TV Chef and cookbook author Ariana Bundy was brought up in New York, London, Switzerland and Paris. She inherited her love of food and cooking from her grandparents – who grew cherries, plums, apricots, apples, wheat and barley, bred sheep and goats for dairy, and had beautiful vineyards producing prized grapes – and from her father, who owned the first fine-dining French restaurant in Iran and later in Beverly Hills.
Ariana was Head Pastry Chef for the Mondrian Hotel in LA. Graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and Le Notre in Paris, she trained at Fauchon Patisserie and attended the European Business School in London. She has cooked for celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, President Clinton, Brad Pitt and Madonna to name a few.
What is the one dish you think every Iranian should know how to cook?
Zereshk Polo, Iran’s answer to plain chicken and rice. A dish of slow-cooked chicken in onion, saffron and butter sauce served with fluffy rice and topped with sweet and sour barberries (bush berries). It’s simple, effective, and everyone loves it.
What are the three specific ingredients that characterize the flavor of Iranian cuisine?
I would say Saffron, which happens to be the king of Persian spices. Iran produces 92% of all of the world’s saffron, so it’s no surprise that it’s also the biggest consumer. What we call ‘a pinch of saffron’ in Iran is equal to about 3 or 4 pinches abroad! Iranians also have a love affair with rice. Although a relatively new item in Iran (introduced in the 8th century), people just can’t live without it. They lovingly soak, bar boil and steam it to perfection sometimes adding layers of dried fruits, meats, rose petals, herbs, delicate spices and so on. They even decorated rice with real jewels in the olden times! Rose water is the third ingredient I love. You open a bottle, and you are immediately taken to a Persian garden. It is used in sweet and savory dishes, as a natural remedy as well as splashed on the face.
What are the main tricks to make an Iranian dish with a modern presentation?
I love staying true to the Persian culture, but I also try and bring it into today’s world. The western reader/audience likes familiarity but exoticism at the same time. The trick is choosing dishes that are modern but with a traditional feel. For example, I used a traditional Gamaj (a ‘Tagine looking’ pot from the Caspian region) in my cookbook but I mix it with a Hermes plate or a stack linen napkin. If you go all modern, the food will look out of place. You can also use silicon molds for Kukus (Persian Frittata) or desserts, use bright Le Creuset pots for stews and your old kitsch retro family plates on a Torkaman inspired tablecloth. I love cheap knives from Bazaars with Persian writing on them to be used with Conran plates and so on.
Persian cuisine as about slow cooked foods coming together, so sometimes the food tends to look dark and lifeless. To elevate this, right before serving, add some chopped fresh herbs, pure white fleur de sel, rose petals, gold leaves or even a sprinkle of saffron threads.
Which is the healthiest and unhealthiest out of all Iranian dishes and why?
Iranian food is extremely healthy and balanced if cooked properly is There is a delicate balance of cooking Iranian food until it settles (“ja biofteh”) and the flavors marry each other. However, you can certainly use less oil, cook less so that the vegetables and herbs don’t pulverize. The system of Garmi and Sardi (Iranian yin and yang) where foods are categorized as either hot or cold is taken very seriously in Iran. This system is to ensure that your body is balanced at every meal, in every season and according to your own constitution.
Do Iranian men cook well too?
Iranian men pride themselves in making the best Kabab. I think the majority of men around the world take over in the BBQ department, think Aussies, Americans, etc. I think it goes back to when we were cavemen! However, Iranian men really truly understand the art of making a good marinate with saffron, onion juice, lemons etc, leaving the meat in it for just long enough and cutting the meat the right way in order for the marinate to fully seep in and for it to cook properly. Cooking with charcoal (the only proper way in making Kabab in Iran) is also taken very seriously. It’s a time for the men to get together while the women prepare the other dishes in the kitchen.
How do you think childhood influences a career?
My father was a restaurateur and my mother a fashion designer. I left my path to becoming an artist and joined a business school instead. I tried my hand at marketing in the fashion industry (which I hoped would bring my two studies under one roof) but I quickly learned that food was my passion or rather obsession. Watching my father in his French restaurant in Iran and later in Beverly Hills confirmed that this industry is in fact in my blood. My maternal grandparents were also landlords who grew fruits and vegetables, so I saw first hand the magic of ‘farm to table’. I’m deeply drawn by land and what amazing things it can produce with a sprinkling of seeds.
Who is an artist? What is art?
To me, art is something that evokes an emotion in people and an artist is that vehicle which makes it happen. I also believe that an artist can be connected to a higher universe which sometimes produces ‘great art’ or a flurry of spectacular work. In my case, I love seeing people happy after eating my food or making my recipes for their loved ones.
What is that “unexpected dream job” which you do everyday in your heart and mind?
Being a mother. It’s everything I hope for and more. The love and personal lessons you learn from being a parent is immeasurable.
Where do you see us going as human beings?
I’m a little concerned about what we are doing to the environment. It is something that does keep me up sometimes at night, I think about all the plastic bags we use. I do my share by eating clean organic foods, using biodegradable bags, watching my carbon footprint but still feel like I’m not doing enough. We all need to think seriously about how we leave this world for our children. At the same time, I see a great wave of people who are becoming more mindful and aware. I see this movement also slowly but surely emerging in Iran every time I visit the country.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I’ve never really thought about this. But I suppose I would like to be remembered as a loving mother to my son Dara, a good partner to my husband Paul, a great cook and a promoter of Iranian culture through food.
Her latest book ‘Pomegranates and Roses: My Persian Family Recipes’ (Simon & Schuster UK) won an award at the Gourmand Cookbook Awards in 2012 and was shortlisted as the Best Cookery Book at the Writer’s Guild Awards in 2013.
In her beautiful part cookbook part culinary memoir, Ariana pays tribute to the rich heritage, cultural and culinary, that has shaped her approach to life, cooking, and eating.
Her books have been featured in such magazines such as BBC Good Food, Food & Travel UK, Conde Nast’s House & Garden, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, Food & Wine Magazine, The Irish Examiner, House & Home UK, Financial Times and the Sunday Telegraph.
Ariana has appeared on TV shows such as the BBC’s Good Food Live, Sky’s Taste, Euronews, FOX and Top Billing.
She is also the author of ‘Sweet Alternative’ the first ever gluten-, dairy- and soy-free dessert cookbook (Conran-Octopus UK) written in 2005 due to her family’s and her own food intolerances.
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Araz is a fashion designer based in Paris. You can Follow him on Instagram @MaisonArazFazaeli