I know I’m in the right place

I am passionate-borderline obsessed- with food. My philosophy: if you can make it, why buy it? I jump fences to pick lemons, I make my own apple cider vinegar, I own nine aprons, and I’ve been known to swoon over the vibrant leaves of my garden’s purple potatoes. I’m stubborn in my ways of healthy eating and I (used to) think white rice is akin to a bowl of sugar. However, in the past several months, I’ve learned not only how to tame my convictions, but that above all else, food is celebratory.

After graduating from Bauman College, a Nutritional Education and Culinary Arts school, I began an internship cooking lunches for an Iranian language immersion school. Golestan Center for Language Immersion & Cultural Education (Golestan Kids), located in Berkeley CA, teaches Persian (Farsi) to children ages 2 to Junior High School, and serves as a resource for bicultural families worldwide. In a country where first and second generation Persian speakers are becoming increasingly rare, Golestan stands out as the only daily Iranian language immersion program of its kind in the U.S.

Iranian culture is like many in that it has its own perfumed memories that can invoke a sense of nostalgia. For me however, the smell of shambehlileh (fenugreek) and golaab (rose water) don’t personally remind me of home, so I must confess I’m intimidated by preparing Persian dishes. For one, I am nobody’s Grandmother, and secondly, I have not one ounce of Iranian blood in me. I have poured over Persian cookbooks and come to the conclusion that if I actually lived at Golestan, then I could soak my rice in numerous salt baths for at least ten hours to achieve the distinguished flaky texture so true to Persian rice. I could brown, broil and bake lamb for several hours and get dizzy as wafts of dried limes, saffron and fenugreek creep up the staircase. Alas, I am learning to put my perfectionism aside, swallow my pride and attempt a two-hour version of the beloved ghormeh sabzi.

Iranian cuisine is a reminder that preparing food is an ancient art, not a trend that will eventually fade out of the human experience. This is part of why I love cooking at Golestan- because it connects me to a culture that, prior to six months ago, was completely foreign to me. Not only can I relate to the romantic relationship Iranians have with food (finally- my people!), but I have begun to see my own philosophy around food from an entirely new perspective. My appreciation for food comes from an urge to be connected to people and cultures – past, present and future. Whenever I knead bread dough or run out to Golestan’s garden to pick a handful of herbs, I can’t help but smile because I know that I’m just one of millions doing the same thing: Participating in a way of life that weaves all of our diverse cultures together.

Persian cooking, in particular, pays homage to the belief that food is a daily medicine that connects us to our community, culture, and environment. I make Sabzi Polo every Monday and invariably, I hear the children shouting “Polo, Polo!” I smirk, reminding myself that I am working with an audience who doesn’t hold back their opinions, and whose enthusiasm over rice affirms the notion that, this food they know and love is not only celebratory, but a means of gaining one’s trust. Naturally, I don’t want to let them down, and I feel honored by the privilege of their friendship. In fact, I believe I’ve found my way to the hearts of these children, one bowl of rice and yogurt at a time. Maybe one day, they can teach me how their grandmothers make Sabzi Polo.

I’ll never forget the first time I served brown rice at Golestan. It didn’t exactly go over well. I remember one teacher looking at me incredulously, asking, “This is rice?” Needless to say, nobody touched the brown rice. I remember feeling a bit defeated, but I had to remind myself that not everybody eats (or thinks) the way I do. Cooking for others, particularly children whom I know were not raised on Mac n’ Cheese, is a humbling experience. I’ve had to learn that if I want to work in this intimate setting, and see the faces of whom I feed, then I musts find a balance and open myself up to the ways of Iranian culture. In other words, make white rice! And so, every week I bring the home made vegetable stock to a boil as a means of adding vitamins and minerals to the rice, which at least makes me feel better. I rinse the rice under warm water, rubbing the long, aromatic grains together between my hands. I watch the milky starch drain out from underneath the colander, and even I feel connected to a country in which I have never set foot.

My confidence in the kitchen has soared since I’ve been part of Golestan’s community. I can actually look people in the eye now and introduce myself as a Holistic Chef, because I truly feel that I am living my passion. I feel free to take risks, occasionally some of which I regret, but hey, Golestan is my extended family. I feel honored for who I am, not judged for what I do.

Each day when I walk through the tall wooden doors of Golestan, I am surrounded by life’s simple pleasures. Art, music, nature, celebrating culture and community, and most importantly, laughter. I have learned that communities are what we make of them, and that the only limitations are the ones we build in our minds. And for every morning that begins with a huge hug, a kiss on both cheeks, and an exuberant “Salaam Natalia Joun!” I’m enveloped in the feeling of family. I think this is what makes Golestan such a unique asset to Iranians and other families in the Bay Area, as they are part of an invaluable community of trust, encouragement, and love. I’ve become a part of Golestan’s community through a shared passion for food, and as my perspective continues to expand, I build a bridge of understanding between my own beliefs and those of the world around me.

When I walk down the stairs I leave thinking these kids don’t know how lucky they have it- but I know that they will know – and that you don’t need to be aware of how good you have it in order to reap the benefits. Furthermore, I love what I do. And if I can walk back up these stairs, day after day, with a smile on my face, then I know I’m in the right place.

www.golestankids.com | info@golestankids.com | 1808 5th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710 | 510.704.8541

Meet Iranian Singles

Iranian Singles

Recipient Of The Serena Shim Award

Serena Shim Award
Meet your Persian Love Today!
Meet your Persian Love Today!