“I grew up in Uruguay, where Christmas is in the middle of summer,” says Ignacio Mattos. “So it’s funny because you have all these snow references, but you are melting.” The chef’s childhood holiday memories include boisterous multigenerational Christmas Eve dinners of suckling pig, matambre (a stuffed veal dish), and Russian salad, followed by tango dancing. “I remember being at the kids table, which I really didn’t like,” he says.
These days, Mattos spends the holidays in New York City, where he’s gradually been building a restaurant empire for a decade. He started with Estela, on Houston Street, which quickly earned him a Michelin star and a visit from the Obamas; then he opened Altro Paradiso, a celeb favorite Italian spot in SoHo. In the past year, he’s added Lodi, a refined café in Rockefeller Center, and Corner Bar, which anchors the Lower East Side’s much-hyped Nine Orchard hotel.
He typically hosts a Christmas Eve dinner at home with his girlfriend, the artist Laila Gohar; his 11-year-old son, Paco; and any friends—and friends of friends—who are in town. “We usually try to pick up the orphans,” he says. “I think it’s always a good opportunity to meet new people.” He serves dishes that have a certain wow factor, like beef Wellington, chicken galantine, coulibiac, or duck à l’orange. “These very classic old-school dishes are always fun to do,” he says. (At his restaurants, he and his team will often add Italian holiday staples like panettone and monte bianco to the menu.)
Many of the gifts he’s looking forward to giving this year are, unsurprisingly, food-centric: elegant single-origin chocolate bars from Casa Bosques, a frilled satin Gohar World bag designed specifically to hold a baguette, collectible vintage silver, decadent marrons glacés, and loose-leaf tea to sip while relaxing with a good movie.
“I’m a big Elf fan, so I watch it every holiday, and I still cry a bit—laugh and cry at the same time,” he says. “Anybody who comes to New York is already familiar with the sounds and images of the city through the movies—it’s something that gets stuck with you. Now, being in Rockefeller Center and looking at the tree, I feel like I’m in a movie.”
MAIN PHOTO: A cross section of Mattos Hospitality, with representatives from HQ and the kitchen and management teams at Lodi, Nine Orchard, and Estela. left: (clockwise from top left) Carlos Barbosa, Ian Sinovoi, Eloi Savi, Ethan Bensal, Yujin Lee, Polina Pfliger, Emily Roy. (back row, from left) Miki Takao, Watson Brown, Kimberly Hurry, Kate DaRocha, Stewart Craigie, Jason Pfeifer, Ignacio Mattos, Alice Kim; (front row, from left) Jorge Luis Pabon, Rachel Wong, Philip Groenewold, Stacey Swenson, Holly Do, Lauren Miller. (back row, from left) DaRocha, Craigie, Pfeifer, Mattos, Kim, Robert Newcomb, Mia Ponzi, Amelia Kirk; (front row, from left) Groenewold, Swenson, Do, Miller, Geanna DiMauro, Jordana Cotilletta. right: (from left) Cotilletta, Nicole Manouselis, Doug Morro, Vincent D’Ambrosio, Josh Hanover. Everyone wears their own clothing and accessories.
Still Lifes Photographed by Bobby Doherty; Styled Christina Holevas. Prop styling by Noemi. Bonazzi at M.A.P.
Photography assistant: Jordan Zuppa.
This article was originally published on