slowing it down with Slow Food and Hanif Sadr
Myself and Scott aka Rockwell Creative (who takes all these gorgeous photos) had the pleasure of attending a dinner held by slow food East Bay featuring Northern Iranian cuisine from chef Hanif Sadr of Komaaj. Hanif is one of my favorite people, not just because he makes absolutely killer food, but also because of his scholarly approach to his craft, his easy laugh and his resilience. It was an easy sell.
The night started out with wine and these outrageous olives that kept arriving in glorious heaps.
The goal of the night was, in the words of slow food East Bay leader Willow
“To celebrate the delicious food and the people who make that delicious food
and highlight the way that migration has contributed to our food system.”
“Immigration has connected people together across borders and we are so lucky to live in a place where we can walk down the street and easily find Burmese, Japanese, Mexican food and more. To me that is because of open borders. From a purely selfish point of view- If we close down our borders then our food system becomes a lot less delicious.”- Willow
Willow went on to discuss how when people move they still hold on to their culture food traditions. Those connections keep them rooted to their homeland but can also be used to engage in new communities with other parts of the diaspora, as well as with strangers and students who are open and curious. In this spirit you could see a number of volunteers, many of whom are interested in the culinary arts, present to lend a helping hand.
In Hanif’s words:
“I think I was born an immigrant. I was born in Paris, then moved to Iraq and then at the age of 7 when I lost my parents I moved to Iran
to live with my grandparents in Tehran. But as my grandparents got older they moved back to their traditional village in northern Iran.
There I was lucky to have the chance and privilege to experience a semi nomadic life of northern Iranian people”.
Lets pause and do a little geography review mmmkay
Northern Iran has some really dynamic geography- On one side there is the Caspian Sea (pictured above), the largest lake in the world, on the other side there are the Alborz mountains, the highest mountain chain in the Middle East. It is this unique climate and nomadic lifestyle of the local people (living by the sea in the winter, migrating to the mountains in the summer) that informs and inspires Hanif in his cooking.
Hanif is really connected to this part of Iran. So much so that his unusual life trajectory took him from being an engineer in Tehran, to winning the green card lottery and moving to the U.S. for graduate school, to working part time as a summer camp cook, to opening his own business to promote Northern Iranian cuisine!
“No-one considers us as an important cuisine in the world; no-one talks about Persian food. So we are trying to redefine persian cuisine in our own way”
“We have long seashores and coastlines
We have high mountain chains
We have any different climates
We grow many different types of foods and ingredients- much more than just kebab”
Hanif tells me that are many similarities in the climate of Northern California and Northern Iran and he is very interested in showcasing this through his food. He even found his favorite spice- Persian hogweed aka Heracleum Persicum while hiking in Tilden park in Berkeley!
Hanif is many things- an engineer, an academic, a chef, a naturalist and whether he wants to admit it or not, an activist. He is pushing to elevate Northern Iranian cuisine and flip the narrative on these aspects of Iranian culture and cuisine.