Pair the fashion designer Rachel Comey with chef Ignacio Mattos of Estela for a dinner-party-slash-fashion show and you’ve got a recipe for one very chic unofficial start to New York Fashion Week, which begins today. Add in a musical performance by Justin Vivian Bond, choreographed models donning Comey’s spring/summer 2015 collection, a sprawling arts venue near the Brooklyn waterfront, and it’s no wonder the event last night drew a crowd that included notable artists and performers, as well as fellow figures from the style and culinary worlds.
The event, held at the artist Dustin Yellin’s Pioneer Works center in Red Hook and co-hosted by Adam Rapaport of Bon Appetit magazine, was the kick-off event for the magazine’s Feast or Fashion series, now in its fifth year, which highlights the flourishing symbiosis between fashion and food with several events each season. It was also a much-anticipated evening for Comey’s regulars, who each season look forward to her relaxed, elaborate evening dinner parties, which she began throwing two years ago in lieu of the standard-format runway. “I don’t go to many fashion shows during the week — only the few that I have a personal connection to. And Rachel’s are always really interesting and different,” said Debbie Harry, a regular attendee whose fellow guests last night included Emily Mortimer, Zadie Smith, Cindy Sherman and the actor Paul Dano.
For last night’s main course, Mattos prepared salt-encrusted tilefish, a dish as visual as it was sating, which he roasted over flames and sent out — one for each table — buried under staggering mounds of salt. “It’s quite minimal, but also very theatrical and primal,” Mattos said earlier. He and Comey discussed the themes of her collection in the weeks leading up to the dinner before the designer ultimately gave him carte blanche with the menu.
During a menu tasting at Estela three weeks earlier, Comey explained her decision behind the more intimate format. “Having a dinner party atmosphere just made everything more meaningful,” she said. Though this was her first season collaborating with Mattos, the pairing was an organic one for the two creatives. Comey, whose studio and home are both near the buzzy, NoHo-based restaurant, dines there frequently and counts Mattos as a friend. “There’s a pretty good, seamless, frame of mind between Rachel and Ignacios. They have the same philosophy,” said Thomas Carter (Estela’s co-owner) during the tasting, while Comey and Mattos discussed various ways to present the courses.
Despite the tilefish’s dramatic presentation, Mattos chose it and that particular preparation method for its lightness. “It’s actually one of the best ways to cook fish,” said the Uruguayan-born chef. “It’s not very aggressive in terms of flavor — it’s very clean and works with many garnishes,” he said before adding: “It’s the fashion crowd, but it’s also summer.”
Below, Mattos shares a version of his salt-encrusted tilefish recipe, adapted for home cooks.
Whole, Salt-Baked Tilefish
Yield: 10-12 servings
Chef Ignacio Mattos says this dish is ideal for large gatherings, where guests can help themselves, and the fish is a nice centerpiece for the table. He suggests serving it with aioli potatoes, salsa verde or salad — and says that sea trout, arctic char and salmon are good substitutes for tilefish.
1 8-to-10-pound tilefish, gutted and scaled 8 pounds kosher salt 4 ¼ quarts water 1 lemon, halved 1 bronze fennel, sliced 1 handful fresh oregano 1 handful fresh thyme Lemon juice, to plate Salt, to plate Olive oil, to plate
1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Let the fish sit at room temperature, covered, for 40 minutes.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the kosher salt and water. It should expand and feel like sticky, wet sand on the beach.
3. Stuff the whole fish with the lemon halves and the bronze fennel, oregano and thyme. Place a layer of the wet salt on a baking sheet, about 1 inch thick, and set the fish atop it. Cover the fish with the remaining salt, packing it into a mound, and then place the baking sheet in the oven for approximately 40 minutes.
4. Let the fish rest for 25 minutes. Crack the crust and remove (and discard) the salt.
5. With scissors, cut around the side of the fish and pull off the skin, starting from the tail. Then remove the bone, also starting with the tail. Filet and serve, making sure to hit each piece with lemon juice, salt and olive oil.