The Artist’s Way: A Studio Supper with Megumi Shauna Arai
“It’s one of the greatest gifts to do what you love and to be supported in doing what you love,” gushes textile artist Megumi Shauna Arai to some twenty friends, surrounding a long table heaped with platters of warm barbari and wines of every shade. The group has gathered for a first look at her new studio, an unassuming second-floor walkup with high ceilings and partial views of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, at the invitation of Alex Tieghi-Walker, the creative director behind TIWA Select. As the party tucks into a persimmon and burrata salad dressed with toasted pistachios, whole lemon salsa and mortadella, it’s clear that this studio supper – the first of more to come – is both in celebration of and in conversation with the artist’s practice.
Drawing on the Japanese tradition of boro, Megumi brings together found materials, blending naturally-made dyes with vintage textiles and tiling to form assemblages. This sense of elevated informality – an explicit patchwork in which the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts – permeates the studio-turned-dining room, a space not much larger than the central table upon which she usually lays out her compositions. Tonight, that workspace is draped in drop cloths splattered with persimmon dye, then laid with enamel plates and linen napkins the artist has stained with thyme and sage. (The table lets out a slightly tipsy cheer when Alex informs them the napkins are theirs to keep – “I’m turning mine into a top,” declares Beverly Nguyen to no one in particular.) Herbs are a sort of leitmotif for the evening, between petite woody bouquets studded with yellow blossoms and the heady aroma of burning sage, which hangs over the room. And they were a natural throughline for Chef Andy Baraghani, whose menu marries the food of his own Iranian upbringing with the flavors of Italian and Levantine regional cooking.
He serves the aforementioned first course alongside a veritable palette of zippy green zhoug, crisp purple daikon, and an impasto-like swipe of softened butter, accented with buttermilk and olive oil. For mains, he offers slow roasted halibut with brown butter, grapefruit, saffron, and Aleppo pepper, plus sabzi polo, a verdant rice dish flecked with dill, parsley, and chives, which is typically eaten to welcome the Persian New Year. Taking a tip from his mother, Andy envelops his polo in a delicate lettuce tahdig, which, once plated, seems to mimic the irregular textures of Megumi’s stitched hangings. To finish, he’ll layer airy meringues with meyer lemon curd and sour cherry syrup kissed with orange blossom.
“I cook food that I crave, and I think that’s something a lot of creatives don’t necessarily do,” Andy explains. “you start really thinking about what feels right to you. Once you’ve hit that point then others around you, whether they’re eating, seeing, smelling, touching, then they’re easily able to absorb and understand your approach to your own craft.” Dining in the presence of raw materials, with miniature compositions in progress nailed to the walls, Megumi’s process and passion is likewise front and center. “It’s nice to host a dinner in a space like this. It feels very creative, and very much Megumi’s,” Alex adds. “The pandemic really taught a lot of us how to host again. I know it was a bit of a cliche with everyone baking banana bread and sourdough, but I thought there was something really useful about that. We’d been so reliant on other people to entertain us for so long, that suddenly being forced to consider our own spaces, our own homes, our own dining experiences, our own ways of cooking, I really loved that.”
Presented by Megumi Shauna Arai and Alex Tieghi-Walker
Food: Andy Baraghani and Tony Ortiz
Tableware: Megumi Shauna Arai
Photography: Landon Speers