On one of their earliest dates, Philip Lago made a creamy mushroom risotto for Mystique Mattai so impressive, it was, well, love at first bite. The kitchen promptly formed the heart of their relationship, and today the Toronto couple shares elevated home cooking through their blog, Chef Sous Chef, launched days after their wedding. They have a new taste-tester on the team — baby Lennox, born in September — and another baby on the way: their cookbook, Eat with Us: Mindful Cooking to Make Every Meal an Experience, which arrives on shelves in April.
Surprisingly, Mattai understates her kitchen prowess (“I would say I’m a very pedestrian cook,” she claims), though she can whip up her signature fully loaded chicken quesadillas and a gorgeous charcuterie board. Nevertheless, her creative influences are everywhere: An art-history grad, she’s the one suggesting ingredients for Lago to riff on, as well as deftly styling the dishes, capturing everything on camera and writing up stories for their site, peppering in personal anecdotes.
The duo’s forthcoming cookbook has something for all skill levels; chapters range from Simple to Feast, and feature everything from spaghetti carbonara (their most popular recipe) to coconut-braised curry short ribs with Caribbean flair (”I could eat it every day,” says Lago).
The theme throughout is the duo’s meditative food philosophy. If you pause the world — TV off, please — you’ll be more attuned to flavours, not to mention your dining partners. “I’ll never forget this quote from a book: If you’re washing a teacup, that’s the most important thing you’re doing,” says Lago of being in the moment. “With cooking, it’s the same thing.” Elevating an at-home meal can be as easy as making a little something special — start with this skillet cake — and enjoying the good company.
Simple strawberry skillet cake
“If I had to describe this cake in one word, I’d say humble,” says Philip Lago. “A dish inspired by my late-night snacking addiction, it’s simple and elegant, not fussy or extravagant, and it makes you feel warm. Serve with tea and a moment to yourself.”
Makes one 10-inch cake
Total time: 45 minutes
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise, plus additional for serving (optional)
Icing sugar, for serving
Prepare the batter: Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven and preheat to 350°F.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl, and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk 1/2 cup of the butter until it is soft and fluffy, then mix in the yogurt and eggs. Stir in the maple syrup and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix until just combined.
Bake the cake: Remove the skillet from the oven and add 1 tablespoon of butter. Using oven mitts to hold the skillet, swirl the butter around to coat the entire pan. Pour in the batter and use the back of a spoon to spread it into an even layer. Top with the strawberries.
Using oven mitts, place the skillet back into the oven and bake for 35 minutes, until the cake is lightly browned and a knife or toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve.
Elevate: Once the cake has cooled, place on a cake stand and dust generously with icing sugar. Top with additional strawberries.
Excerpted from Eat with Us: Mindful Recipes to Make Every Meal an Experience by Philip Lago and Mystique Mattai, with permission from Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Copyright © 2021 Philip Lago and Mystique Mattai. Photography by Mystique Mattai. All rights reserved.