Follow us as we bring you a series of posts on Persian Love Stories.

Let me start by introducing myself. I am Persian and a chef, born in Iran some years ago (well the 60’s to be honest). I moved to the UK with my family at the tender age of 13 and since then, I have been lucky enough to have lived, studied and worked in many countries, picking up several languages along the way. I can truly say that I have had a very interesting and diverse life, a lot of this is with thanks to my wife Deb for letting me pursue my dreams.

I was born in Tehran and from a family that loved entertaining. Growing up at home with my sisters, Mum hosting dinner parties was the norm and would always be a grand affair with many guests. Mum would spend ages making everything just perfect and even then, I would delight in how much preparation, care, attention to detail and time she would take to create the perfect party.

Mum was taught to cook by our grandmother (Maman Jan) who was a fabulous cook and used to spoil us constantly with wonderful culinary creations. Tahchin and Shahmirzadi Polo was among my absolute favourites. Layers of fluffy rice, delicious slow braised meat, baked beetroot, sautéed spinach, caramelised carrots and of course lots and lots of butter! My mum carried on this tradition and always made it for Deb (who despite being British, is sometimes more Persian than I am) It has became her favourite too.

Persians, by nature, are an incredibly hospitable lot and great foodies. Even though I left Iran at 13, most of my memories are of the beautiful places we visited and the food we ate. Every Iranian will tell you where the best Cholo Kebab is – for me it was from Nayeb in the Tehran bazaar, Jojeh Kebab from Hatam restaurant in Tajrish area north of Tehran and Akbar Mashdi’s for the renowned vanilla, saffron and frozen double cream ice cream. I could go on and on really! Maybe I will do a little “down memory lane” blog in the future… watch this space.

Once, when I was about 8, we went to a grand wedding in Kashan (a town in mid south Esfahan region). It was amazing and lasted about a week. On the way back and in total contrast to the wedding, we stopped in a Ghahve Khaneh – a little road side eatery. Simple, but quaint, we sat under cherry trees to eat. A small stream ran by and away from the summer sun, we sat on handmade benches covered in Persian rugs and at old wooden tables. We drank cold Sharbat (a drink usually made of fruit purée, or flower concentrate and water) and ordered the only thing that was on the menu, whole baby braised chicken. You may think whats special about that? Well… the chicken was free range from the farm behind the cafe and the local butter was used to poach it – it was, in essence, confit of chicken. And there it was… one of my most vivid childhood memories. All those years ago, in the middle of nowhere, pure, simple food, but made with such love and care.

Tabriz was another trip that stands out in my mind. We stayed in tents, alfresco under the stars. Beautiful mountains, forests, freezing waterfalls, magically watching the sky which looked like a million shining diamonds on a dark blue satin sheet. The cuisine in this area is amazing and complex, as it borders so many countries and they all influence each other. They use an abundance of seasonal vegetables and spices such as baharet, sumac and paprika and many fresh herbs. The breakfast in Tabriz was my favourite, with local paneer (Iranian feta), fresh tomatoes, baby cucumbers, olives, fresh eggs and delicious freshly baked bread. I still love a breakfast like this today.

My favourite places in Iran were Abadan (south of Iran) at Eid or, at our summer house in Shomal Darya (in the Caspian Sea area), where the best caviar in the world comes from. In those days there was an abundance of fish like sturgeon, brown trout, grey mullet, sardines, wild sea bream, the list is endless, but my and many others favourite was Mahi Sefid (Caspian Kutum, or Caspian white fish). This is the fish that’s traditionally eaten at Eid / Nowruz (Persian New Year).

Years later and after I’d met Deb, we moved to Florence where I studied and Deb was a nanny. It was a wonderful carefree, creative, flip flop time where we would go up into the mountains on our little moped with bags of Persian delights mixed with Italian picnic goodies and wine from the local vineyards. At home, Deb used to love to watch me cook (and still does). She’d then take notes and recreate the dishes for me to try. She became a real dab hand in no time! I’ll never forget once when my mum came to stay we decided to go to the seaside. Mum being mum started cooking from the day before… Kotlet's, Kookoo Sabzi, Salad Olivieh and much more. For me it was normal to have a banquet on the beach, but Deb thought we’d be making sandwiches. It was a wonderful memory and all the more special, as mum is no longer with us. I can see us now, watermelon dug under the sand in the sea to keep cool, backgammon and cards and a net for beach volleyball… All the things we used to do as children in Iran, but on a beach near Pisa.
When our children came along, Deb and I tried give them the best of Persian traditions and values, which we hope they will carry on and teach Lily, Rosa and CeCe also. We would all cook together in the kitchen, the children barely reaching the worktops, laughing and mixing and making so many things, but especially making wonderful memories. They were so keen to learn and their love of food was apparent even then. We’d all help together, then we would all go and get dressed up and sit around the table like we had gone out for dinner… It really was so special. I always said to them ‘if you can cook, you’ll always have friends’ and it is so true! I still have friends from college that I have known over 40 years who I used to cook for on a regular basis.
Both Natalie and Jason have turned out to be total foodies, are amazing in their own kitchens and have shared their knowledge with their own partners. They are both really comfortable cooks and often make wonderful creations for their loved ones. There's nothing better than when we are all together and we each do our own bit to make a very special evening. What's more, we're delighted that they have passed this love for cooking onto their babies also.
Cooking is a part of my DNA and I have been lucky enough to have worked for acclaimed restaurant and hotels worldwide, also running my own establishments (more on this to come). I treat it as an art form and have used my photography training in Florence to guide me. I knew it was inevitable that I would return to my roots and for me to be able to share the food and the love of the country I was born really is a dream come true.
The reason food is so important in Persian culture is that it brings us together. It allows us to celebrate and take time out of our busy daily lives for a moment of peace, a time to share the day. I want to think that you can enjoy our food whilst enjoying the company of your own family, around your own table... I'll imagine you sat, like we did at my mums, around a sofreh (Persian table cloth), knowing that your food has been lovingly prepared for you to enjoy.
One of the reasons we created Modern Persian Kitchen was to share this experience, bring people closer together through our dishes and embrace family, friends and food together.

We hope you will be able to make your own memories while enjoying our food and also join us at our supper clubs. Just think of me as Maman Jun, or in my case Baba Jun! Shari x

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious” - Ruth Reichl
February 02, 2023