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The Art Of Hosting With Bonnae Gokson

She has been hailed the queen of cakes by The New York Times and is one of Asia’s most outstanding women – but for Bonnae Gokson, true joy is found amongst her nearest and dearest. The ever-stylish creative visionary behind Sevva, Ms B’s Cakery and C’est La B tells us why.

June 30, 2021

You are respected by many for your style and as a master of entertaining, turning it into a true art form. Can you tell us how this passion started and why you enjoy it so much?

It comes very naturally for me. As I was raised in a refined upbringing and a house with many staff, I grew up in an environment where my family constantly held parties and celebrations of all sorts. I was taught at a very young age how to appreciate the finer things in life.

In my earlier days, I was in the fashion and lifestyle business and was right hand to Joyce Ma. Besides the many stores under JOYCE Group, we also had JOYCE HOMEWARES. So, my life basically evolved from fashion to lifestyle, arts, and entertaining. Curating and styling for the Murray Hotel was fun. I acted as the creative advisor to the Niccolo Hotel Group, and I had the pleasure to travel all around China to cities like Changsha, Chongqing and Chengdu – the culture there is amazing, very young and hip. I was also involved with the revamping of their brand identity on TV.

With the whole pandemic going around, I think a lot of people are realising how short and precious life truly is and that when something like this happens, we have to find the ‘good’ and where we can go to that best benefits us spiritually as well. So, in answering you about entertaining, I think people will choose to gather with friends whom they really like and cut down to smaller and more intimate parties.

With the new challenges the world is facing in 2020 and beyond, the way we entertain will be forever changed. Can you tell us your perspective on this?

This is a time for cleansing for our collective consciousness, and for us to really work on positivity and bringing in the light. Normally if I ask you to clean your drawers, would you? You don’t want to, right? (laughs) But things have been in there for years and we’ve got to look into it. It’s quite hard actually. I was cleaning my storerooms and I found boxes of photographs of people I’ve met throughout my life, those who’ve passed, good and bad memories. It’s like you’re opening a can of tin worms. You’ve got to face that. A lot of us are realising a lot of things with this period – which is very good.

Staying positive and hopeful is as important as ever. How are you using this new form of gathering to bring people together, connect, and make people feel loved?

I love to read inspirational quotes and I often post some on my social media. Most of us are not in the mood to party hard but I can share with you about my recent birthday that just passed and how heartfelt it was for me. A good friend was hosting a dinner for eight on my special day and he took so much effort to style and decorate his home for this night. We all had great conversations, shared so many stories and a few of them surprised me with beautiful performances during different courses. One can truly feel the love all around.

I went to another friend’s house where they celebrated my birthday and we had so much fun making our own art in Japanese marblising. The secret was using a toothpick to touch our nose and dipping it into water and ink to create fascinating patterns on paper. The way I see it, gatherings now are more creative and meaningful. We are putting more effort into smaller details that just bring joy.

More people are choosing to entertain in their own homes. What are your tips on hosting a warm gathering at home?

A lot of people may not have large homes to host extravagant soirees. I think one can have fun even just bringing pot meals or gathering to make dumplings just like in Crazy Rich Asians. In my family, my nieces and nephews love cooking, and they would be responsible for creating a sumptuous dinner. But certainly, there are plenty of people who would just cater at home nowadays during the pandemic.

My tips on hosting a warm gathering would be looking into not just the food but in setting a good mood and lighting – the correct music that you would like your guests to sense, the humour that you may want to create by designing a fun table top and of course choosing a nice menu. Like I always say, for my own parties, I am basically just like the conductor. If something is too loud, I would lower it so everything balances. Nothing should shout out.

Can you tell us about the most memorable parties you have thrown?

Oh, there certainly have been many… from the most opulent events of JOYCE days to parties I’ve organised where we took over a former airport site in Shanghai for Chanel, and a birthday party I hosted at the Metropolitan Museum in Manila, Philippines that was just so incredible, unique and brought so much heightened excitement to all. I don’t think I have enough room to tell you all the details but I know to create such events, one truly has to have great passion and fantasy to plan. The more you do it the more you learn how to master this skill of great entertaining. Many people just like to copy from certain magazines or whatever and it becomes stagnant and soulless. I believe God is in the details.

You have been crowned the queen of cakes. What defines a good dessert and how important are desserts to you? Why do you think a perfect gathering must end with something sweet?

Desserts are meant to bring in something satisfying at the end of the meal. For me, a good dessert is something that is balanced with what you just had. After a heavy meal, something that’s a little bit tart or citrusy could be nice. A good dessert for me is never too sweet. I do have a favourite dessert – I love soft serve ice-cream. I’ve been pretty hooked on going to SOGO for my soft serve ice-cream with espresso jelly. For my own birthdays, I even say “Oh, let’s not have a cake. Let’s have ice-cream!”

What impression and memories do you want your guests to take away with them from your party?

A certain feeling of satisfaction, that you didn’t waste time sitting amongst that group of people and you did have fun. A bonus would be to make it memorable in a good way; not a bad memory like if someone who sat next to you said something that offended you and you go home angry and upset. That’s why seating is so important; if you don’t know how to seat them, you will get a stiff neck by not looking at that person because you don’t like them. Of course, you have to have pretty good food, some food is just bad and you go home and all you really want to have is a pack of instant noodles.

If you could invite three people – alive or not – to your dinner party, who would they be and why?

A lot of people might say Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio – I love handsome guys too, but I have to tell you very straightforwardly, a lot of them you may not have a fun conversation with at all. For me, she’s still alive and alert and just turned 99 years of age – yes, the oldest icon in the world – Iris Apfel. She’s a dear friend of mine. She picks up the phone and goes, “Oh, Bonnae.” She just launched a stemware collection, an accessories collection, and a colouring book of fashion, and she is 99! Every time I go to New York we meet for dinner. Her stories are amazing and so inspirational. She’s still really spot-on and she drinks you down with vodka.

Another I was thinking about is Walt Disney. I, myself, love to be surrounded by fantasy and romance. One of his greatest quotes is “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Two other choices would be Anderson Cooper, one of the prime anchors of CNN and the son of Gloria Vanderbilt, who was a fashion designer in America, an artist, and an heiress. He is very knowledgeable, humble, and just a great human being. Next, I would say the empress Wu Zetian of China, because why not?

This story was originally published in Issue 1 of Echelon's print magazine.