Laila Gohar on the Magic of Simple Ingredients and a Simple Life
The primal function of food is to nourish the physical body, but as the New York-by-way-of-Egypt food artist Laila Gohar explains to me over the phone, food is also a multi-sensory experience meant to free the mind. A large percentage of being human, at least for some of us, revolves around food—buying it, growing it, thinking about it, dreaming of it, and most importantly, cooking it—the latter gaining popularity in recent months due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As Gohar put it, cooking a fresh meal is a lot simpler than most people think, which is why she teamed up with Belvedere vodka to create a dish using two simple and seasonal ingredients, as part of the brand’s new “Made with Nature” platform; aiming to highlight the brand’s “all-natural” ethos by working with creatives across multiple disciplines. As part of the collaboration, Gohar hosted an Instagram live food and drink pairing session and has released a video, shot entirely on iPhone by Andres Burgos, where she shares her “solitary” morning routine, which includes a trip to the Union Square Farmers’ Market. One of the many reasons she enjoys cooking, she says: “Your hands are occupied while your mind is free.” In the spirit of the simple and delicious, Interview caught up with Gohar to ask her a few questions lifted from Glenn O’Brien’s legendary 1977 interview with Andy Warhol. Cheers.
ERNESTO MACIAS: What did you study in school?
LAILA GOHAR: I studied art, international relations, a whole bunch of different things. None of which I really completed.
MACIAS: Did you get good grades in school?
GOHAR: No. Horrible.
MACIAS: When did you get interested in food and decide to become a food artist?
GOHAR: I was always kind of interested in food. I’m a very tactile person and it was something that I had a sense for, like some kind of instinct. I noticed that I always felt really comfortable around food, whether it be in the actual kitchen or in markets or whatever.
MACIAS: What did you do for fun when you were a teenager?
GOHAR: I got into a lot of trouble. I was a difficult kid to raise, I guess. I did go to school, but I was always sneaking out at school and kind of doing my thing.
MACIAS: What was your first ambition?
GOHAR: I grew up in Cairo, Egypt. I remember when I was really young, I thought to myself, “As soon as I’m able to create an opportunity for myself where I will leave, I will go as far as my legs will carry me.” I was kind of obsessed. There was nothing wrong with where I come from, but I always felt like I didn’t really fit in there and that I needed to get out.
MACIAS: Who was the first person to influence you in relation to working with food?
GOHAR: My dad is a really good cook. My mom’s a really bad cook, but my dad was always a very inventive cook and really resourceful. That’s something that I really relate to, that you can make something out of very little. As long as the ingredients are high quality, and there’s integrity in the ingredients, then I think you can do something really great, even if it’s very simple.
MACIAS: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to get involved in the culinary or art world?
GOHAR: I’m not totally in the culinary world. I don’t have a restaurant. I don’t really even consider myself a chef per se. If I were to give that kind of advice, in regards to culinary school, I don’t know. It’s a really personal decision and it’s an investment. But aside from that: work, not only back of the house, but the front of the house too, and make yourself really familiar with the entire machine, so to speak. It’s not glamorous for a really long time.
MACIAS: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to get involved in the art world?
GOHAR: Work for other people.
MACIAS: Who do you think is the world’s greatest living artist?
GOHAR: David Hammons.
MACIAS: What’s your favorite color?
GOHAR: Depends on the day. I guess today I would pick red.
MACIAS: Pepsi or Coke?
MACIAS: Do you create something every day?
MACIAS: Do you change your clothes to create art or cook or host parties?
GOHAR: Not every day.
MACIAS: Do you think that people should live in outer space?
GOHAR: Yes. I kind of feel like I always do.
MACIAS: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
GOHAR: I like to cook. I like to be around friends and to host dinner parties and to be in nature and go for walks.
MACIAS: How much time do you spend on the phone every day?
GOHAR: I actually hate talking on the phone.
MACIAS: Have you ever been in love?
GOHAR: I think I have.
MACIAS: Did you ever hate anybody?
GOHAR: I don’t think so.
MACIAS: Do you know how to dance?
MACIAS: What time do you get up in the morning?
GOHAR: Between 6 and 7 a.m.
MACIAS: Do you think the world can be saved?
MACIAS: Do you look in the mirror a lot?
MACIAS: What’s the first thing you notice when you meet someone new?
GOHAR: Their energy.
MACIAS: Do you have a favorite scent?
GOHAR: I don’t have an all-time favorite anything. I can just tell you depending on this moment and time, but right now it is Quince (the fruit), and it smells so good. I just came back from the market.
MACIAS: Do you think the future will be futuristic?
GOHAR: In terms of the future, I am actually really excited. I think it’s a really crazy time, but I feel like we have to figure out the next steps and it’s been inspiring for me to be around friends and people in the community that are flexible and adapting to the current climate—figuring out how to continue to make work, as artists and chefs.
Video Shot on iPhone by Andres Burgos.