By Tara Biglari
In quaint Cambridge – home to one of the world’s greatest universities – a pop-up restaurant called My Persian Kitchen is revitalizing the local culinary scene. Started by Sirous Vaezzadeh-Naderi and Abigail Plet, the restaurant is changing perceptions of Iranian cuisine.
Sirous was born in Iran and lived in Germany and Austria before moving to the U.K. He is a trained chef in Italian and French cuisine. Abigail is a Cambridge native who lived in France for 20 years. My Persian Kitchen is a combined effort that channels their culinary experiences to produce Persian cooking with an interesting twist.
Using fresh ingredients and seasonal herbs, Sirous and Abigail prepare elaborate menus for their monthly pop-up eateries around Cambridge. Appearing in different restaurants, their operation is mobile and attracts sizable crowds, who, according to Sirous, are very willing to try new things.
The shared dining experience was created to spread interest in Persian food and take guests on a culinary journey to Iran. It is the first pop-up of its kind in Cambridge and the first Persian cuisine establishment in town. The duo is passionate about spreading their love of Persian cuisine and making dishes like ghormeh sabzi and khoreshe gheymeh household staples.
Kayhan Life joined Sirous and Abigail for a discussion about their project, its success, and their future plans.
How did the two of you meet?
Sirous: We met at a dinner party long ago in Cambridge. It was a James Bond-themed party … a very good party!
Abigail: I was the James Bond girl …
Sirous: And I went as the villain.
What gave you the inspiration to join forces and start My Persian Kitchen?
Abigail: In the beginning, Sirous was a chef trained in Italian and French cuisine, and when we started working together, we were cooking those cuisines, as I previously lived in France. Then, when I met Sirous’s family and had some meals, I was like, “Hang on! We’re missing something here! We should be doing Persian cuisine.”
Sirous was a bit hesitant at the beginning, but together we went through some dishes spoke to his family and got recipes and inspiration, and took the plunge! We stopped doing Italian and French. We were Workshop Kitchen, then we became My Persian Kitchen, and there’s no going back.
Sirous: We’ve been doing this for four years now. With Iranian cuisine, no one really knows about it, the reason being that nobody’s actually been to the country. For 30 years, it’s been locked up.
It took a bit of time for Abigail to actually convince me, because I’ve grown up with this food. But it was a no-brainer: there’s a niche in the market, especially because of where we are in Cambridge. We have a lot of Iranians here, but no Iranian food. Even though there was an element of risk, we’ve got such diversity in Cambridge, and people are quite adventurous here when it comes to eating.
How often do you put on this experience?
Abigail: Pop-ups are once a month. At the moment we’re developing a lot of in-house catering as well – we’re noticing a lot of demand. We’ve done weddings, funerals, corporate events and so on.
Sirous: We’re very open to new ideas, but the important thing for us is quality. As long as we don’t lose the quality of the food, we’re in business. We’re in the process of converting a horse box into a kitchen, which allows us to be more mobile, so we can go to people’s homes and do small festivals.
What is the usual turnout, and reactions from attendees? Are most of them Iranian or non-Iranian?
Sirous: It’s really gone well, we’ve been pleasantly surprised – the feedback has been absolutely amazing. Since it’s not a restaurant, you get this personal feel when you come to our pop-ups. We put Iranian music on. We have small groups of no more than 25 or 30 people. They get a full-course meal, and it’s not rushed. It’s all about the personal experience.
Abigail: It’s more than they can actually eat. This is the battle we have – no human can eat as much as Iranians! As for turnout, I’d say less than half are Iranian.
People always ask if it’s spicy, which gives us an idea that people really have no idea what the cuisine is like.
Sirous: The fun part is that there’s no right way to cook Iranian food. That does allow us to put kind of a British or European twist to it.
Sirous: When I was growing up, there was probably a bigger Iranian community. When the revolution started, there were a lot of students here who couldn’t go back, so they settled here, started families and made Cambridge their home. We don’t really have that now. as most of the Iranians have gone back home, so there’s a very small community. When I was growing up, I definitely had more contact with Iranian families, but less so now.
Do you have big plans for this enterprise in the future, or wish to keep it unique to Cambridge?
Sirous: Our children are grown up, so we have this idea of going abroad and living in Europe, maybe in the south of France or Spain, and taking the concept there.
Abigail: I think it would work. Having lived in France for a long time, they’re real foodies and I think that they would embrace Persian cuisine, because they don’t like spicy food, but they like good food.
We know more what we don’t want than what we do want. We know we don’t want to open a restaurant, because we don’t want that seven-day-a-week commitment, so it’s then adapting what we can do around what we want. At the moment we have a very nice balance.
Sirous: Iranian food for me is on a par with French and Italian in terms of smell, taste, and the ingredients we use – it’s slow cooking! I want to get Persian cuisine to where French and Italian cuisines are, where people talk about it in a positive. We want to create another empire. That’s the plan.
For more information visit My Persian Kitchen.