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Dishing with NYC Chef Ignacio Mattos

The chef king of downtown Manhattan on the perfect gift, underrated foods, and why he doesn't want Bob Dylan in his restaurants.


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CHEF IGNACIO MATTOS has been the face of quintessential New York City restaurants for the past decade. At every one in his downtown empire (Estela, Altro Paradiso, Corner Bar, Swan Room, and one delightful uptown exception, Lodi), electricity in the air meets quiet elegance on the plate. The dishes themselves hold Italian, Spanish, and Middle Eastern influences, while the Uruguayan-born chef’s technique and philosophy reveal his training under culinary legends: the Argentine fire icon Francis Mallmann and Berkeley’s farm-to-table pioneer Alice Waters.

What is your favorite place to live?

I love Italy. They protect their heritage. I like the Dolomites in the summer. I love Cammillo in Florence. It’s a trattoria, the best restaurant in Italy. Female chef. They have this celeriac, egg, and bottarga dish served lukewarm. They make this egg tart that is insane. The kitchen is kind of open, so you could see it if you are in the main dining room. And a third place: Trattoria D’ana. You do this hike out from the fields of Positano, like an hour and a half, then end up at this little restaurant under these arches, on the beach.


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Do you have a uniform?

Straight-leg pants, white T-shirt, or a cotton top — either black or white, all cotton. I hate linen. I just don’t like the texture at all. It’s a little exhausting. If it’s not ironed, it’s just too raggy. Some people can pull it off. I cannot pull it off.

Where do you get your hair cut?

Laila [Gohar, Mattos’ partner] does my hair, but after she punished me with a bang that was too short, I got a little traumatized. I looked like “Dumb and Dumber.” After that, I’ve been committed to this woman Fumika. She’s pretty amazing, part of the studio Shair.

How do you define delicious?

Forget about conceiving a brilliant idea that has many elements … I think things can be a lot more subtle. I’m more and more in love with less. I love more in the settings, rococo kinds of spaces — fabrics, and textures, and more, and more. But on the plate, less.

What creatively fuels and replenishes you?

Europe — Paris, Vienna. I really appreciate when places were built to last. Three hundred years later, they’re still standing with integrity. I love going through the Met; always fun to get lost. I love going to Central Park. I love landscaping. That’s something that I would have loved to do. I love Burle Marx in Rio. The High Line is really well achieved. It’s a little apocalyptic, futuristic — nature taking over a city.

What is a controversial opinion you hold?

I’m trying to get rid of music in the restaurant. It gets in the way at times. The most beautiful restaurants have the bustle of just people. I adore that. Music usually makes everybody louder. Anything that you cannot identify is okay in a restaurant, but the moment that you’re at a table and singing a song, it’s over.

What is the most joy your restaurants have ever seen?

Having Obama at Estela. It lit the room in a very unique way, almost science fiction–like, the way the Secret Service operates — an aura that can’t be described, but you feel it. The moment he walked in and everybody was just clapping and going crazy. It was like a soccer match.


Who is someone from history you wish you could have at your restaurants?

I was just thinking about who I would not want to have at the restaurant: Bob Dylan. Everything he’s done is absolutely amazing … I think he would not be satisfied — it would be unfortunate. So he would be banned. I just don’t want the disappointment. It would be nice to have all the Rolling Stones.

What is the best gift?

If you give me flowers, I’m always going to be happy. Tulips die with the most decency and they have a lifetime that is the most beautiful of all — when they’re erected, then they start bending and moving. I really like it when they start dying. But I don’t get flowers. I would like to get more flowers: white tulips.

What food or drink is misunderstood?

I think hot dogs are very underrated. I’m talking about an elevated version of a street hot dog. In France and in Brooklyn, they used to make a hot dog that was divine. I would not put anything on top. Mustard would be criminal. I love a crappy New York slice. But then you can have a pizza in Japan and ... divinity. I think these hot dogs, like that pizza, are divinity.

What is your favorite dessert?

I could have profiteroles every day.

Which institutions must be protected at all costs?

Omen is an institution. Emilio's Ballato. Wu’s Wonton King. Hasaki. Places like La Grenouille, where you have to wear a jacket. It’s a gorgeous room and (the most important thing for me) a range of people. I really worry when I look at a place and everybody’s the same age. It’s either a geriatric hospital or a dorm. I think for any environment to be healthy, you need to have the range. It’s very important that the place has kids around.

What do you miss about Uruguay?

The melancholy. It’s a very melancholic place — the way that things sound, how people behave. People are very earnest. Sometimes you find it in New York. It has pockets, but it’s different. But it does have melancholy for me, this town. In Chinatown. I love Chinatown. I think it’s the only community here that has this still-preserved place, this social-gathering place. They have huge, big roots and pride in that they understand where they come from, and they don’t compromise.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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Global Dining Access by Resy

Unlock access to unique experiences and sought-after restaurants across the globe, when you add your Platinum Card® to your Resy profile. Terms apply. Learn more here, and visit resy.com or the Resy iOS app to get started.

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Our Contributors

Sophie Mancini Writer

Sophie Mancini is a New York based writer. Under the New York Times’ creative agency, she helped lead the relaunch of Departures Magazine, where she then went on to become the food editor. Her background spans editorial, brand, and books.

Oriana Fenwick Illustrator

Oriana Fenwick is an illustrator from Zimbabwe currently based in Frankfurt, Germany. Her pencil illustrations marry classic analog drawing techniques with her interest in establishing surprising relationships between compelling objects and fascinating subjects. Her diverse body of work includes editorials, book illustrations, product packaging, and film posters.

Giada Paoloni Photographer

Giada Paoloni is an Italian photographer based in New York City and Milan. Her clients span the food, travel, interiors and architecture industries, and range from Departures and Sant Ambroeus to Fox Fodder Farm and Wallpaper Magazine.


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