Josh Sharkey [00:5:18]:
It really is. Yeah, there's a really cool restaurant there that I'm spacing the name of.
Nilou Motamed [00:5:22]:
It's okay, we don't need to know any specifics. This is, this is going to be a conversation about generalities and being like, so I've decided to actually… With my husband and all of our friends who have so much, like, work stuff in common, I was like, we have to start writing shit down, because we can't become those old people who are like, remember the place that we used to go to that we loved, and duh, and it's like perpetually, like, all of us are like, I, yeah, it was on the corner, and I'm like, yeah, yeah, and it had, like, the blue awning, and then we don't remember the names of anything. Because we've been here long enough.
Josh Sharkey [00:5:52]:
You know, it's funny you say that because I read a lot of books and,
Nilou Motamed [00:5:56]:
Josh Sharkey [00:5:57]:
Now I find I forget things that I read. And I actually reached out to, uh, this incredible woman who has this company that actually teaches people how to, uh, take the LSAT.
Nilou Motamed [00:6:08]:
Josh Sharkey [00:6:09]:
I reached out to her because she's in the CEO group that I'm a part of.
And I wanted to learn not how to take notes better, but how do you retain information better?
Nilou Motamed [00:4:30]:
Tell me what she said. I want to know that very much.
Josh Sharkey [00:6:19]:
So it's called translation and essentially what you do is you read a short paragraph or just a short, you know, like little piece of information, and then you quickly translate it back in your own words, and then you say a quip about it. So I'm not even going to try to do an example right now, but you reiterate it in your own words so that you're not sort of copy pasting something down. And then you say some sort of simile or something analogous to it, so that it's very clear that you understood, like, the premise. And you also use, and by the way, there's probably a lot more to this, we had like a 30 minute conversation, uh, intonation is really important.
So, you know, obviously emotions are a big driver of how we retain information, because our body and our emotions are at peak. They think this is more important, we should pay more attention. So, the intonation as you say this thing back to yourself is important. So, I use it now for ideas, or restaurants. Or some drink that I had, and we were at this thing called Little Stony Point this weekend with my kids and wife, and there's this, all these trees that fell on the water, and you've probably seen trees when they fall down, the bottom is like this huge root system, and it's frickin gorgeous, it's like this piece of artwork.
And I was like, I want that in my house. I want to, I want that to be a piece of artwork. And so I, I knew I'd forget it. I didn't have my phone on me. And so I, I did this practice of translating, you know, like tree systems are beautiful and the way that they did it. And I would, and then I wrote a clip about it anyways.
Nilou Motamed [00:7:44]:
So I, with TV, when I used to do a lot of morning TV, I can't memorize. I can't memorize at all. Like there's zero, like I, that's just not a skill set that I have. Like I can retain, but like, I can never like keep things in the exact same. Like it's kind of vague and so like broad strokes really good colorful description, but not like there's like 30 rooms like that never stays with me, but then obviously for TV, it has to because when you're described back in the day used to be a travel editor and so used to go on and talk about. Destinations and hotels and restaurants and blah, blah, blah. And so what I would do is, like, it would not be enough for me to just type it or even write down the notes. I had to say it out loud. And once I heard myself say it, then I could repeat it. So I think that what she said is actually true. I just don't know how, when you're reading a book, how realistic it is for you to say things out loud.
Josh Sharkey [08:37]:
It takes a lot more time.
Nilou Motamed [00:8:38]:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Josh Sharkey [00:8:39]:
I think your way of learning is, I mean, it's analogous to Einstein where he said, never remember anything that you can look up later. Um, he wouldn't remember his own birthday, you know,
Nilou Motamed [00:8:48]:
You’re effed if your phone isn't attached to your hand. Uh, anyways, um, we have a lot of ground to cover regardless. And one of these days we're actually going to hang out and look at root systems and stuff.
Josh Sharkey [00:8:57]:
Um, well, it's funny, I think part of what I'm going to do today, because, um, I was so excited learning more about your background.
Nilou Motamed [00:9:04]:
Oh yeah. You got a chance to do a deep dive after we talked.
Josh Sharkey [09:07]:
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And we, and we chatted for a bit and then, uh, I learned a little bit more and I think the word opulence comes to mind a lot when I think about it.
Nilou Motamed [00:9:15]:
Josh Sharkey [00:9:15]:
Uh, well, when I think about dinner parties that you throw and I'm like, man, that sounds like
Nilou Motamed [00:9:19]:
I like it, I like opulence. I, I always say maximalism, opulence is extra. It's like more.
Josh Sharkey [00:9:20]:
Yeah, when I hear you talking about oysters and caviar and how your grandmother was even more, it's, we're going to do a little fun thing with that, I think, later.
Nilou Motamed [00:9:31]:
All right, I'm here. I'm available for all the talking.
Josh Sharkey [00:9:32]:
You travel a lot. You were just recently traveling, right?
Nilou Motamed [00:9:35]:
Yeah, so we just got back from three weeks away. We went to Turkey and, uh, I hadn't been back to Turkey since 2008. My husband, uh, and I used to work at a travel magazine called Travel and Leisure. And back in the day when we were there, um, he was a star. I imagine him as Tintin. He was like the star reporter of the magazine. So sorry to all the other people who are very talented who worked in the magazine. In my eyes, especially because we are married. Um, and I was, uh, this kind of up and coming editor.
And so what he would get these incredible assignments and one of them was to go to Turkey to cover this hotel called Metrikizze. Uh, which is this beautiful, imagine like every sort of sexy, dreamy, waterside hotel you've ever seen, uh, but next level. So perfect lighting, perfect music, perfect, the grounds are just like lush, there's cicadas. It's just a magical, magical place. The food is exceptional. The chef, Aret, has been, I mean, crushing it since we were there in 2008. And now, uh, all these years later, we went back for the first time. The reason we've been originally was because Peter was writing a story for Travel and Leisure about the birth of this kind of hip scene in Bodrum and on the coast in, uh, in Turkey.
And then we went back and turns out it's not burgeoning. Now it is It is arrived. It is like a scene and a half. It's But man, there's something about the food of that region, which I think obviously echoes a lot of the food that we have in Iran that just speaks to me so much. I could not have been happier every day from breakfast till dinner. I was overjoyed eating that produce and the preparations are simple, but, but obviously so soulful and really this chef is really focused on authenticity. So we spent some time in Bodrum and we were on boats and that was really just I think that salty water does something for your soul, just everything I needed.
Nilou Motamed [00:4:30]:
Um, no, fortunately, no one, well, I did not step on a sea urchin, which is good, which is such a difficult thing for me to do. I love them so much that I, that I'm drawn to them when I get off of a boat and no jellyfish sting. So I feel like that was a win. And then we went to Istanbul and I hadn't also been back there in a bunch of years before the pandemic. Oh my God, it is so incredible to be someplace where you're just embraced by hospitality and the warmth of the people and, uh, the cacophony and the color. And so of course going to the spice market was my favorite thing, but then we just, it's just so nice to be elsewhere. And I think part of what was so hard for me as somebody who always grew up traveling around the world during the pandemic and during lockdown was just being so stationary.
And I, we've talked about this you and I before it dash like I love my neighborhood in Brooklyn. It is such a cute, sweet, lovely respite from the rest of my life in New York and elsewhere. It's, you know, it's like the suburbs of New York City. And so to be someplace where it was History and art and food and and just people and and also the waterfront we were saying at this gorgeous new hotel, which I mean, I can't speak highly enough about called the Peninsula Istanbul.
It just opened. I mean, I know that. I'm going to talk about hospitality a lot because it really matters to me. And the idea in this hotel just opened in February and we're recording this in August. So barely opened a few months and already they were excelling in, in just being so natural with the way that they were, um, they were engaging with you and each person had their own way.
I always think about Aman hotels as a great intuitive hospitality hotel, but this peninsula was truly so magical. I mean, the setting was almost surreal. It was right on the banks of the Bosphorus. Three former shipping buildings. Like, so there was like a, I think it was the main one is, uh, where people would basically like come into port and come and check into like the Ellis Island of.
Josh Sharkey [013:41]:
Nilou Motamed [013:42]:
Please don't actually fact check that. I have no idea if that's true, but it was like a 1920s like cruise port basically, and then two other equally old buildings from the 1900s and they restored them and now there's this whole area called Galata port, which includes like lots of restaurants and shopping with local Turkish designers.
And then this, this jewel in the whole thing, which is the peninsula. The reason I'm mentioning it is because, you know, Turkish breakfast is epic always, but then Turkish breakfast at a luxury hotel where they really take it seriously was so just dreamy. I never wanted to stop breakfast. I just wanted to sit on the waterfront, look at the seagulls, look at the boats going by, and then You know, they bring out, have you had Turkish breakfast before, Josh?
Josh Sharkey [014:27]:
Nilou Motamed [014:28]:
So, you know, like it's a dream, but then when you have it in Turkey, it's like, Oh my God, this is my reality now. Like I live here now. And so it was, you know, every kind of cheese and every kind of olive. And then this, um, This thing called Kaymak, which is the same that we have in Iran, which is the top layer of cream, like the extra thick layer of that rises at the top of the cream, they take that and you have that on bread on cement bread with honey.
I just I feel I feel like I was the happiest. person on the planet, and we've been trying. We actually went to Bay Ridge over the weekend to a Turkish market called A & D, and I bought everything. I bought all of it. I was like, I am recreating this piece for piece. I just need to, I think, start baking simit bread myself because I don't know where to get simit bread.
Josh Sharkey [15:17]:
You mentioned breakfast, and I think I read somewhere that you love breakfast, as do I, but it is a little bit sad. I think in the States, we don't Do breakfast nearly as well. I mean, I think you even mentioned like congee and pho and shakshuka and things.
Nilou Motamed [15:31]:
Josh Sharkey [15:32]:
But one thing that I heard about that I don't know a lot about, that I dug into a little bit, that I was hoping you could actually tell me about, speaking of breakfast, is haleem, or at least the Persian version of haleem. What is that?
Nilou Motamed [15:43]:
I have to first back up and say, I don't actually know where my obsession with breakfast came about, but I do think it got really solidified. First of all, Persian breakfast is delicious. And so it's very similar to Turkish breakfast, maybe a little bit less, less like just, we don't do all of it.
We don't do all of the sweets and all of the savory, but we, I mean, you have feta cheese, you have beautiful fresh baked bread that you buy at the bakery, or I now know how to make baribari at home using pizza dough. Iranians are so proud of our heritage, and I think a lot of us, you know, cook at home.
Nilou Motamed [16:20]:
And so there's a lot of homemade jams. And so it is a little mini version, I think, of the Turkish breakfast. One of the things that you make in Iran, which is not very common, is, I've actually never described haleem. Let me see if I can do it. It's a combination of Oats and, uh, chicken or turkey meat that you pound to the point where it gets to be like this sticky, velvety pudding.
You add a little bit of cinnamon on top and it is basically the hearty breakfast that you would eat in, you know, the dead of winter. When you're going to go, you know, out for a hike in the mountains, or if you're going to back in the day when we were in Iran and go skiing, um, haleem is definitely that breakfast.
I mean, I, the idea of adding protein to like a very carby breakfast, which is oats is kind of, I think, genius. I've never seen it anywhere else. It is so cozy, so soporific. I think the problem with it is that you basically eat it and then you're like, now time for nap.
Josh Sharkey [17:18]:
Yeah. Are there like haleem shops?
Nilou Motamed [17:19]:
Um, you know, I left Iran when I was nine, and then I've been back since, which I'm so grateful for. I don't know if I've been to a haleem shop. You know, we do have a lot of a lot of restaurants that are dedicated to different things. Obviously there's a kebab place. You go to a place that we do have to mash some meat. It occurred to me just now, we have something called abgoosht, which means water of meat, very, very exact.
So basically. It's a, it's a really, really fragrant soup that you make with lamb and a bunch of, uh, beans including chickpeas and, and white beans. Um, and then once you have the first day of, of abgoosht, which is the, the soup and the meat and all of the, they’re potatoes and they’re accoutrements, the next day, the best thing that the kids love is making abgoosht koobideh, which means mashed meat.
And so there's, um, every Iranian household has a meat masher, which same thing you use for the haleem, which is like a wooden mallet and you just take turns, the entire basically family, you drain all the liquid from the soup and then all the meat that's left, that's been slowly, slowly cooked and braised, you mash together with potatoes and the legumes.
Josh Sharkey [18:38]:
Is it like a mortar pestle type thing?
Nilou Motamed [18:39]:
It is, but it's huge and it's wooden.
Josh Sharkey [18:38]:
Nilou Motamed [18:48]:
I'm not going to get up and go get mine, but, uh.
Josh Sharkey [18:49]:
Oh, you have one. What?
Nilou Motamed [18:50]:
Yeah. Of course. Everyone has one. Of course. We do. I mean, we could get into the things that are essential for the Persian cook. But yeah, so it looks like a big mortar and pestle, but made out of wood. And then your arms get really tired and there's no other way of doing it. Like you can't put it in the food processor, like Iranians don't really believe in food processors anyway. But yeah, so like you just bang the shoot out of it. Um, you see how I did that elegantly and then eventually you end up with this delicious paste of lamb and potato and beans and that you have on top of always bread. We're always having crusty bread and then our tangle of herbs that is our sabzi ghormeh, which is our mix of herbs that we use. And then pickles, we are a big pickle culture. It's funny, I realized breakfast and pickles are my two North Poles, and I wonder if that's because of Iran. You never think about your own proclivities until you're talking to Josh.
Josh Sharkey [19:41]:
Yeah, well, Josh are, you know, therapists after a minute.
Nilou Motamed [19:46]:
Yeah, I'm considering this free therapy, I hope that's cool. Free food therapy.
Josh Sharkey [19:47]:
I'll take it if I keep learning about all this cool Persian stuff.
Nilou Motamed [19:48]:
Yeah, so wait, so the reason you were talking was Haleem. I realized that, um. There's also, I mean, I am equal opportunity, all savory breakfast. So I feel like if I can have, I'm not everyone don't, don't turn off this podcast, but I do not enjoy sweets that much. And so for me, a savory breakfast, like a pho is everything. And having had it in Vietnam, the way that It's meant to be had at breakfast time, changes everything. Like you suddenly understand what the purpose of it is, and then you want to kind of live, live that life.
And congee is the same. I mean, we were lucky enough to spend a lot of time traveling to China. And my first time landing in Hong Kong and going to have congee, I was like, Oh, I now get everything. Everything makes sense now.
Josh Sharkey [20:37]:
Yeah, I think it's really just because in the States breakfast is synonymous with on the go, so you just yeah Anything is almost like something you have to pick up and that's probably how the extension of eggs and bacon came because it was just Instead of sandwich you have it on a plate, but
Nilou Motamed [20:51]:
although I do enjoy a good like a New York style, like deli, um, egg sandwich.
I actually miss those. Now that I don't go into an office in Manhattan, I really do miss having one of those, a good, like perfect, one of those like on a griddle, like correctly made. Yeah. I love those. I love those.
Josh Sharkey [20:55]:
Nothing like a bodega egg sandwich.
Nilou Motamed [20:56:]
Josh Sharkey [20:57]:
so we make them here at home just because we live outside the city now.
Nilou Motamed [21:19]:
Please tell me more. So what's your trick?
Josh Sharkey [21:20]:
Well, you have to have good bread. And when I say good bread, you have to have the right bread. It's not actually good bread, it's just the type of roll. And also, I think I learned you can't have like, fluffy. You know, I tried to make like the fluffy scrambled egg and put it on there.
It's just not the same. We have a griddle, we have like a really cool, like, uh, DCS stove and, uh, there's a griddle attached to it. And so you kind of, you kind of have to griddle the egg, you know?
Nilou Motamed [21:45]:
You have to. And butter? Butter or no butter?
Josh Sharkey [21:46]:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Butter is better. Yeah.
Nilou Motamed [21:47]:
Butter is essential for eggs, especially if you're going to make kind of lacy.
Fried eggs that are like just nice and crisp for that. Cause you need a little texture. Have you ever been to, um, palace diner in Maine and Biddeford, Maine?
Josh Sharkey [22:04]:
No, I have not.
Nilou Motamed [22:05]:
They do an egg sandwich. That is nothing like what we're talking about, but it is, it is really genius. So these guys, the chefs are fine dining chefs who basically took over a rail car in, uh, in Biddeford, Maine, and they opened, uh, Modern diner, and I've been going there for as long as they've been open. And basically they do every version of a diner dish, but like a superlative version. So there, you know, their tuna sandwich is epic. Their pancakes are stupid good. And then they do this egg sandwich and they basically make a tray, like a sheet pan of eggs. And they cut squares out of it and then on top they put sliced jalapenos that are not soggy.
They're very crispy. I don't know how they do it. Cheese, melted cheese. And then it's on, I can't actually remember what it's on, but it is, I mean, we have now recreated that sandwich many times at home. It's real, real good. Real, real good.
Josh Sharkey [23:08]:
This podcast is brought to you by meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. As a chef and restaurant owner for the past 20 years, I was frustrated that the only technology that we had in the kitchen was financial or inventory software. Those are important, but they don't address the actual process of cooking, training, collaboration, and consistent execution.
So I decided if it didn't exist, I'd do my best to get it built, so the current and next generation of culinary pros have a digital tool dedicated to their craft. If you're a chef, mixologist, operator, or generally a few managed recipes intended for professional kitchens,
Many years ago, I owned this restaurant in Park Slope called Bark, and we had a couple of them. And we had breakfast. So it was like hot dogs at, you know, lunch and dinner, but we had breakfast on the weekends and we would make this egg sandwich. And because we wanted to do it at scale, we basically just took silicon molds and made a custard. Like, it's just eggs. Eggs and heavy cream and salt.
Nilou Motamed [24:21]:
Pop them out.
Josh Sharkey [24:22]:
Yeah, and you just like literally pop them out, put them right on a, on an English muffin. Which by the way, English muffins with a lot of butter are also really good.
Nilou Motamed [24:29]:
Underrated. I agree. I agree. But it has to be a good English muffin. I agree.
But like the, it is with a lot of butter and toasted correctly. It is kind of a genius, a genius move.
Josh Sharkey [24:38]:
Bae's are really good. Bae's English muffins are really good.
Nilou Motamed [24:39]:
Oh, okay. Thank you. Thank you for that tip. Please let's just share all of the specific intel. Do you have a favorite pickled jalapeno brand? Because it's an issue for me. I, I get them from a place called Trappe's in Louisiana. Because they're the only ones that are like crunchy enough for me. I like them really like, just like crisp.
Josh Sharkey [25:01]:
We grow all over on hot peppers, so every year I grow a lot of jalapenos. And I just, literally the most basic, it's a 3 2 1 pickle. Sometimes I'll use, there's a place called Japanese Pantry, um, in San Francisco. They have the most incredible like soy sauces and katsuobushi and uh, they were actually on the podcast a while back. But they, they make this pickle liquid that is, if you're in a pinch, is awesome. It's just rice vinegar, you know, trigger, I think, a little dashi.
I'll just literally pour that over the, the jalapenos, but
Nilou Motamed [25:28]:
I have no shame, Joshua. I'm just going to say right now, it is now, you know, jalapeno season. So I would like for a jar.
Josh Sharkey [25:29]:
Nilou Motamed [25:30]:
For my use for this fall and winter. We have one, two jars. What have you got? Um, since you're going up there in magical Westchester County, are you ready to get down? All right. It's only been 10 minutes and I'm already asking for things.
Josh Sharkey [25:53]:
Hey, well, you know, that one's an easy one. So I'm going to ask you something actually.
Nilou Motamed [25:54]:
Josh Sharkey [25:55]:
I actually do want to talk more about travel and obviously we will get into your incredible past, which is a big part of what I was excited about. It's just, obviously grew up in Tehran during the revolution, 79, came to Paris and then eventually came to the States. I think around 13 and illustrious career from there.
Nilou Motamed [26:11]:
It's actually 40 years this month, Josh, crazily, crazily, crazily.
Josh Sharkey [26:19]:
Wow, there's a lot I want to, like, I just selflessly want to ask about there, but selflessly also what I want to ask about is you speak four languages and I think your mom speaks six.
Nilou Motamed [26:30]:
She is, um, a really very cunning linguist, as they say.
Josh Sharkey [26:31]:
How do you learn four languages? Are there, like, tricks after a while, after the third language, like, okay, now I can just start adding more on?
Nilou Motamed [26:39]:
Okay, it's really funny that you say that because I am on a mission to learn Italian. If anyone who's hearing this… is tutoring in Italian on the side, I would love to talk to you because I think the way that you learn languages by learning them young, I think that's the key. If you learn young, you're really, your brain is just really malleable and ready to just absorb also necessity. So it makes it sound much more glamorous that I speak all these languages, but the reality is the reason I speak them is because I had to, you know, kind of go to school in different countries.
And so I basically had to, or I wasn't going to be able to communicate.
Josh Sharkey [27:12]:
I know you took Berlitz when you went to France, but didn't you learn a lot of French from a Vietnamese woman?
Nilou Motamed [27:23]:
Yes. Oh my God. You've done your research. When my family left Iran in 1979, we moved to Paris. Those of us who didn't speak French, which is everybody, uh, went together to Berlitz before school started. And I ended up going to a bilingual school, but the other language was English, which is another language that I didn't, that I didn't really speak. And so, so yeah, so there was a lot of catch up, but again, the best way to do it is by being immersed. And so I was. When we started school, I went to the school called École Active Bilingue, which was in the, in the 15th, very close to our apartment.
There was a wonderful teacher's aide named Anh, and she was, uh, her family was Vietnamese, uh, and, and Magraves. And she was a teacher's aide in my class, and so she, I had no idea how it happened, but she ended up coming to our house to teach my mom and me more French, just to help. in tutoring. And the way that we would do it is by making Vietnamese food. She would come to our apartment and she, after school, and she, we would make pho and we'd make summer rolls. And it was also teaching us about Vietnam where I never, I mean, I hadn't even thought about Vietnam at this point as a nine year old. And Began my love of Vietnamese food and her kindness, I still think of, um, to this day, she really was just so patient and so wonderful and made me love pho, made my mom and me more proficient in French.
I remember, it's funny, I was looking, I can't even, everything was a blur back then, you know, it was a lot of displacement, a lot of difficult, difficult times. But I remember, kind of don't want to admit this because I, after that was a very good student, but I looked at my report cards from that time at that school and man, I was not getting good grades in French or in English.
Josh Sharkey [29:20]:
Why? What do you think that was? Obviously you learned it.
Nilou Motamed [29:22]:
I think it's because I was, I didn't know. I didn't, I just didn't, I didn't know the languages. And so I was just, going. I mean, you know, they say fake it till you make it. I think that really applies to moving to another country with no language and having to assimilate. It was interesting only because people were so welcoming and that school was actually such a lovely place for me to land in the midst of so much turmoil. I was in a class with kids who were also from other places. So there were a couple of other Iranian students. There were American students who were studying, you know, whose families were in Paris for whatever reason.
I wasn't the only foreign one. I think I just had been through maybe like a big bit of turmoil at a young age.
Josh Sharkey [30:09]:
Yeah, well, I mean, leaving a country in revolution at age nine is not, it's not easy, not easy.
Nilou Motamed [30:10]:
I think that's why we all need to really be so empathetic to the many, many people from many multiple countries these days between Syria and Afghanistan. And um, there's just so many places where people are being displaced. And if you meet somebody who is, has emigrated to this country, whether they wanted to or didn't. Just be really kind, just be really patient, they're going through a lot.
Josh Sharkey [30:41]:
The transition, you know, has to be incredibly tough, but by the way, this is how our country was founded.
Nilou Motamed [30:45]:
Yes, it's true, it's true, it's true. I mean, there's tons and tons of great stories about immigrant resilience. And I think actually one of the things that I love about food. Our food world and our restaurant world right now is how much, uh, how much our stories are being told. You know, I was just texting with the amazing Nassim Alikhani from Sofreh this morning and you know, the idea of somebody who is from my country, who's been through what I've been through, who at 59 opened her first restaurant and now in only a few years has cooked at the Met Ball, cooked at the White House.
The nominee for James Beard award restaurant is packed every single day. She is, you know, one of those people who I look at and I'm just in awe and there's just, there's so many of those stories, which I'm very proud to be in this industry at this moment. We certainly have a lot, lot, lot left to do. To make it more equitable, to make it more fair, to make it more, uh, supportive, but I do think we're in a really exciting phase for what we do, which what we're passionate about.
Josh Sharkey [31:54]:
I'm excited to chat with you about that because I want to get your, your thoughts on underrepresented people and cuisines before we get off of this.
Nilou Motamed [32:02]:
Oh my God. There's so much. There's so much. Josh, should we make this like a five part?
Josh Sharkey [32:05]:
I know. I know. There's too much to go through. Um, but I have so many, I self receive this, a lot of questions about. Persian cuisine.
Nilou Motamed [32:10]:
Josh Sharkey [32:11]:
And generally speaking, obviously, you get calloused when you're forced to sort of emigrate somewhere, forced to move somewhere, which I think is part of what people, you know, like you and Asim, it changes you. And there are a lot of things that are incredibly challenging, and then there's also things that callous you that make you just so much stronger as well.
But I don't know a lot about Persian cuisine. I think probably a lot of people don't know a lot. After you and I spoke, I started digging into it a little bit more. When I was in Park Slope, I actually, my barber was Persian. And he would tell me all the time how he would go to this place and, and I forget where, uh, and that's where they would eat.
Nilou Motamed [32:48]:
Now I want to know where, because there isn't that much, there has not traditionally been that much great Persian food in New York. We have really good Persian food in people's homes. I think, uh, the Iranian diaspora in Los Angeles has done sort of a better job of representing Persian food in restaurants and also I think in DC as well.
Josh Sharkey [33:09]:
Oh, yeah. One thing that I think is sort of kind of bubbling up for me as I learn more about it, I'll preface this by there's a lot of chefs that listen to this podcast, obviously.
Nilou Motamed [33:10]:
Josh Sharkey [33:11]:
I'm really, um, what seems to come through is That it's very ingredient driven, actually. The actual ingredient that you're using, whether it's the type of mulberry or the, you know, the herb that you're using, the specific, you know, varietal of that herb, and the techniques, like it's like ingredient driven and technique driven. So, I guess a question for you, and this is kind of broad speaking, but like, what do you think chefs should know about Persian cuisine that we might not know?
Nilou Motamed [33:44]:
Oh my gosh, I feel like, where do we start? Okay, so Persian cuisine. When I first moved to the States in 1983, It's interesting because, uh, I, oh my gosh, I'm going to break a lot of, people are going to get mad. But I thought American food was not very, okay, let, let me back up. Let me just try to figure out how to say this without, uh, making everyone mad. So when I moved to, uh, when I moved to New York in 1983, uh, from Paris and before that from Iran. I was surprised and my family and I were surprised by how how little access there was to incredible primary ingredients.
So at least for the consumer, I actually don't know what it was like for chefs, though. It's funny. I was talking to Eric Ripert. And he was talking about the early days of when Gilbert came to New York, which was around that time, um, and how he would go to the market, the fish market, and there just wasn't the fish that he was accustomed to getting in France.
Not because it wasn't being imported in France from France, but because Americans didn't have a taste for seafood, certainly not for me tree. So half cooked fish. Um, and so there was a lot of development in terms of palette and focus on. Freshness and focus on ingredients that I think I had become accustomed to as a kid in Iran and certainly in Paris.
Uh, so I'm not name dropping. It just happened that I also was talking to Eli Zabar and I was saying his shop Eat E. A. T. was around the corner from the first place that we lived in New York. And I remember going in there and being like, Oh, gosh, there's some good bread here there, you know, we can find cheese that isn't wrapped in plastic wrap, like, you know, and in the refrigerator, which you would have never seen.
you know, in Paris, but was very much the norm here. If I was going to compare, uh, Persian food to any other cuisine in light of what I was just talking about, I would say if you've been to France and you've looked at the way that people go to the market there and, and people have a place where they go for their affinage for their cheese and they have the butcher that they go to for their meat and they have a different one they go to for their chicken.
You shop on the day and everything is fresh and seasonal. That is very much the sort of foundation of what Persian cuisine is as well. Then you layer in our spice palette, which is turmeric and then saffron, fenugreek. Uh, we have, uh, both dried and fresh herbs that we use. My mom to this day feels that, uh, American dill isn't fragrant enough. So she brings dried dill from Iran when she goes. Which I think is legal and if it's not, please don't tell the government because I really like her fava bean rice.
Josh Sharkey [36:39]:
It’s not meat it's fine.
Nilou Motamed [36:40]:
Dried dill is not okay? Is it?
Josh Sharkey [36:41]:
I think it's okay. I mean, I think dry, yeah, I think.
Nilou Motamed [36:42]:
I think dry is okay. Fresh is not okay. I think, you know, she, she's a very solid citizen, responsible human. And also again, there's a dill rice with saffron and fava beans that is just beyond and you can't make it without the dried and the fresh. And so in terms of that, that focus on primary ingredients, very, very much about the best of the best. So if you're going to be using, um, walnuts, they have to be fresh again.
My mom is my true north when it comes to Persian food. I think she's an incredible, she is an incredible cook. She actually crazily, even though she's not a chef, cooked at the James Beard house for the entire house on her own in the eighties. She is the O. G. I think she is the OG in New York of incredible Persian food.
And I don't think she's really ever, I mean, she did it, she was as a hobby. It wasn't like she was a cook in any way or a chef. That's not true. I shouldn't say that. My mom's an amazing cook. Uh, she's never done it professionally, and she deserves all the recognition. And the fact that she cooked at the Beard House, and at the time, I was a cranky teenager and refused to help her.
It's still a sore spot for her, I'm sure, and for me, because I'm embarrassed that I couldn't get it together to go and be supportive of my mom.
Josh Sharkey [37:53]:
That's just what we do as kids.
Nilou Motamed [37:54]:
I know, but this is now continuing our theme of therapy through food. In terms of what you eat, we have the foundation of everything is the rice.
And so I know Tadig and the crunchy rice is having a moment in social media these days. Rice is every meal, every meal, except for breakfast. That's bread. And you are judged quote unquote as a chef. If you are going to be, any of the chefs listening are going to be trying to make Persian rice. It really is about.
The length of the rice and the way the rice grows and the way the rice is separate when it is served And so each grain of rice is is celebrated and it isn't a mush. It's not a pilaf It's really actually not a terribly difficult technique. I've done it before for social media It's just that you need the right tools like with everything, right?
Uh, Tom Colicchio i'm not calling him out, but i'm kind of calling him out He was adamant for an event that we did for top chef that he wanted to cook Persian rice Which I was so happy for but he wanted to cook it In cast iron And I was like, Tom, you can't cook in a cast iron. You need to cook in a nonstick. And he was like, well, the grandmothers back in the day, they didn't have nonstick. and their rice didn't come out and they're Tadiq, like scrape it out of the bottom of the pan or you need to use a gallon of oil. Nonstick gets a really bad rap. I've found this brand called Scan Pan. This is not a plug.
They do a really nice job, I think, with keeping the chemicals from leaching into your food. And so I feel like I'm grateful for that because I can't live without a nonstick pot to cook my rice in. So that's the rice. And then we have a lot of well, people call stews, but I would kind of call a braise more. There's a lot of meats that are cooked in different sauces. Very slow cooked. Um, I use pressure cooker because I never have enough time. I actually love a pressure cooker. I don't know why people don't use pressure cookers more often. And so we have veal and lamb and chicken. Quail sometimes. Obviously, we have a lot of fish too in the north.
Also, it's important to know, oh my god, I'm like, what, how am I going to describe Iranian food. It's important to know that topography and geography of Iran is pretty varied. And so the north of Iran, the Caspian, I would describe a little bit of like Maine, I would say like, yeah, it's very, uh, fish focused.
And so the North and that's where rice is also grown. And so you get a much more garlic forward, much more herb forward, much more fish forward cuisine. And as you progress down the country. There's moments of desert, there's mountains, there's um, there's at the bottom we end up with basically the golden of the Caribbean.
So, there's just very, very food, but I think if you think of it in terms of similar to what you might get in Turkey, similar to what you might get in India. But no spice. There's no heat in the food. It's actually heavily spiced, but not not spicy, not spicy. Exactly. And then obviously we have what we're known for, you know, in restaurants is kebabs.
And we really do a great job with kebabs. We do it on the mangal, which is the open fire cooking on wood grill
Josh Sharkey [41:02]:
On a grill?
Nilou Motamed [41:03]:
On a grill, yes, but not a regular grill like one of those ones that's open and there's some coals underneath that are from wood to coal and then the super flat metal, long metal skewers that you basically, whether you're making ground meat, koobideh kabob, you shape it on that metal skewer. And if you are going to be making chicken or beef kabob, you slide it onto the skewer and then it cooks over these beautiful coals. I mean, it's redolent with the, with the smell of all the amazing woods that you use. And, uh, yeah, and that's, that's it in a nutshell.
That's, that's not at all. That's not even the tip. I mean, I feel like the fact that we. In my basement, in our apartment, in the basement of our house, there were jars and jars, basically amphora of pickles. Um, there's medicinal herbs I mean, it is a very.
Josh Sharkey [41:58]:
Are they fermented pickles or?
Nilou Motamed [41:59]:
Fermented pickles, yeah.
Yeah, so we have, um, we are known for our garlic pickle that stays for years and years and years. And so, like, you clove of garlic that's been, that's been pickling for, like, five years, ten years. And they're black and gnarly and delicious and sweet. Yeah. Families may keep their own vinegar, make their own vinegar. It's really, oh, yogurt. We make our own yogurt. It's basic. Obviously, who's going to buy yogurt? You make your own. And so that's what I actually love about, if you are curious chefs out there and humans out there about trying Persian food, I would recommend going to Sofreh in New York, if you're in New York.
It is really, really a special place. Uh, Najmier Batmanglij, who is kind of the Alice Waters, I would say, of Persian food, has just opened a restaurant outside of DC in McLean called Joon, which means your heart. And it also means deer. It's a term of affection. If you, if I was going to be really affectionate to you by the end of this podcast, Josh. I would call you Josh Joon, which would mean we really, we really like each other. My mom calls my husband, my husband's name is Peter John. She calls him Peter, John, Jon, Jon and June are the same, but oh yeah, different levels of colloquialism. So extra Iranians are extra. I think maybe I'm just just a basic Iranian. I'm just extra in that way. Everything is just like one plus one.
Josh Sharkey [43:22]:
Well, it definitely shows in the food. Most chefs probably know this, but some of the best caviar in the world comes from Iran some of the the best saffron. I mean, rest in peace Baruch from the Saffron King. That's how I first learned about a lot of these ingredients back in the day.
But yeah, I mean, some of the best products in the world come from there.
Nilou Motamed [43:39]:
So let me start with caviar. So caviar is something that I grew up with. It's something that Iranians, if you're lucky enough, grow up with. God, this now I know it's gonna sound bad. We had it for breakfast. That's what the traditional way that my family had caviar was not.
In a fancy way. It was actually in a very like product driven way. And so it was hot Persian tea, which is pretty panic. And you often eat with a sugar cube that you put into your mouth and then drink the teeth through. That's the classic way of doing it. And you drink it out of a glass. So you drink it out of like a very delicate, almost like fluted glass.
And you have this very hot tea that you drink. Classically, like if you were going to have feta cheese and some baribari bread or some sangak bread in the morning, that's how you would drink your tea if you were in a tea house or if you were at my house. And then with caviar, you would just take some butter and spread it, just some fresh, beautiful butter and spread it on the bread and just put a dollop of caviar on there and have it with your tea.
No champagne, no caviar bumps. This was like a really beautiful, earthy breakfast, the way I think Scandinavians have herring, you know, and, or the Italians have anchovies. Not about the tada, as much as about really celebrating the flavor. Before I go on about caviar, I will say, so, you know, it's illegal to, to get.
Uh, caviar from Iran anymore. Um, and so to export it. And so I found these wonderful Iranian guys actually who are based in Los Angeles. And if anyone who's listening is looking for a caviar source where they're doing a really as close a job as you can to actual Persian caviar. My mother approved, which is a big deal because she's like, don't bother with bad caviar, which I agree with.
Uh, they're called Dorasti and they are D O R A S T I Dorasti. Yeah. They're two young Iranian guys whose dad actually was in the caviar trade in Iran. And they are doing the closest thing. Again, I am so such a snob with caviar. So, but for my birthday, that's where I get my caviar is that Dorasti and it never disappoints like Ludo Lefebvre works with them.
Uh, Mei Lin, uh, loves their caviar. So I think that they are, I know they're legit. I've tried it all. I've done every, I've done every caviar taste test. I'm happy to say that Dorasti is phenomenal. So that, and I still only get my saffron from Iran. I'm spoiled. And then my mom goes back. And so. I get one little pallet of saffron, Josh, there might be one in your future if we can trade for jalapenos.
Josh Sharkey [46:30]:
Ooh, I don't think that's a fair trade, but
Nilou Motamed [46:34]:
I think it's fair. I think it's fair. I think it's fair. You have to listen to me talking for an hour.
Josh Sharkey [46:37]:
Are you kidding me? This is awesome. I love, I love hearing about this. Um, I feel bad because I'm bogarting all this conversation with Persian Cuisine and I want to hear about all this other stuff you have going on.
Nilou Motamed [46:48]:
Listen, there was a time where all I wanted to do was assimilate. All I wanted to do was fit in here. When I say here, I mean in the U.S., in my business as an editor. Um, I was a magazine editor and I, and I honestly didn't think it was my role to talk about Iran. I thought my role was to celebrate France and Spain and And Italy and Vietnam because it felt too self referential to talk about Iran.
And it also felt maybe like nobody cared, which is, I know it sounds crazy, but that's how I felt. And to allow myself permission. To celebrate Iran. This is all I want. I don't care about talking about myself. Who cares about me? Yes, I've had a great career in food and in media and in travel, and I'm very, very lucky that I have gotten to pivot in a bunch of different ways that are really interesting.
for me, not for anyone else. But the idea that I have a platform now where I can celebrate being Iranian is honestly my biggest joy. My gratitude is boundless. And for the people who come out in social media and ask me about Iran, whether they're Iranian or not, and then the Iranians who have gotten to engage with because of the fact that we're also connected now about our shared passion for things like yogurt and chips.
Like, we literally, Iranian kids love to snack on yogurt and chips. This is something no one would have talked about.
Josh Sharkey [48:20]:
Yogurt and chips together?
Nilou Motamed [48:21]:
Potato chips. You put yogurt, and then you take salty potato chips, and you dump them in there.
Josh Sharkey [48:27]:
That kind of makes sense. Like sour cream.
Nilou Motamed [48:29]:
Yeah. But like, we eat, like, with a spoon.
And I honestly think, I've talked about this before, maybe not enough, it was really hard to... Moving here and being so different and you have to put in the context. There was no internet, so I didn't have access to all the other people who were having the same emotional strife in all the different. I know I was not unique, but I was unique in that there was no one else around me when I moved to Westchester.
To a town that was very homogeneous in a lot of ways, I didn't have access to diversity. And so I sought it out with, you know, the kids who were other. So I, there was Japanese kids and that's who I became friendly with. But being made fun of in, in a lunchroom for what you bring to eat is really scarring.
And so I think that my, I've never really thought about this, but all I want is for kids who feel left out to feel like that, that they're part of something bigger. And so I don't have kids and I know that this is a, the chef's podcast is not a, this is not my opportunity to reach out to children, but I will say it's really important for us to celebrate each other's differences more than our sameness.
And what I've realized as somebody who's had to assimilate over and over again, is it's so tempting to step away from who you are. To fit into what you think you need to do in order to belong somewhere. And then it's really, it's a big step to say, no, I'm not like, I'm actually completely different than you to the point where I think I'm actually quite annoying, I can't stop talking about Iran.
I can't stop talking about our food and our food ways and who I started out being before I got kind of veered into a lot of different paths. Maybe it's annoying to people, but I think it's my duty. It's my responsibility because there's a lot of people in Iran who don't have a voice and who don't have an opportunity to celebrate what's special about our culture.
Josh Sharkey [50:32]:
Nilou Motamed [50:33]:
That was a really long.
Josh Sharkey [50:34]:
No, it's amazing. And I think you obviously you've sort of transitioned now, you know, away from editor in chief to lots of other things. But it reminds me of when folks ask me like, Hey, should I start this business? And I would tell everybody like, never start a business unless you can't not, not that you're starting a business, but you can't not talk about Persian cuisine now.
And I think it's such a part of you that, that it just, it emanates from you.
Thanks for tuning into The meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit getmeez.com/podcast. That's G E T M E E Z dot com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros, and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Keep innovating, don't settle, make today a little bit better than yesterday, and remember, it's impossible for us to learn what we think we already know. See you next time.