Growing Up Irooni- Omid Roustaei aka Caspian Chef
Omid Roustaei is known by his online name the Caspian Chef, under which he publishes a popular blog and has an active instagram presence- I've been using his recipes to cook amazing food for a couple of years now, and have always been fascinated by his stories and his voice on his recipes. Also, his methods of cooking are very relatable to me- we talk about why during the interview.
We cover a lot over the course of our conversation. In fact, it's one of the longest interviews I've ever done- we go over how to find your passion growing up, feeling like an 'other' in a foreign land and whether or not it's important to know and understand the Persian language. I learned so much from Omid and felt like he took me down some unexpected paths.
He's not your whole grew up in the diaspora and held onto his roots type of person. He really strayed from the Iranian culture and found his way back through food after decades of living in the United States.
Listen to the interview below, or read the transcript- please note it's been edited for clarity and brevity.
Leyla Shams: Hello Omid jan, Thank you so much for talking with me today. Actually, this is exactly one year after we plan to talk the first time. The pandemic and Texas ice storm and vaccinations and all of that got in the way, but here we are. Omid has the blog and instagram page and social presence of the Caspian Chef.
He makes amazing Iranian food and his recipes are in a way that I really appreciate and I've really connected with. I've been using your recipes a lot over the years.
Omid Roustaie: That's wonderful. I am utterly pleased when we got introduced. It was you cooking one of my dishes. And ever since we've stayed connected and, and ever since you've cooked quite a few and have done me proud and honored me with acknowledging and really been appreciative of your work on that front.
Leyla: And you know, there's a lot of Iranian chefs right now, but there are just some that you connect with very well, with the recipes and with the background. And I wanted to have this conversation with you because I think we'll connect a lot on that front. But there's something really beautiful that you wrote at the beginning of one of your recipes. Let's start by reading that and then we'll go into your background and get to where you are today.
Omid: I have to confess that I'm quite embarrassed and shy about my ability to speak Farsi after nearly 40 years of living outside of Iran.
So to do these live events, despite my rusty Farsi, I ended up looking up words preemptively in my translator app. In order to explain myself adequately 40 years ago, I lugged two massive English to Persian and Persian to English dictionaries for Iran to the US to help me learn English. I find it quite ironic that today I need an app to help me express myself in Farsi.
I am really happy to say that after a few sessions I now find the experience a little less daunting and actually look forward to getting reacquainted with my mother tongue.
Leyla: Yeah, I really connected with that. I thought that was a really beautiful way of putting it. Let's talk about your history.
You wrote this about two years ago, so I'm excited to hear how things have developed since then. So take us back to where were you born and when did you move to the U S?
Omid: I was born decades ago, as I like to say in the 1900's, in Iran. So I was born and raised in Tehran.
And this is the city that I'm most related to and associated with as part of the my childhood. While I certainly grew up in Tehran, having parents that came from the Northern part of the country, a city called Babbol. So we spent a lot of our holidays, every long weekend and summer times up north. We had a little villa in a suburb in the Caspian sea suburb called Darya Kenar. And so we spent every holiday and every vacation up there. And so I have this deep and big affinity toward that part of the country, but I was born and raised in Tehran.
Leyla: Hence the name Caspian Chef.
Omid: Yes. That's where it all came together.
I think. You know, I had started the blog and I really didn't know where I was going to go, what I was going to do. And then it was just became clear, like, oh, you need to also have a social media presence and who are you going to be? And I think it all kind of coincided with what is my identity, what is, what is my branding essentially.
Leyla: And before we get off to that so what was it that brought you to the United States, and when?
Omid: So I left Iran in late 1983. It was just a few years, obviously, after the revolution. And it was obviously a difficult time in the history of Iran. The Iraq and Iran war was going on.
And so I left and my parents had stayed in Iran. My brother was already in the US. So I left on my own and much like many other Iranians when they immigrate out of Iran. I think you don't necessarily go directly to the US, but rather you end up in other places. I ended up in Europe and I stayed in Europe for less than a year.
And till I can sort out my visas and permissions and all the things and in early or mid 84, then I was able to finally come to the U S and begin high school or continue rather my high school here in the US.
Leyla: So when you got to the US what was your relationship with the English language? Did you know it?
Omid: So I think it was very clear that I will be leaving Iran since my brother was already out of the country. It was inevitable that I was going to leave. So for that reason, I remember after finishing my junior high and freshman year in high school, then I would go to a separate school to learn English.
So that really supported me and helped me to learn vocabulary and, and grammar. But really ultimately nothing is going to prepare you for when you land in the US. You know, one of the stories I always tell, I came to the U S and I went directly to a boarding school in Sedona, Arizona.
I went to high school in Sedona, which is just absurd in a delightful way. And I remember going to the school and I am as isolated as I have ever been. And I distinctly remember some kids saying, 'Hey, what's up.' And all I could do was to look up to see what is up. And that I struggled with that, or 'how's it going?'
And I'm like, where are we going? What's happening? Why did nobody tell me where we are going? So while we can, while I prepared a lot and learned a lot obviously the accent was an issue vocabulary and idioms, all of these things. Difficult. And it took a while obviously to finally learn enough so that then there's the progression of finishing high school and starting college.
Leyla: And so when you came you were kind of, of age already, right? You had a lot of experience with Iranian culture and everything. What was your relationship with Iranian culture when you got here? Especially at the time too, there was a lot of anti Iranian sentiment. Did you feel that, and did you try to stay away from it or did you hold onto it?
Omid: As is the case with most Iranians, it's just the answer's very complicated. Right? It's never nothing ever so simple. I left at a difficult age from Iran. And you know, well today I know words like assimilation- back in 1984, that was not a concept that I was familiar with. All I knew was I was different.
It was very fortunate that I never really had a blatantly negative experience. But I distinctly remember, you know, after these what's up, you know issues and dilemmas of not fully understanding what's going on around me. And I realized that it's most likely that I'm not going to return to Iran. While I certainly had not plotted out my life at age 16, 17, but at that time, it just really seemed like that probably wasn't going to happen.
So how do I make this work? So that I'm not such a foreign or such a awkwardly speaking kid desperately trying to fit in and not knowing even how to fit in. So one of the things that I distinctly remember is that I said to myself, I need to learn this language well enough because I would hear a lot of 'what?'.
And to this day, you know, decades later, no two words trigger me l when somebody says 'what' and 'huh,' because I hear 'why aren't you speaking proper English?' Well, that's certainly not the case. That's my own trigger point. But those were the kind of the events that led to, 'I'm going to make this home.'
I have to make this home and hence began the unconscious process of assimilation that I need to belong. I need to look a certain way. I need to speak a certain way. I need to dress a certain way, behave in a certain way that I don't stand out.
Leyla: Wow. Yeah. And things have changed a lot now with you know, social media and in general people being connected. I think that there's an Iranian that I follow o n Instagram, he has a page called English with Bardia. He came in middle school. And then he teaches English to Iranians and he teaches exactly the type of thing that you say.
So he's only like 11, 12 years old that he goes, what's up, what's up. And then he explains it. And it's so sweet. He lives in DC, so he has a lot of foreign friends and they come with him too. And he teaches them. I think if you had something like that, that would have been so different.
Omid: Absolutely. You know, in my experience, I certainly didn't have a role model. I didn't have a community of any kind, really. And this is a boarding school outside of Sedona in the middle of nowhere. And there is not an Iranian in miles. Which I think kind of led to what happened next.
The uncertainty around, not knowing if I would return to Iran and also lack of community. I think I then built a life that really didn't have any Iranian bits and pieces in it.
Leyla: Tell me about that. So where did you go to college?
Omid: After wrapping up my school year in Sedona, I moved to Flagstaff where I continued high school.
And then quickly realized like it going into a public school as a senior is hard on a good day. And if you're not from around there and if you don't speak the language well enough, then it became at times excrutiatingly just difficult. And so I had enough wits about me at that time to realize that maybe I don't need to finish high school.
Maybe I could take GED, the equivalent high school diploma test, which I did. And then excel at science and math and not necessarily so much on US history and such. I passed so that I could start at Northern Arizona university. And I started in think it was winter of 85 or something.
And while there were a few Iranians, it's certainly not a hub of Iranians. So again, the mindset also wasn't about seeking that connection. The mindset still was, and for many, many more years continue to be how do I appear less me and more what I should look like and what I should be in, but just kind of became a continuation of a assimilating and wanting to not feel like an outsider.
And so a few years in Flagstaff. I studied microbiology and chemistry and there's not much to do. There is a water treatment plant in Flagstaff, and that's the only job you could ever get. And if you don't get that job, there's really not much else to do in Flagstaff in the eighties.
Leyla: And your brother?
Omid: He had moved to Tucson and he was pursuing his advanced education down at Tucson. So after graduating, it just seemed like the next best thing to do is to move to Phoenix. And it took a bit of a effort because Phoenix also isn't necessarily known, certainly in that timeline as a biotech city.
So I struggled and I finally found my first microbiology job and I was on top of the world and it was great, except it was really hot
And the job was great. But there was no future in this little tiny biotech company that I got a job that was struggling financially on its own. I had heard of Seattle, I had a friend that lived in Seattle briefly, so I started talking with them and, and got really inspired to maybe change my life circumstances and move away from Phoenix.
And these are the times where you literally will go to the bookstore and wait for the Seattle times shipment to be flown in. That's how I found the job that moved me essentially to Seattle, to a wanted ad on a newspaper.
I flew out here in Seattle on a beautiful June day. I fell in love, right? I mean, what is not to love blue skies, blue water, cool temperature. And I was like, I don't care what the job is. I want to live here. And so when they offered me the job, I stumbled over myself to get, get myself to Seattle.
And 30 years later, here I am living in this beautiful green and blue city.
Leyla: And your mother has moved to Seattle with you.
Omid: That's right. So my mom now lives with me. And it's been a couple of years. And so it's, it's fascinating. Because I wasn't living at home since the age of 16 and being more or less independent and on my own since early, early years.
So it's complex. So I can certainly look at it as a, as a child and as a human. And also as a therapist, I'm looking at the complex relationship between a mom and a child early development later in life. It's been fascinating. And I think a significant area of growth, certainly for me.
Leyla: Right. Well, going back to Seattle. So once you got there, is that where you started becoming more acquainted with the diaspora or what was your path in Seattle?
Omid: No, I continued on this path of I'm beating my own drum and wanted to belong in this society. So I never really pursued- I think initially I remember I bumped into someone that kind of introduced me to, oh, there is a Nowruz outing at this park.
And I went and I felt so out of place. I felt so out of place because I hadn't set up a Nowruz Haft Seen. I hadn't celebrated and for decades seems like- for a long time. And so when I went to that event, I just really felt like I'm just as much of a foreigner in this community.
And that really just was it. And then I just never pursued it. Never did anything. Until years later when at some point I decided that the biotech is wonderful. I'm grateful. Great. But I don't think I belong in that line of work. I had changed my own diet. I became a vegetarian. And I started looking at food and how food perhaps could be cancer a cancer preventative.
I was working in cancer research ironically at biotech. And I started looking at food from a different lens and how it was changing me and my relationship with food and the animals. I stopped eating meat. And it became very clear that I wanted to pursue that. So I went to cooking school and then we can talk a lot about that.
And I started teaching vegan cooking classes. And it was wonderful until place that I taught, they were like, oh wait, you're a chef. You're an Iranian. You should teach Persian classes. Sure, absolutely. I should teach Iranian cooking classes. I should probably learn.
There was just the strangest experience before. I started cooking Persian food, following recipes, but I had no concept of, you know, what we say in Farsi, 'ja oftadan', or that the food needs to set or the amount of oil to use- like all these nuances and subtleties and techniques.
I just knew how to read a recipe and attempt to recreate it. There are no pictures of the food-
it was runny and watery and just, I had no concept, but I was teaching it. And then at some point I even stopped at that and no longer was teaching just really bad Persian classes to people.
Leyla: Well, so from the time you were 16, not only had you not had Persian food, you hadn't been speaking Persian at all. You were more American.
Omid: That's right. I mean, I would obviously speak words and sentences when I would call my mother. But this, these weren't long drawn out conversations. These chit chats, these words-
Leyla: You are becoming a professional in English as well. So your advanced vocabulary was all English.
Omid: That's right. I earned my bachelor's and master's degree obviously here in the U S and so my fluency started slipping in Farsi rather. And I was no longer receiving letters from Iran. You know, that was a thing that happened after 30 years, you know, what is there to say?
The weather is still rainy in Seattle, right? So the letters stopped and the communications, you know, whether we call that Finglish or whatever it combo of English and Farsi, That I would speak and my mother's English improved. So again, not having drawn out conversations in English, but there was just a mixture of things.
And, and I don't know what happened. I know exactly what happened, but I don't know. When I started reading something and I realized I am having a devil of a time reading this, I cannot understand this. I started reading, like what I would imagine, how was reading in first, second, third grade sounding out to their letters is how I was trying to pronounce these Farsi words.
And, and even that wasn't. And inspiration to do anything. I just accepted it for losing Farsi. And it was just as a matter of fact.
Leyla: And you and your brother as well, you started speaking in English?
Omid: Yes, in English.
Leyla: That's interesting to me because I do feel like for me, I have this it's very hard for me to speak-
I've been in the U S since I was four, but it is so hard for me to speak to my family in anything other than Farsi, because I feel like that's our language. That's how I express myself to them. So then if I try to switch, I feel like a phony.
Omid: Well, that makes sense. And while, I don't know, obviously your movement and moving to the U S process.
You know, we all came at different timelines. My brother came, I came, my mother came after my dad passed away. There wasn't a, we came together and we brought our culture with us in a predictable form or in a cohesive form. My brother went one way. I went the other way and my mother kind of came in and stayed within between the two of us.
Leyla: Well, a big part of your identity now is also psychotherapy. So I haven't heard where that- where did that come in?
Omid: So I went to cooking school-
I went to Boulder, Colorado. I went to this delicious plant-based intuitive cooking school in 98, 99.
And then I came back to Seattle and worked as a private chef and started teaching cooking classes. And I was thriving. I loved it. You and I had an earlier conversation about how with the transition from our former jobs, and then financially reaches a point where it's now feasible on its own.
And that's what it felt like with cooking that I created a new job for myself, and then I began matching my own salary from what I was getting at a biotech. So, but I felt so empowered. So I've created this job and trajectory for myself. So I did that. And along my path in, in natural food and good plant-based food, I also stumbled into yoga.
I don't seem to do anything lightly. I devoted myself to practice of yoga and I became a yoga teacher and I started teaching yoga class. And it was just a really good, good life for me. It was just doing the things that I liked. And there's a random coincidence that a friend of me had asked me to write a recommendation letter for her for this program.
And I'm reading about this program and had never heard about this program or this school. And as I read it, and as I prepared to write a letter of recommendation for her, I was so inspired. I feel like if that need was there in me, I just hadn't verbalized it or vocalized it.
Cause I always thought about, so I'm supporting people in their physical through through nutrition. And I'm also supporting people through their movement with a yoga practice, with their spiritual side. And then there is this brain bit, right. You know, I was attending counseling at various stages in my life.
I certainly needed the support and got the right support. And I thought, there's the brain piece. How do I also tap into that? And, and this beautiful school really matched exactly what I needed. And so my friend wrote me a recommendation letter and I waited and the next quarter I got admitted. And then I was a student of psychology.
Leyla: Amazing. This sounds like the American dream. You got the practical, you got the like Iranian biotech. Okay. You got that. And then you pursued your dreams. That's amazing.
Omid: And I wish I could have given myself permission to have pursued what I think I was good at or what I wanted to do.
Quick story on my undergraduate. You know, I, while I did get a bachelor of science in chemistry and microbiology, it was not easy that that information did not come to me easily. I failed my chemistry class, who was taught by my academic advisor and, and he, you know, he asked me to come to the office and we were talking and he's looking at my, my transcripts and reports, a car and grades rather.
And he's like, Omid, you're excelling at humanities. Have you considered? And all I could think was, I wished the ground would open up and suck me through it because I be ashamed to study anything but science, because that's how I was raised. You know, it's the cliche of, you've got to be an engineer, doctor.
Right. All of that stuff. I wish I had the means and the mindset to choose what felt the right for me. It was still too early in life or that level of awareness, I think.
Leyla: And you had a lot going on. You had to learn a whole new culture. I think you're being a little hard on yourself.
A Lot of people who have the means and who have the ability and start off at a different place than you, and work their whole lives in a career that they don't love. So I think you did it pretty early on. Give yourself credit. It sounds like you you've done a lot and you've pursued your dreams.
Omid: Thank you. I credit a lot of this to the cooking school that I attended. I think we can all understand the word intuitive. But what I learned from this school, I think, well, the medium was the food, but I think the meaning was a lot deeper about trusting yourself and trusting the process and everything I have done.
I link back to my amazing teacher and to this beautiful school that really taught me to learn to trust me. And to do due diligence. It isn't just a blind faith year, but that led me to pursue the cooking that led me to yoga. And that led me to studying. That led me to a psychotherapy and that then can continues to lead me to all the crazy things that I'm doing these days with food and with my life and all of the above.
Leyla: Okay. So now I think we have good background. That's very enlightening. How did you come to the Caspian Chef? You started a little bit of the story. You said that you were cooking and then they said, you're Iranian and why didn't you teach us? And at this point you're a vegetarian.
So you're making vegetarian Iranian food. Is that right?
Omid: And this even brings up more of a funny stories. I shamelessly was teaching with non-traditional proteins.
Leyla: You were ahead of your time.
Omid: I think now I can look back and think of it that way, but at that time I remember through this organization that I teach here- we have these summer festivals here and they are like, okay, we're going to put you on this stage. You can get a little headphone and you have to make this food- fesenjoon of all things. I don't know how the heck I pulled off fesenjoon in June on a stage, but I used, I used Satan, which is a non meat.
And you know, the majority of the audience is Seattle demographic. It's all shades, all colors, all backgrounds. All diversity. And, and then there are inevitably Iranians there. They came because they heard fesenjoon and they wanted to get a taste of it or experience of it.
And then they realized I'm not using chicken. And I will never forget this. This elderly gentlemen came to the stage afterwards. And he spoke to me in Farsi. And he said, "Agha, cheekar kardee bā een fesenjoone ma?' What have you done to our fesenjoon- not such a proud sentiment.
You really messed it up, dude. And I really, again, I think you might say I was ahead of my time. I think I was just trying to make it work. Right? It's the food that I still have a familiar palette for, but I'm not eating chicken. So I'm still trying to make it work.
And Seattle, bless it. There's plenty of vegetarians here, right? That I'm gearing it toward a different demographic. But certainly that, that memory will always be with me. But I started the blog. I started Instagramming start the blog, I think blogs started in 2018 or first of 2019, I think if I'm getting the years right.
Leyla: It was before this call, you were telling me how you named it, the Caspian Chef. Do you want to tell that
Omid: Sure, the Caspian Chef was- I was thinking, okay, so what's my identity. What am I going to be? And I randomly started going on, on Instagram, searching for names that, to see if they're available or not available.
And I think I did a few that were all taken, including the Persian Chef. I'm like, oh God, I'm so glad that was taken because really could be a little bit more creative
And I was just like, really, you know, nothing would make me tear up faster than the memories of 'darya kenar.' And by being by the beach and growing up by the beach. And while in Iran, we don't say Caspian Sea, we say Darya khazal, but the English version of it, I thought Caspian Caspian Sea, Caspian Chef, and lo and behold, it was available.
So that became kind of the identity around it. And part of the inspiration for the blog was since I was teaching classes, I was always referencing other people's work. You know, you can go to this blog and a comprehensive list of amazing Persian dishes and. And I thought, now I have a good repertoire of dishes under my belt.
I now actually make Persian food much better than 15, 20 years ago when I was faking it essentially. Why don't I start something on my own and just kinda cluelessly, I'm a blogger now. And I posted the first blog. And I had no idea how blogs work and it felt like a drop in an ocean.
You know, nobody knows you. And unless, you know, five of my friends knew to come and check out my recipes, but outside of that, people didn't know. And I distinctly remember the first comment or like I got, I was just like, wait, what?
That's how it started.
The bulk of the intention behind the Caspian Chef really started ironically in a therapy session. We had the election in 2016. And, you know, whichever side of the aisle you come from, there were quite a few people that I would see in my counseling sessions that were really having a difficult time, people of color, people of different minority segments.
They were having a difficult time. And I was sitting in a session with a client who was processing through his grief and trauma and, and out of nowhere, Lifted himself up and got his chest puffed up. And he was like, you know what? I gotta do something I'm good at. And I heard him. And then as I say that I'm still getting goosebumps because I just, the light bulb went off for me that I too got to do something I'm good at.
And what I'm good at is being in the kitchen and I'm experienced teaching classes. And I'm good at noticing how being Iranian- how marginalized we can be. And we are with an administration that maybe wasn't terribly fond of people that look like me or where we come from. And I thought for the first time, I feel like I need to stand for everything
I have worked so hard to reject and deny and put aside and I, for the first time felt that I want to feel what it's like to be an Iranian. And part of that is with a tremendous joy and a huge part of it is with a tremendous grief and sadness as part of my Iranianness. And so that became the reason because at that time I had completely moved on from personal chef work.
I had stopped teaching all cooking classes. I was just a good therapist going to the office and doing my job. And that inspired me to reach back out to my community. And I got lined up and signed up to start teaching Persian cooking classes again, and I have not stopped since 2016. I teach 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 classes a month.
Different locations and pandemic obviously influenced a lot of online things. And now once again, back in person and just felt like it wasn't a job, it wasn't a hobby, but rather it was my activism. It was my advocacy work. And so I think then the Caspian shift took it to slightly different term.
It's not just about teaching you how to saute an onion, but it's about what I realized- part of my signature is telling a tale, telling a story, you know, Google ghormeh sabzi, you get 50 million hits. Like there's, there's, there's no shortage of information out there. How I want it to be different than how I set myself apart.
I'm going to tell a story about this ghormeh sabzi. And my ghomreh sabzi blog posts is one of my favorite because it actually talks about the contradictions. That is part of this dish. There's these beautiful, fresh herbs that you fry, you saute for a half hour, like people it's full of contradiction, much like Iran itself, much like my relationship with Iran.
So. That to date is my all-time favorite post.
Leyla: What a beautiful journey. Thank you so much for sharing that. And we'll definitely link to the ghormeh sabzi for people to look at. We were talking before this, about how I started this project too. And it was a way of you know, a lot of my friends here in Austin are artists and musicians and, and I think art is a wonderful. to create understanding, but over the years, I thought I can teach a language. That's the thing that I can do. And language is also a good way of understanding. But there's nothing like food to really get to the heart and soul of people. I mean, good food, you know, just helps you understand in a very visceral way about a culture.
And I think that's so wonderful sharing our food with people.
Omid: Absolutely. And so these days I'm doing all, a lot of hands-on cooking classes, where the students are cooking the food, and then we are eating at this big, long table, 20 people eating. And while I may have one Iranian, whether born in the US or born abroad, whatever, a combination of typically, there may be one Iranian students. The majority is, and I had go make sure that I go around the table and ask them what possessed you? What, what motivated you to come to this class?
Because I'm fascinated. Because they've heard something about tahdig. They've heard something about ghormeh sabzi, they've they have a friend, they tell a story about how they grew up next to this Iranian family and they always made amazing food, but they want to know how to make it.
So people come to these classes from such different paths of life, different cultures, different backgrounds. At the end of the day, we're sitting here and eating ghormeh sabzi and, and mast o khiar, and salad shirazi together in Seattle. And it really just brings me so much joy. I mean, these classes are a lot of hard work.
It doesn't just happen. It's an eight hour class from the beginning to clean up. But what truly feeds me is what really, what I set out to do. This is my resistance work. This is my advocacy work. This is let others know who we are as Iranians. And I always share them with them, my story, cause they think, oh, what a wonderful model of Iranian citizen Omid must be.
And I'm very transparent. And I say, I'm absolutely making up for 30 years of turning Iran off. I am making up for all the last times that I had lost my connection with this country and with my own heritage and language and, and food.
Leyla: And that makes sense why I connect so much with your recipes because, you know, I didn't really learn cooking for my family.
So it's good to see. It does feel like a bit of an outsider perspective, but also a deeply personal one. It's a great combination. So then now going back to your quote, so how has your experience with the Persian language been since you, since then?
Omid: It certainly has improved. I, I think. I've had to accept, and this is such a strange thing to say.
I've had to accept that I, unbeknownst to me, apparently I have an accent when I speak, because in my head, I'm just speaking for us either way. I think I'm speaking Farsi. Wait, but then I am told 'you have an accent.' And then when I listen to myself, I hear that accent. But the accent piece aside, I mean, I left Iran at eight 16.
And so my spoken Farsi never really, you know, I didn't go to college. I didn't do political debate in Farsi. Right. So I can get away with kind of a very simple, conversational dialogue. Right, right. Just easy peasy, nothing complicated, you know? Sometimes I get an Iranian client who assumes that I could speak in Farsi and I have to be absolutely very clear.
Like I am completely incompetent in conducting a session in Farsi, but it has improved. I spent some of last year doing online cooking events in Farsi with. With an amazing friend who lives in Iran and she is a TV personality in Iran TV. And, and it was just the that's where the having to look up words or because what do I know about kneeding dough or some of the spices that aren't parsley and cilantro?
I literally had to look them up.
I'm needing certain words I never learned in Farsi. So why would I be able to access it 40 years later? So that process, and I think accepting it's such a strange phenomenon, like to the extent that I was ashamed of not being able to speak English well, I was now once again, faced of being ashamed of not being speaking your mother's language well, and I would get flustered and, you know, there were like two people, 10 people, 50 people watching on Instagram, you know, mind you, it's not high stakes here, but nonetheless, I can't even describe what it is because describing takes a whole different skill set that I didn't have.
So my goal was when I spoke, when I taught these Farsi things shows classes, my goal was to not sprinkle too many English words, just stay with what I know. And even if I struggle, don't constantly switch to, to using English. So I think from that perspective, I was reasonably succinct.
And then it improved and to this. And then at this point I speak more Farsi with my mom. But that is once again about the extent of it. I clearly now have a lot more Iranian community that I'm involved with here in Seattle. You know, we all lived here for many years, so sometimes it is English and sometimes it is Finglish, and sometimes it is Farsi.
So it continues to get better. So,
Leyla: So what would you say to other people- would you say that learning the Persian language or knowing it or becoming better at it is important? What do you think?
Omid: Oh, of course it is. I think learning languages is an important facet. Be it English or Farsi , be it Russian, be it Spanish.
Every language has its nuances. But obviously now I look at the Persian language with such adoring eyes and ears, like the sound of the words, the references.
There are just some sentiments that don't translate into English.
And as I know it as well, that it's so symbolic, it's so poetic. It's so silly, delicious, quirky. If we have any connection with Iran, I think it was really important to know these sweet endearing, sentiments at level of fluency. I think it's reasonable to accept that I will never speak Farsi the way, you know, my cousin living in Iran would speak Farsi, but that now I choose
to learn and to practice and to expose myself to that tension of, I don't know what that word is, but I'm going to go find it and I'm going to go look it up and no longer have dictionaries, but I now put it in Google translate and, and it gives it right back.
Leyla: I love that, you know, that, like you said, there's this Instagram community that we can reference.
There's people making food. There's so many different ways to learn. You can learn by loving a dish and learning what ingredients goes into that dish, which, which I do all the time. You can learn through people like Pantea who's in Iran will, e'll link to her work as well. It's wonderful. She goes around and shows different places that she visits and she has a great insight into the culture and everything.
And then you can learn just the language and like you said, don't be too hard on yourself. Just learn as best as you can. Maybe you're not going to be fluent without an accent, but that is okay. We're all trying our best. And I think that's a wonderful thing to think and a wonderful, wonderful place to end the conversation.
I think I have, I have one more question actually. What do you hope for the future of the diaspora and the future of your work as well in the diaspora?
Omid: That's a beautiful question and a complicated question and perhaps I think I hope for more connection, I think you know, social media certainly has been an element that has introduced me and allowed me to connect with folks that I wouldn't have otherwise.
So I want more of that. Kind of going back to the whole process of assimilation. I think being made more aware of what's happening to all of us that are of people, of color of minorities are from different cultures and backgrounds. That's a race we will never finish and we will never win. I will never speak English well enough.
I will never behave American enough and that's okay. For as long as I can also find other ways that I can relate and connect and maintain my identity. I think these are kind of lived life wisdom and experiences that I have gained that I certainly didn't have earlier in life. And so what I hope for the next generation is kind of an acceptance of themselves as they are this hybrid The Stationary Shop, by Marjan Kamali-
I love that book. And part of the reason she talks to, and I'm not sure actually, if it was that specific book or one of her other books, she kept focusing on the hyphen Iranian American, and I just love that.
The way she referenced it because it's true- it resonated so deeply that we never fall on one end or the other, but I'm always straddling this hyphen and it's, I find it as a small place. And so to be grounded in that hyphen to find your own sense of self and that hyphen is what I wish for, for the next generation and for this generation that have perhaps, people like me, that just kind of let their part of the past go and felt disconnected and are I'm missing out.
Leyla: I think it's all part of the journey, though. I'm glad that you ended up where you are and what's next for Caspian Chef?
Omid: Oh God. You know, it's been a rollercoaster of things that I had never seen, never imagined, could be part of it.
It was just gonna be an Instagram and it was just going to be a blog. And I got great, amazing, delightful collaborations. So there are many things that happen in the past tense, so I'll leave them be in the past tense. But what's what seems to be moving what's happening for me moving forward is
I'm starting to write, I'm starting to write articles. I'm now a freelance contributor to several food websites. And I feel like, okay, so I got a little bit of population that I can tap into on my Instagram, but these are national international, global food websites. And so right now, my chicken pieces are marinating in saffron and yogurt because that's my assignment.
And I'm going to write an article on that.
Leyla: And where can people find you we'll link to all this on the page, on the show notes for this podcast episode, but yeah, go ahead. But your website and your Instagram.
Omid: Sure. Everything. I was fortunate enough to be able to kind of secure everything under the Caspian. So the blog is of the Caspian shift.com.
One last thing I would say, I often joke about it is like I am old enough that I should know better, that I should not be dabbling into a TikTok, but I went on Tik TOK and secure the Caspian chef just
Leyla: in case one day. I've just started that to. Tik TOK is a lonely place for me. Everybody's very young.
I put things in there. I feel like it's crickets, but yeah, I'm there too. So I'll find you at least we'll know
Omid: each other. I'll be your friend, if you be my friend on the tick-tock otherwise. Yeah, I'm just most of my activity is.
The tick-tock I'll see you on the tick-tock. You just gave yourself away with that though.
That's not what the kids call it.
It was so wonderful to talk to you. I'm glad that we had this whole year to marinate this conversation. Cause I feel like we had a lot to talk
about, we sure did there, Jen, I'm so grateful. I appreciate the work that you are doing. And as you, as you said, when you reached out last year, it was with astounding.
Yes. That I would be delighted. And so here we are, and it was exactly everything I had hoped much better than that. So thanks
Thank you so much for all your work. And I also, my three-year-old is named Caspian as I've told you. So anytime I make one of your recipes, I feel like he has a, he doesn't understand it. He has a special recipe.
Yeah. So thank you again and good luck on everything else that you're doing. And I'm sure we'll see a lot more from you in the future mercy.
And that's the end of the conversation with OMI drew stay the Caspian chef to see the show notes for the episode, check out our
The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali