Meet fashion’s favourite chefs | Financial Times

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Meet fashion’s favourite chefs | Financial Times

On an evening in Paris, guests invited to preview Ganni’s new store admired the terrazzo-effect cash till made of recycled plastic and perused the Copenhagen brand’s youthful dresses. It was the profiterole tower, however, that caused the most excitement when it was brought in.

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Created by Zélikha Dinga, a Paris-based cook, the “croquembouche”A cone of assembled choux pastry ball cones measuring just shyly one metre in height, sprinkled with edible Nasturtium flowers (three sparklers) and measuring just shyly one metre in height.

The days of fashion events comprising a staid (low-calorie) steamed-fish-and-vegetables dinner are over; sculptural, playful and hearty set-piece feasts are in. Ditte REFFSTRUP, creative director at Ganni, is all about having fun. “It’s important that our guests have a proper meal before hitting the dance floor!”She is enthusiastic. Surrealist food installations created by chef-cum-artist LailaGohar for brands such as Simone Rocha and Dover Street Market have been a hit on Instagram. “food creatives”Luxury brands are creating visually vibrant spreads for meals. 

The new culinary crowd is not content to be stuck in a back-room kitchen. They are hosting stylish events, engaging with guests and lending cultural cachet to brands.

Zélikha Dinga, founder of Caro Diario

Zélikha Dinga: ‘Food is an icebreaker’ © Ilyes Griyeb

Zélikha Dinga’s speciality is sweet treats that look as intriguing as they taste. “Food is an icebreaker,”She said. “You see this strange thing, and you think, can I eat that? And you start talking.”Partly motivated by her childhood in Paris, where sugar was prohibited, the 33-year old Parisian quit publishing to study cooking and work in restaurants.

Her focus now is on creating imaginative spreads with Caro Diario, her company founded in 2019. Highlights include mini mousse-and-jelly bites for Nina Ricci, biscotti lunch boxes for Gucci and baby-pink-glazed doughnuts for a breakfast celebrating a collaboration between sneaker brand Véja and accessories label Mansur Gavriel.

She thinks food has dovetailed with fashion’s move towards inclusivity. “I’m a black woman, maybe 15 years ago I wouldn’t have been asked to appear as a chef at fashion events. And I’m not tall and skinny, or model size!”Her greatest joy is seeing people enjoy her creations. “If it’s like an art installation that nobody touches, then that’s a waste. It’s got to be something both visual and delicious.”

Marie Méon, founder of Manger Manger 

A portrait of Marie Méon
Marie Méon: ‘I used to think: space, colours and finishes in my previous work. Today, my tools are ingredients — that’s the only difference.’ © Harold Berard

Marie Méon knows luxury aesthetics better than most: she spent almost a decade designing store interiors for Chanel and Dior. The forty-year-old credits Japanese culture for her obsession with food. She was born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother, and a French father. “like a religion”. But cooking was never her main hobby. In 2010, she started throwing pop-up meals in her Paris Haussmannian home with two friends.

She describes herself today as a “modern day” woman. “food creative”, operating under the name Manger Manger with clients including Hermès, Cartier and Paco Rabanne, and has her own line of kitchen ingredients and Murano glassware.

“I used to think: space, colours and finishes in my previous work. Today, my tools are ingredients — that’s the only difference,”She said. “All these fashion decision makers see that food is maybe the greatest method of communication. Nothing is more powerful than putting people together and having them share a polysensorial moment.”

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Imogen Kwok

A portrait of Imogen Kwok
Imogen Kwok: ‘Fashion and food is seamless to me’ © Antonia Adamako

Hyphens are a great tool for Imogen Kwok (31), who describes herself as a “hyphen-loving” person. “chef-artist”. “For some jobs, I don’t even do the cooking myself,”She elaborates. “I design the concept, creating a menu, but then that can extend to doing the tableware, supervising flowers. Then, my role switches over when people arrive, and I’m hosting.”

Kwok was the host of a recent Alighieri dinner. She served a dramatic table of couscous with scallops and tomatoes, as well as champagne and a top with jewellery. She loves to dress up for host events. “In a way, it makes total sense to me. A relationship with your body and sense of touch are common to both food and fashion.”

Kwok was born in Sydney to a Korean mother, and a Chinese father. She creates conceptual food for fashion houses, workshops for brands like Loewe, and she also hosts interactive culinary tasting nights for guests. “taste” the brand’s autumn 2021 collection. “Fashion and food is seamless to me,”She said. 

Tara Thomas, cofounder of Breaking Bread NYC

A picture of Tara Thomas
Tara Thomas: ‘If food is the main attraction, I want it to be a full experience’ © Zev Starr-Tambor

“I don’t like to say I cater,”Tara Thomas (24), who has made vegan food to sell at Sephora events and for Glossier videos. “I’m co-hosting — I want to have creative ability. I am showing up as myself, I’m not going to be in the back in the kitchen, I’m gonna be there at the front.”

The dinner she curated for former J Crew creative director Jenna Lyons to celebrate furniture designer Sarah Ellison was a case in point: at Lyons’ New York apartment, Thomas co-directed a rum-based cocktail menu and curated a wine list, cooked and served guests masala carpaccio, spring crudités, and hazelnut stuffed dates with pickled mango, and got to know guests.

“If food is the main attraction, I want it to be a full experience. I want everyone to feel fed and build relationships,”Thomas says. Thomas is also co-founder of Breaking Bread NYC. This non-profit provides food boxes and meals to people in need. She was signed to a talent agency, and has modeled for Roland Mouret as well as Vogue Italia.

Alice Moireau

Picture of chef and model Alice Moireau in a kitchen
Alice Moireau: ‘I like to dress well and wear fun outfits, but I don’t know who is cool right now’ © Zamar Velez

“I know nothing about fashion, really,” giggles Alice Moireau. “I like to dress well and wear fun outfits, but I’m not following fashion weeks, I don’t know who is cool right now!”Moireau, 26, who was scouted at the age of 16, has worked as a model for Mango and Fendi. But her love of food is her main focus. She spent her childhood accompanied her father to the market and cooking French recipes for her family.

She hid in her Olivet family home to cook comfort food and post her recipes on Instagram when lockdown struck. Soon, she was able to book deal.

Today, she plans events and models for lifestyle brands. She also manages her own tableware brand, Table. She declines jobs that place emphasis on visuals rather than taste. “Often these dinners look good but they don’t taste so good.”The exception? Her strawberry tarts were the exception.

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