Food star Laila Gohar talks personal taste
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My personal style signifier is gold rings by Ted Muehling – a New York designer whose studio is in Tribeca, just a block from my house. He’s kind of anti-fashion but among a certain group of women his jewellery is very celebrated. It’s discreet and cultish. I wear my rings pretty much every day. I have a gold one with a long piece of coral, which I wear on my middle finger, and another with black onyx, which I wear next to it. I also have a ton of earrings that I inherited from a friend. The other day I saw a woman at the farmer’s market who was wearing Muehling earrings, and I was wearing mine as well, and it was as if we were speaking a secret language.
The last thing I bought and loved was cucumbers. There was one variety I’d never had before, a Chinese yellow – much larger than a regular cucumber, with rough skin – so I was excited about that. I ate it raw but I see that it’s often added to soups. I go to Union Square Greenmarket and there are a few vegetable stalls that I really like: one is called Norwich Meadows Farm, from here in New York State, another is Bodhitree Farm from New Jersey.
And on my wishlist is a pair of Hermès sandals, the Chypre light-brown leather style with a shearling lining on the inner soles. £670
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is salt from Trapani in Sicily. The salt pans on the western coast of Sicily are world-famous and the salt has a nice structure. It’s extremely tasty so I brought loads back with me. I was sad when I ran out of it.
With time on my hands, I love to cycle. There’s a bike lane, the Hudson River Greenway in New York; and you can ride uptown, past Central Park, and keep going all the way to the George Washington Bridge. I used to have a Peugeot that I was really attached to – not a fancy bike, just one I really loved – but it got banged up really hard when someone tried to steal it. When I couldn’t find another Peugeot, I eventually gave in and got a fancy bike, a Shinola. It rides well, it’s really smooth, but secretly I hate it a little bit. I feel that it attracts too much attention. I like a bit of a beater. Shinola Runwell bicycle, $2,950
In my fridge you’ll always find capers, anchovies, butter and champagne – I am 100 per cent loyal to Perrier-Jouët. I especially love the Blanc de Blancs.
The site that inspires me is the neighbourhood where my studio is in Chinatown, but specifically a little zone called Two Bridges, which is between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. It has an end-of-the-world feeling to it that I love. There are a lot of interesting brutalist buildings, one called Chatham Towers that I pass every morning. Then there’s a strange building that looks like it belongs in Hong Kong; it’s massive, one gigantic block with all these tiny little windows and units inside. I look out on it from my studio and wonder about the lives of all the people there.
A recent “find” is a mulberry tree near my house; I eat the mulberries by the fistful.
The podcast I’m listening to is called Time Sensitive. It discusses pressing issues around the environment and climate change. I recently heard an episode with Dan Colen, an artist who now spends most of his time on his project Sky High Farm in the Hudson Valley. His mission is to increase access to fresh, locally produced food while investing in long-term solutions for food security. I find his work very inspiring.
I’ve recently rediscovered Frank’s Bike Shop. It’s in the Lower East Side, it’s been there for about a million years, and Frank himself still works there. He takes his time and explains everything. The place is totally New York. As real as it gets.
The last meal that truly impressed me was at my boyfriend Ignacio [Mattos]’s restaurant, Altro Paradiso. We go there several times a week, but the other week it was just me and him there for lunch, and it was such a pleasure. I love the spaghetti pomodoro, the fennel salad – everybody’s favourite thing – and the swordfish that is on the menu right now. And for dessert, the panna cotta.
My style icons are the older ladies on the Upper East Side of Manhattan – the ones with the perfectly coiffed hair and those chic suits and pearls. It’s a put-together look that I really like.
The best gift I’ve given recently is candied violets, which I bought in Madrid. They came in really gorgeous old-fashioned packaging and I gave them to several people. They’re from a place called La Violeta, which does a multitude of different things with violets. They look so beautiful, like edible jewellery.
And the best gift I’ve received recently is a night at The Greenwich Hotel with my boyfriend, on my birthday. I’ve been there before and it’s just a few blocks from our apartment, but it was such a treat to have a night somewhere else. I especially like the bathrooms, which are entirely tiled, even the edge of the tub – I think that the way the tiles are laid is really beautiful. There’s a great spa too.
An indulgence I would never forgo is a nice glass of wine. I don’t think I’d be able to give it up. I love a classic big burgundy but I also like many natural wine producers. The other day I had a delicious bottle from Cantina Ortaccio near Lake Bolsena in Italy – the Rosso. I also enjoy Frank Cornelissen’s Sicilian wines, produced from vineyards in the valley of Mount Etna.
The last music I listened to was by Nick Cave, the song “Waiting for You”. I was really touched by the movie One More Time with Feeling, about Cave producing his album Skeleton Tree after his son Arthur died – it’s so very sad – and I love all his music, especially the 2019 album Ghosteen.
My wellbeing gurus are my personal trainer Alex Stamenkovic and a health coach called Daphne Javitch, whose approach to nutrition is really accessible and not overwhelming. I train with Alex twice a week; it’s a ritual that I really enjoy. @nypersonaltrainer; doingwell.com
The best book I’ve read in the past year is An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. She is a chef who used to work at Chez Panisse in California, and the book is essentially about how one meal can lead to another. She explains what to do with leftovers and all the things that are often discarded – like the water you boil the vegetables in, or vegetable skins. It’s a great way of looking at consumption.
I have a collection of wooden spoons. They’re not displayed, they’re everywhere – at my studio, some hanging on the wall; and then some that I actually use in my kitchen. There’s one that I especially like cooking with: the handle is really skinny and long so it feels a bit like a conductor’s baton, with my pots and pans as the orchestra. I’m channelling my love of tabletop items into a new project with my sister called Gohar. Among other things we are making linens in Egypt, plates in collaboration with Laboratorio Paravicini in Milan and glasses with Lobmeyr – both family businesses. It’s been a long time in the making.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a little Prada windbreaker jacket, part of the Re-Nylon range made from recovered ocean plastic. It’s black and really lightweight, so easy to wear. I actually don’t buy a ton of clothes. Re-Nylon gabardine blouson jacket, £1,500
The beauty staples I’m never without are things from the French brand Buly 1803. Founders Victoire de Taillac and Ramdane Touhami are dear friends of mine; they are two of the most creative people I know. Before I discovered their perfume, I didn’t really wear any. I tend to find perfume a bit claustrophobic, a bit imprisoning, but La Nymphe au Scorpion is a subtle, fresh and misty scent that lingers without sticking to my clothing. And I like the Buly hair combs, too; I have a couple of those. Eau Triple La Nymphe au Scorpion, €150 for 200ml, and combs, from €25
An object I would never part with is a gold chain necklace that used to be my mum’s. I asked her for it some years ago and I wear it all the time. It feels quite timeless, and I have a lot of childhood memories of my mum wearing it. I don’t change my jewellery often. I throw things on and will keep them on for a month.
The artists whose work I would collect if I could are Francis Bacon – I particularly love the Three Studies of Lucian Freud triptych – and Louise Bourgeois. It would be incredible to have a massive spider in my apartment, and I also like a lot of the gouaches. I think her series of pregnant women called The Family is really beautiful.
A place I long to go back to is Tangier. I was meant to go there recently but sadly didn’t realise in time that, being from Egypt, I require a visa to go to Morocco. I was due to work on a project with an artist called Yto Barrada, who currently has a show on at MoMA in New York and is a friend of mine. We had big plans. She has started an artist residency that focuses on dyeing fabric with plants indigenous to Tangier, her hometown. I was going to experiment with vegetable dyes created from the massive garden surrounding the property – use beets to stain other foods red, for example. We’ve put it on hold till next year.
My favourite room in my home is the entire place, because I live in a loft that is just one room. It’s got lots of windows, and I don’t have blinds because I like to be woken by the light. It feels natural for my body. I find it confusing to wake up and it be pitch-dark. I also really like the kitchen area, where I spend a lot of time. And I think the bathroom is especially beautiful – the tiles remind me of the ones they have outside mosques in Egypt.
If I didn’t live in New York, the city I would live in is Paris. It’s a bit of a cliché but the light is so beautiful. And I have lots of friends there. I really like the 7th arrondissement; I’m not crazy about the hipper areas. I like the old-school stuff, like Joséphine Chez Dumonet, a typical French bistro that tourists don’t flock to, where I love the kidneys and the soufflé. There are so many incredible restaurants: L’Ami Jean, for the rice pudding, and Allard, which was started more than 80 years ago and is now run by Alain Ducasse. Last time I was in Paris my friend Emilien showed me a shop called Lastre Sans Apostrophe, which sells different kinds of pâtés and was awarded the best pâté en croûte in the world, which sounds to me like the highest praise.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be an architect. It feels like a very noble thing to do. I love the work of Renzo Piano and Snohetta, a Norwegian practice that designs giant museums and libraries that also feel human and humble. I think that the way architects work is really interesting. You’re designing things for people that have to be functional yet beautiful. It’s a great balance of the two sides of the brain.
This year I’ve been thinking differently about the notion of time. This has really shifted for me during the pandemic and I dedicate more space to things that I thought I didn’t have time for. Like going home from work early to make dinner. Or not working on my birthday. It’s all about priorities. We all have 24 hours in a day – it’s about what we do with them.
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