Laila Gohar sometimes sees herself in her dishes — like a champagne jelly of a koi fish stuffed with a rose. “As a kid, I really struggled,” says the chef and artist, 33. “I was not cool. I didn’t have any friends. I wasn’t good in school. I had a weird haircut that my mom gave me.” (It was a sort of undercut that pushed her curls skyward, a look she compared to that of the cartoon character Fido Dido.) And the koi fish jelly? “It’s a weird thing, too. It’s funny and not what you would expect.”
Though her misfit feelings still linger somewhat, Gohar’s current coolness is essentially indisputable. Over the last decade, she has traveled the world for art fairs, fashion parties and gallery openings, where her strange edible installations — langoustine flower towers, marshmallow mountains — reliably become conversation pieces and Instagram catnip. Gohar’s work is fanciful with an edge; ornate but naïve, and often aware of its own excess.
“There’s always a slight disruption,” she says, likening her aesthetic to models who might have conventionally beautiful faces except for one anomaly: a larger nose or smaller mouth, a scar or gap tooth or even something more subtle. “You keep looking back and looking back because you haven’t exactly figured it out. Maybe the eyes are a little wider, but whatever it is, you just keep looking back at it. As opposed to something that’s perfectly symmetrical: You notice it, you look at it and then you’re bored with it.”