Mahsa Savadkouhi’s mission in the culinary arts world is simple: to introduce as many people to the unique flavors of Persian cuisine as possible. As an Iranian-American, Savadkouhi spent her youth in the Middle East picking walnuts till her hands were black, spending hours in the car to buy the freshest possible fish from the Caspian Sea and taking delight in each bite of the sweet perfection that are freshly picked figs. These are some of the memories she treasures most: the ones that have carried her love of food through to her adult years. After trying to hone her skills through books, videos and home cooking classes, she decided the only way she would obtain the refined techniques she desired was by attending Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.
Savadkouhi took some time to catch up about her time in culinary school so far, from her favorite assignment to what she plans on doing after graduation.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: Why did you want to go to culinary school?
Mahsa Savadkouhi: I am an Iranian-American. Food is an integral part of our thousands of years old culture.
Manuchehri, an Iranian 11th century poet, said: “When those who know what’s what, Get together to dine, We want three things no more: Kebobs, music and wine”
I was always interested in cooking and sharing food. My fondest childhood memories are around food. I have vivid memories of the smell of fresh pistachios my family and I picked from trees, peeling fresh walnuts and having black fingers for days, waiting impatiently for green almonds, counting days to pomegranate season, eating heavenly figs as the ultimate treat, the moment I fell in love with saffron, our 3 hour drives to the Caspian Sea every summer to buy rice and fresh fish and so on…they are all still unforgettable experiences I treasure.
Although I studied architecture, cooking remains my passion. I enjoy trying new ingredients and making recipes from all over the world. Somewhere along my journey with food, I realized French cooking is all about technique and that I needed to become more familiar with it. I tried learning it on my own but was not very successful. I promised myself to learn it some day and here I am, at one the best schools in the U.S. to learn it.
AESCA: Why did you choose Escoffier?
MS: I came across Escoffier years ago when looking for home cooking classes. After spending some time on the school website, I came to a realization that by choosing Escoffier, I can benefit from its full program around culinary arts through daily hands on experiences. It seemed to be the right choice from the beginning.
AESCA: What have been your favorite parts of school so far?
MS: I really can’t specify one area as I have enjoyed every day of my time at school. I have not missed a single day so far!
AESCA: What do you feel is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
MS: Respect and love – It is crucial to respect the products Mother Nature provides us. We must respect people and their differences as well in order to be successful in the culinary world. The ultimate goal is to make people happy through food, and it doesn’t matter who you are cooking for. What is important is to simply open your heart and cook your best every day. Bigotry does not have a place in the culinary world.
AESCA: Why would you recommend Escoffier to others?
MS: If anyone is serious about learning the culinary arts, they should consider Escoffier. I was honored to work with many great chefs in school and learn from them. Our chef instructors bring their unique perspectives and backgrounds to the table and are all very dedicated to transferring their valuable knowledge to the students. School administration staff also works hard to pave the path of success for every individual in school.
AESCA: What has been your favorite cooking assignment in school?
MS: For one of my practical exams, I was given a few basic vegetables which I had no idea what to do with.
I was a bit nervous, so I went to my comfort zone and started mixing spices with the vegetables. It turned out very good and my Chef instructor complimented me on the dish. The only problem is that I could never recreate the dish again. I forgot all the ingredients I had used!
AESCA: How about out of school. What’s your favorite food to make?
MS: These days I am all about recreating Persian dishes using the techniques I learned in school. I had my “aha” moment when Chef Curtis Duffy explained the steps he takes to create a dish. I am trying to follow the same idea to deconstruct old recipes and recreate them.
AESCA: What are you hoping to do after you graduate?
MS: I would like to introduce Persian cuisine in a new way. In my humble opinion, it is one of the most unique, nurturing and balanced cuisines and there’s so much promise it can be adopted by all around the globe.
Persian food takes community and sharing in to consideration. It is nourishing as most of the stews and hearty soups contain many vegetables and herbs with a bit of high quality meat. It can be adapted easily for vegetarians, and it offers different aromas and tastes for different pallets.
If you like lots of greens and herbs without meat, you would love the northern recipes, with spinach, parsley, mint and legumes topped with local eggs. If you are in the mood for meat, many of the kabobs from the central mountainous areas may hit the spot. If you are looking for a meal with seafood and greens, a Southern fish meal with tamarind sauce and cilantro will hit the spot.