“When I was growing up, I had to eat five colors a day.” Laila Gohar, founder of Sunday Supper explains as she tightens her crisp white apron around her waist. “My dad is an amazing cook, and growing up he made it a rule that we all had to eat that many colors a day so we would stay healthy. He was really inventive…” She reminisces. Laila continues to apply this rule to her life and to the philosophy of her catering company, Sunday Supper. The company focuses on creating sensory food experiences and always utilizes local, fresh, seasonal, and of course colorful ingredients.
Laila is one of those beautiful women in New York that really catches your eye. She does not blend in with the crowds; rather she commands a head turn or a double take, usually wearing colorful headscarves, patterned flowing dresses, or brightly colored ensembles resembling the equally colorful palette she has acquired over the years. Now she is sharing that fine tuned palette with like-minded clients that appreciate fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients as well as whimsical storytelling.
When I was growing up, I had to eat five colors a day
We meet the culinary entrepreneur at her Nolita apartment, which sits quaintly off the street. It is tucked behind a main building in a hidden ivy filled courtyard that resembles a scene from The Secret Garden. The apartment is almost always filled with aromatic scents and friends that travel in and out to enjoy her company and if they’re lucky, a taste of what she is making that day. She recently moved into the building and has already decorated the gleaming white space with touches of bohemia to make it her own. The kitchen, her “Mecca”, is riddled with large jars of spices, quirky kitchen paraphernalia, and cork boards which display things like her sister’s hand-illustrated recipes, magazine pages with inspiration food styling, and sample menus from her past events. The menus tell a lovely and visual story of how the company came to life. From the humble beginnings of her own small kitchen to events she now caters which often feed over a hundred people.
“I started Sunday Supper in the summer of 2013. I was throwing a lot of dinner parties for my friends in New York. It would start off in my apartment or a friend’s apartment where 4-5 people would meet, but would quickly grow to be like a 20-25 person thing where people would bring friends… I would never stress, instead I would think, the more the merrier! There were never enough plates or forks of course because New York kitchens are ill equipped. But they would turn into such fun gatherings. So I was doing that for fun because that is what I love to do, and then a lot of people around me began to encourage me to take it to the next level and do them on a more professional level.”
Laila headed her friend’s suggestions and began to see an opportunity to disrupt the catering space by cooking for groups the way she cooked for herself and those she loves. “Often times, catering can be unappealing. I like to call myself the anti-spring roll. Everything I make is fresh, light, green, not too much meat. It’s mostly really good vegetables, fresh fish… it’s the middle part of the food pyramid.” She laughs
She has acquired her clients rather organically and explains that many of them hire her because they value the same things when it comes to eating. “I find that most of the people that come to me really value the integrity of the product. I get all my stuff from the farmers market in New York or Upstate. I know where the stuff is coming from and I like to support local farmers. When people come to me they are usually like-minded in that approach.” While the journey of the ingredients is a very important part of Laila’s process, another goal she is trying to achieve is encouraging people to stop and smell the roses. “Something about New York is its very transient, everyone is on the move. No one takes time to acknowledge one another. Food really brings people together to pause and interact.”
I like to call myself the anti-spring roll
While she loves to cook for others and likes to bring people together in the name of food, she also enjoys emboldening others to get into their own kitchens and take time for themselves. She acknowledges that cooking can at times be intimidating, but thinks like everything else, anyone can become a good cook with enough gusto and practice. “People tend to say things like ‘oh I’m so bad at cooking’. I think there is no such thing. I think like everything, if you like to cook, then you should cook a lot and you will become good at it. The more you cook, the more your palette develops, and you develop your food intuition. You learn what will compliment and what will clash, which textures work together, and which do not. You do it, and you do it and with practice you will become good at it!” But she does warn; if you do not enjoy cooking, don’t force yourself. “Cooking is not a obligation. You have to enjoy it.”
With no formal training herself, Laila has achieved success by really staying true to her values and not taking too serious an approach to cooking. “Food shouldn’t be exclusive. It’s the most inclusive thing in the world. It’s about sharing and eating with people. When I cook, I improvise a lot. I like to use the ingredients that are available so things are definitely altered to the season. I won’t cook with tomatoes when we are in the middle of winter. I think you should follow the rhythm of Mother Nature. I get ideas from cookbooks and blogs, but then I like to make up my own thing. More so than recipes, I look at pictures for inspiration. Colors that compliment each other tend to taste good.” She also keeps it relatively simple. “I like to use ingredients you can pronounce, no foam, no fuss.”
In addition to working with colors and textures, Laila finds she can flex her creative muscle through exercising storytelling and employing elements of surprise. “I really like to create menus and meals that tell a story and are imaginative. I like to use things that people aren’t always exposed to. Food should be playful and fun. It should make you happy. I like to put a playful spin on food. I baked chocolate fudge eggs inside of real eggshells for example. People were coming up to them being like this is the craziest thing I have ever seen! Those are the reactions I live for.”
Sunday Supper was born out of a passion for food and sharing it with the people you love. At the end of the day, she sees success as her customers or friends walking away with a full stomach and an open heart and head. “I live to eat. I think about it all the time. Sometimes I think its borderline obsessive! I sometimes dream about what I want to eat and I wake up and I cook it!” she laughs. And when asked about her last meal, she eloquently states, “If I had only one more meal, I wouldn’t eat because food is so much about life. If I was about to die, I may as well starve! My last meal would be starvation!”
If I had only one more meal, I wouldn’t eat because food is so much about life…My last meal would be starvation!
THE FOOD LIFE Q&A
Cairo, Egypt 1988
LA, But I live in NY
Last thing you ate
Tastiest thing you have ever made
Whole roasted lamb with tons of wild oregano
Cookbooks & recipes? Or improvisation
Improv (sometimes cookbooks just to look at pics)
Soundtrack in your kitchen
Depends on the mood, but lots of Johnny Cash and Serge Gainsbourg
Favorite food city
I always have ________ in my kitchen
An open mind
What is your food "kryptonite"
If you could eat a meal prepared by anyone in the world who would it be
Dalì. He wrote a cookbook when he was 69 !! Les Diners de Gala.
Weirdest/most adventurous thing you have ever eaten
“Weird” is totally relative. Mac n cheese can be adventurous for some cultures.. So not sure
If you had to be the spokesperson for a food or beverage what would it be
Drink of choice (what's your poison?)
Dark and stormy or whiskey on the rocks or a really good margarita
Are there any family recipes or food traditions that have been handed down to you
A zucchini farcies recipe with yogurt sauce
If it's true 'you are what you eat' - what are you
What is the "recipe" for success according to you
Being surrounded by people I love, cooking with good stuff from the earth (and respecting the produce), all in a kitchen with tons of natural light. I don’t know if that’s a recipe for success per say, but that’s what makes me happy, and in a big way, that is success to me.
What's your food philosophy
Respect the earth, cook with good stuff and don’t over do it. The best meals require minimal handling. I think that a cooks job is to come up with flavor pairings and put things on a plate that work well together, not change the nature of the ingredients.
What’s your comfort food
Bulgur, I ate a lot of that as a kid. Or just a baguette.
Favorite childhood snack
Pomegranate. My mom would peel tons of pomegranate and leave in the fridge to cool. I would eat that by the fistful. We also had chopped up sugar cane. Egypt also grown incredible mangos. We have three mango trees in the house where I grew up in Cairo.