Sister, sister: the beautiful duo behind Zardosht Persianesque food brand

The gorgeous Zardosht sisters, Soli and Sanaz, were on my foodie radar for some 6 years now. First I marvelled at their Broadway market stall, adorned with rose petals, gorgeous platters and steaming stews of Persian delights and have been ‘stalking’ them on Instagram ever since.  Back in the day when I was till in my academic / film festival admin world, I toyed with the idea of working in food, and seeing a job advert on their stall I sighed ‘Oh, if only I had the courage to actually do what I really love’, but I did not back then.

But 4 years ago when the KinoVino journey started to take a more defined course, I finally had a reason to contact the two lovely women to suggest a kino-foodie collaboration. And this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship (if I may use the over quoted phrase from Casablanca). While our plan of a joint KinoVino took four years (!) to come to fruition, I’ve had the joy of finally realising my dream and working in Zardosht kitchen, expanding my culinary horizons. As well as learning so many new dishes, I got inspiration on how to brighten up familiar things with the use of right herbs and spices (and a few decent cuts and burns along the way).

Being a huge admirer of talented young women who are not just outstanding cooks but also know how to turn their passion and talent into a proper business, I could not pass the chance to ask Soli and Sanaz a few questions about their heritage, their love of food and how the idea of the Zardosht brand came about. 

What is your earliest memory of food 

Sanaz: My earliest memory of food is from the days when my Mum, my sister Soli and I used to travel from Dubai to Shiraz during the summer holidays to visit my grandmother. I loved the afternoon walks we had together to the food market. It’s been years since I have visited Iran but I still recall the smell of the vegetables, fruits, flowers, spices and Persian pastries. We would always gather together in my Nan’s garden with aunts and cousins and it was the best! I miss those days!

Soli: Getting sick at the dinner table because I’d had a whole large uncooked green pepper- I was about 2 and I remember really LOVING them.

Who is your culinary hero 

Sanaz: My sister, Soli – and our Mum!

Soli: My mother and the only Persian food writer I know from her generation called Roza Montazami- Her cookbook is a bible in almost every Persian household- Many of her original recipes contained wine which were edited in the later editions published post Iranian revolution. My sister Setareh sent me this book when I was 17 and I still refer to it all the time. I’m a bit tired of the celebrity chef culture but I do love Jamie Oliver – for me, he is above all that and has done such a great job of making cooking look both easy and accessible to everyone..When I first moved to the UK, I had a notebook ready so I could frantically write down his recipes every time he was on tv. I also adore Nigel Slaters writing.

What inspired you to start a food business 

Sanaz: My sister Soli Zardosht left the fashion industry in her mid 20’s and started a Persianesque food stall at Broadway Market and a residency at Cafe Oto. I used to travel to London from Bristol to help with cooking. I always loved and enjoyed cooking from a very early age, so would always have friends over and cook for them. Once I graduated in Business Management, I decided to move to London and cook with my sister. I love our moments together in the kitchen!
Soli: My background in fashion and the lack of modern Persian cooking in London or anywhere.

 

What is your go-to-dish

Sanaz: I love making fish! Any type of fish, though I often make trout, olives, tomato and avocado!

Soli: A Persian stew made with chicken, sour grapes, tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes served with Persian saffron rice.

 

For you what is the most important thing about feeding people 

Sanaz: Spending time cooking and eating with friends is what I enjoy the most. I’m most happy when my private clients that I cook for on a weekly basis write to me about how much they like the flavours!

Soli: Making that meal the highlight of their day. When I have people over for dinner, I go out of my way to create just the right atmosphere to complement and enhance the dinner- the lighting, how the rooms smell, fresh flowers, the right platters, napkins…I take dinner parties very seriously.

What was your biggest kitchen disaster 

Sanaz: Ahaha, It’s hard to recall a disaster – although we did once spill all our just-made gazpacho on the floor, just before service! There are probably a few other episodes that the team members might tell you about – perhaps you should ask them!

Soli: On more than one occasion, at the end of a very long day preparing food for the market, I somehow managed to drop the plate containing the orange-blossom mascarpone filled dates. Preparing them each week is a real labour of love so there would often be a tear or two after the initial shock.

How do you judge the success of your dishes 

Sanaz: The compliments we receive from new customers and regulars on the flavours of our dishes. When our loyal/regular customers come back every week to Broadway Market to have our food it makes me very happy to see and hear their appreciation.

Soli: People always compliment the colours and the plating of our dishes but after this what I really like witnessing is how after the first mouthful, they often stop for a second in appreciation of the many layers of flavours. Whenever I’m at OTO I try to find the time to spy on our customers a little and gage their reaction to be sure we are still doing it right. We also get a lot of direct feedback from our customers, both at cafe OTO and at our stand on Broadway market which is really nice.

What are the key 3 ingredients that define Zardosht cooking style 

Sanaz: The spices, use of saffron and herbs.

Soli: Zardosht is about cooking Persian dishes with a modern and fresh approach. Our priority is to cook and serve food that is wholesome yet complex in terms of flavours, non pretentious , plentiful and a feast for the eyes.

What’s it like to work with your sister

Sanaz: I love it! We inspire each other. I love every single thing she has made. She’s the best cook! I miss her food – she moved to New York a few years ago and I miss dropping by her place, spending time and having dinner with her.

Soli: It’s really rewarding, we have the exact same palette and our shared childhood food experiences make communicating much easier than if I were to say explain the idea of a new dish to anyone else and vice versa.

What would you advise people who are aspiring to start a food business 

Sanaz: Go for it! It can be hard work, but take the risk and also be open to new ideas from your team members – and be open to change!

Soli: Make sure you LOVE cooking.

Book your tickets for a much-awaited KinoVino collaboration on 16th May!

Follow Soli and Sanaz on Instagram & explore their website

At the heart of Kurdish cuisine with Melek Erdal

I met Melek under the saddest but also most meaningful circumstances – almost a year ago, at a funeral of a mutual friend, Mehmet Aksoy. For a really long time, Mehmet has been trying to put us in touch as he knew that we’d get along really well, for various reasons, not least because of our shared love of food. And so we have; in loosing a friend, I gained a new one. It’s been beyond special to work with Melek on a charity edition of KinoVino x Cook for Syria hosted in memory of Mehmet. While Melek has already occupied a special place in my heart thanks to her warm personality, her incredible food, which I got to taste on the night, made me fall in love with this lady even more! 

So I am really excited to share Melek’s interview here, not only because she is a very talented chef and writer, but also because her story, as well as the story of Kurdish (food) culture, needs to be told.

 

What inspired you to start cooking?

I don’t remember this being a decision.  It was such an ingrained part of who we are and how we express ourselves.  All of my earliest memories are to do with food – I remember very little about life in Istanbul but the pockets of moments in time I do remember all involve food.  

I remember the bread and yoghurt I was fed at my grandads funeral to comfort me.  I remember the olive tapenade mum gave me when she would take me to a cleaning job at a wealthy family’s home…I remember the homemade candy she would make me out of sugar, rosewater and lemon.  I remember the first time we moved to London and I was curious to open the jar of English mustard…only to be traumatized by the pain in  my nostrils…I detested mustard for a very long time…until I loved it.

Cooking was the way I got to spend time with my mum, it was the reason we would gather with family and friends, it was what dad did for work.  It defined us in so many ways.

It quickly became my way of connecting and making friends.  After school my friends would come over on the way home to have one of my sandwiches…they were a bit mega.  When I got older my place was always the place to come and eat.

It was not you see, a conscious decision for a career…I studied history at university and was set to be a lawyer…but the opportunity came to have a space…to make a place where the community could come and eat…so I finished university and found myself with a café.

I went the reverse way…when I looked up and saw I had a café…I realized that this would be what I would do…and everything else would spring from this.

How/where did you learn to cook?

Self taught; from mums, aunties, grandmothers…and from dad.  From practice…from tasting…from exploring.  If you want to cook …everything is your learning ground.  Not one chef or school can be the master of all cuisine or cooking…so make friends, speak to strangers, travel…be a humble student and be inquisitive.

Describe a typical meal in a Kurdish household

A typical meal involves bread, butter, yoghurt, and grains…everything else is built around this…and a shepherd salad! – tomato, onions, peppers, parsley, cucumber…olive oil and lemon juice very liberally!

What is the role of food in the Kurdish culture?

Food is everything, Alissa. (heart emoji / world emoji / baguette emoji)

For a people who are the largest ethnic minority without a country of their own…dispersed across the middle east and Europe…a nomadic rural people who were thrust into the urban cities…no ingrained written culture…no official records…how have we survived? How have we thrived with such a strong sense of our identity?

We have embraced oral storytelling…through songs, through mythologizing our recent past, through poignant celebration, through dance, through our limerick, ….and our food.  

With the absence of official records and script…we use all other senses for testimony.  Some foods have myths and stories around them…others or done for feeling or occasions.  Your versions of recipes change with region and dialect…but there is joy in this contention…a battleground of connection and laughs.

Food is survival.  Our ceremonies and rituals that are brought to life with food, form the fabric our communities and are a way for us to stay connected with each other.  It is also the way we have introduced ourselves and been initiated into the communities we have entered.  Finally, the food industry has been our way to survive first moving to cities.  Most Kurds know how to cook…and so it was the only thing we knew to do in new cities where other opportunities were not afforded to us.  So next time you go and get a kebab…ask said kebab man what he did before…you might find an interesting story.

What is the quintessential Kurdish flavour?

Flat bread (‘Lavash’) – bread must come with everything – otherwise how you will you know you’ve eaten?
Sun-dried tomato paste goes in to the base of a lot of foods.
Yoghurt, yoghurt yoghurt! – it is an accompaniment to most dishes
Garlic, burnt butter, lemon and grains…things that are hearty and rustic…things that can sustain you for hard labour!

Kurds also love a breakfast spread any time of day for any meal- the kurds are famous for their breakfast spreads…we usually eat on the floor with a colourful water resistant cloth.  We jewel with small dishes of fresh things.  And cracked egg of some sort and fresh bread as the main feature.  Always served with a concentrated potent tea.

Your favourite place to eat

I have so many – but my second home is Song Que on Kingsland Road.

Hands down the best Vietnamese in London.

Its family run.  The family are the sweetest, most joyous and hard working.  The parents practice ballroom dance in the stock room downstairs in their spare time.

Their daughter Sharlene practically runs the place and her fiancé and brother are also part of the team.  Staf bring their babies and families and they all eat together.

The Rare beef pho is my favourite.  So fragrant and delicate in flavor. Not oily…a warm hug in a bowl.

I love that it has a canteen feel… I love informal dining…it reminds me of my travels in Vietnam and has practically been a second home to me the past few years.

Your three key ingredients

Lemons Parsley and Mint : ) and everyone knows it.

I was in Nepal staying with my dear friend Bishal who owns a lovely Café – Café Soma in Kathmandu – Bishal made the kids call me Aunty Lemon.  Because apparently I always say “d’you know what this needs…some lemon!”

Describe your typical cooking ritual (when you are alone in your kitchen cooking for pleasure)

I love making a one pot dish.  It would usually involve me braising some chicken or fish, adding a grain, some veg (whatever I have) and stock.  And eating this in a bowl topped with some pickled beetroot and fresh mint yoghurt.

Who is your culinary inspiration?

I loved Anthony Bourdain and was so devastated when he passed.  He understood that connection with food and the people who make it.  He knew how to get into the fabric of a community.

I love Jamie Oliver because he made food accessible and his passion was infectious…he made great food and made us believe we could make it too.

My mum and dad…dad would come home late from work and would wake me up so we could eat together.  Some boiled eggs with Aleppo chilli, tomatoes, peppers and bread and yoghurt.  He didn’t like eating alone…This stayed with me…along with his ability to connect with people and never make language a barrier.

Tell us a bit about the recipe you are going to share.

I am going to share a filo recipe that is both humble and grand…what food should be.  Its simple but a bit mesmerizing.  I love when simple ingredients can make a magic dish.

You can use shredded and off cuts of filo pastry that you have set aside.

 

My Orange Filo Syrup Cake with Cardamom Cream & Toasted Pistachios

  • Syrup
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 350ml water
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • 1 tspn ground cinnamon
  • Cake
  • 500g filo pastry
  • 3 oranges
  • 5 eggs
  • 200g Greek yoghurt
  • 180ml olive oil
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 1 tbspn baking powder
  • Cream
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp vanilla pod or paste
  • 2 tsp soft dark brown sugar (1 tsp if using vanilla paste)
  • 1 500ml tub double cream
  • Toasted and crushed pistachios

Method

  1. First make the syrup to set aside to cool.  Combine all syrup ingredients, including the two orange halves, in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool whilst you make the cake.
  2. Whisk all the ingredients of the cream together until thickened in texture and refridgerate.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas 4. Lightly rub a baking tin with olive oil.
  4. Roughly tear into filo into shreds, into the baking tin, and leave to dry a little while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
  5. Cut one orange in half, and slice that half into thin half-moons to place ontop of the cake mix the cake. Zest and juice the remaining oranges.
  6. Combine the rest of the cake ingredients including orange juice and zest intoa  blender or food processor. Blend together for a few minutes until the mixture is frothy.
  7. Pour the mixture over the filo. Stir together gently and make sure it is thoroughly mized. Arrange the sliced oranges on top of the cake.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden and the filling set. Once out of the oven, immediately pour the cooled syrup over the hot cake. Set aside for at least 1 hour, till most of the syrup has soaked in.
  9. You can then place in the fridge to cool even more or serve warm.
  10. Serve a slice with a scoop of the cream and top with the pistachios and an extra drizzle of the syrup from the base of the tin.

Note:
When pouring the syrup over the cake, ensure you pour cool syrup over the hot cake (not hot syrup over hot cake). This will ensure it is fully absorbed. Use a ladle and pour over slowly to ensure absorbtion.

 

Food cultured: an interview with Joey O’Hare

I just love checking in with myself, looking back a few years and thinking where I am at now. The reason why I love doing it is that it always brings as sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, of knowing that you have made progress and also gives you a chance to marvel at how coincidences can take you where you always wanted to be. These accomplishments can be small or major, but always meaningful to you. Try it, it’s quite eye-opening. The reason I am saying this here is that one of such marvellous moments is happening right now. 

Those who know me are aware of my MasterChef addiction. Watching all of the editions religiously for the past 7 or 8 years, I have seen so many incredible chefs and cooks, got inspired to experiment in my own kitchen, honing my knife and presentation skills, but all that time I have never dared to think that one day I might actually get to cook with one of these amazing talents. 

Some contestants inspire you and then fade while others really leave a long-lasting impression. The 2015 series of Professional Masterchef featured a contestant – Josephine O’Hare – who immediately evoked my admiration not only because she was the only woman to reach the semi-finals and an absolutely outstanding chef (as confirmed by the culinary giants on the show), but also the way she spoke about food and her love of cooking and feeding inspired a sense of keenness in me. Were it not for KinoVino, I probably would not have had any legitimate reason to get in touch with her (and would likely have sounded like a weird fan and Instagram stalker). So there we were having an incredible dinner (Gill Mellor’s residency at Salon Brixton) and chatting about film, food, cooking and feeding. Back then I was still shying away from the idea of cooking myself for they paying public and felt more comfortable filling the shoes of a curator and supper club host. For one reason or the other, our KinoVino plan has not materialised, while Joey and I continued to keep in touch. And finally, things have fallen into the right places. Joey and I will work together in the kitchen! As challenging as this seems to me, it is a real dream come true (or even ‘I could not even have dreamt about’) moment. Looking back at myself 2 years ago, I definitely marvel at where this new route has taken me and feel a great sense of accomplishment that I am where I should be. 

Joey and I share a passion for vegetarian cooking as well as for cultured foods (to me this way of eating is quite natural, having grown up in Soviet and then post-Soviet Russia on a diet of kefir, kvass and fermented vegetables). So when we got together to plan the menu for our upcoming supper club in partnership with Our/London Vodka, the dishes came together so naturally and harmoniously. I really can’t wait to cook with this inspiring woman and learn as much as I can from her. But before we get busy in the kitchen, I wanted to ask Joey a few questions about her approach to food and her journey as a chef.

What inspired you to start cooking? 

I’ve always loved food, and particularly big and bold flavours, and my mother was a wonderful cook for us as children growing up. I had a more complicated relationship with food in my late teens and become quite controlling, preferring to cook things myself. Luckily this interest in cooking transformed into something hugely positive, ultimately a career which I absolutely adore.

What was the push to get a professional qualification as a chef?

My first head chef at Rousillion inspired me to further my culinary qualifications with a degree from Westminster Kingsway – I had already been to Ballymaloe at this point, but it was great advice.

Has your cooking style changed and how since you were on MasterChef?

Yes – SO much! My god it would be brilliant to be able to do it again with what I know now. I’ve moved away from ‘cheffier’ food, in favour of lighter, vegcentric cooking. I’ve also discovered the beauty of working with fermented foods in the last two years and these play a role in my dishes.

What attracts you to concept of fermentation and cultured food?

For me fermentation is all about flavour. Yes there are numerous health benefits, and yes it’s a thrifty way to preserve a glut of something, but the complexity of flavour you get from the fermentation process is fantastic. I would go so far as to say that interesting vegetarian cooking, and vegan cooking in particular, relies on fermented foods, as these lend a complex flavour profile which can at times be missed.

What are the key ingredients that you cook with?

Seasonal vegetables are my go-to all the time! Their flavour is superior to anything out of season and it’s a better choice environmentally speaking. While I keep my veggies British and seasonal, flavour influences hail from all over. At the moment I am working with rhubarb almost non-stop, in both sweet and savoury dishes.

What do you cook when you feel lazy?

I love a good ‘fridge-forage salad’ and this is a breeze with jars of fermented vegetables to hand (another reason why I love fermentation!). I’ll use any odds and ends of veggies, throw in some leaves and some ‘smart carbs’ (I tend to have a little cooked spelt/quinoa etc left-over in a Tupperware), a good few handfuls of sauerkraut say, or spicy fermented cauliflower, and dress liberally with olive oil and live cider vinegar. It takes seconds and yet is something far more interesting than a simple raw salad.

As a female chef, do you feel the industry has changed in terms of gender since you started? 

Yes, I think so. I think it’s better for us all, not just for women. But as a female cook one of the best changes has been the invention of Polka Pants! Chefs trousers for women which are comfy, functional and flattering!

Why do you prefer working as a freelance chef rather than working in a restaurant?

I like the flexibility of freelance work. At times I miss working with a team but I’m lucky enough to have planned lots of exciting collaborations this summer, and I find this a wonderful way to meet, share, and grow ideas, and to connect with other chefs.

Do you think fermentation is a new trend that will pass or is likely to become a staple in our diet?

Ooh – interesting question. I think the hype might dim slightly but ultimately it’s here to stay. It goes hand in hand with another current food ‘trend’ – a much closer consideration of food-waste – and both have staying power. We’re also only starting to fully understand the extraordinary role that the gut and biome play in our health, and fermented foods with their richness in probiotic goodness tap into this too.

What is the best meal you’ve ever had?

Hands down a recent dinner at L’Enclume with Felicity Spector. It was absolutely mesmerising. Every mouthful was sublime, and the dishes were delicate and beautiful. The connection to nature – and to Simon Rogan‘s farm not a mile away – was celebrated throughout the whole menu. It was head and shoulders above anything else.

Joey and I will cook together at Our/London Vodka distillery on 6&7 July. Click here for more details