions of the fish a number of times, including once for her friend Simone Rocha. Sometimes, she uses butter instead of jelly. And, though she works primarily from her studio in Manhattan’s Two Bridges neighborhood, the dish is simple enough to whip up in her smaller home kitchen on the Upper West Side, where she’s lived since February with her boyfriend, the chef Ignacio Mattos of the restaurants Altro Paradiso, Lodi and Estela. It’s the kind of dish that guests consider impressive but home cooks find daunting, she says. “They’re like, ‘Oh, I could never do that. That looks crazy.’ But actually it requires very few ingredients.”

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