Hoss Zaré is the equally talented and outgoing chef and owner of Zaré at Fly Trap, one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Not only are the cocktails and food terrific - Persian and Mediterrannean recipes with a bit of French inflection, melded together to emphasize the boldest and most intense flavors you can imagine - but it's also one of the prettiest rooms of any restaurant in the city, both comfortable and antic at the same time. With unique dishes like his reknown pistachio meatballs, goat cheese cheesecake, bone marrow with bergamot jelly, kufteh tabrizi, and lamb shank abgusht - to name just a few of the dishes that reviewers have waxed poetic about - Zaré is fast becoming one of themost fashionable, popular and interesting restaurants in the Bay Area.
This week, Chef Zaré is recovering from a mild heart attack, and as a result had a small amount of time to respond to our questions. We hope his recovery is speedy and that he’s back on his feet soon!
Three Questions: Some might say you have a cult-like following. Do you get recognized on the street? How do you deal with hero worship? What do you think of chefs reaching sort of celebrity or local celebrity status?
Hoss Zare: I do sometimes get recognized on the street, but I feel that is not so much as a ‘celebrity chef’, but more as a familiar face. I really strive to create a welcoming and friendly environment so that when people come to my restaurant, they feel as if they are at home. I am honored to have regular return customers who appreciate what I do as a chef. In fact, I am happy to see that many long time patrons are now introducing their children to my cuisine!
As far as ‘hero worship’ and the new craze of celebrity chefs, for me, it’s less about my status and more about the experience I try to give to my guests. Everyone has an ego, but I believe that humility is extremely important. If you let success go to your head, it can ultimately be your downfall.
3Q: Of all the ingredients you use - sumac, pomegranate, grape molasses - do you find yourself needing things you can’t find here? Are there things you’d like to integrate, but you think they might not work with American clientele?
HZ: We are fortunate in California, to have access to just about everything - wonderful produce and a variety of herbs and spices. Some more rare ingredients are harder to find than others - angelica, sour grapes, etc. but eventually I find what I need to create interesting and unique dishes.
The American clientele, especially in a food minded city like San Francisco, has been open and willing to try cuisines from various cultures, Persian included. Increased knowledge and awareness through the internet have broadened people’s perspectives throughout the years. I believe food is an integral part of culture. Iran has over 2500 years of culture, but unfortunately it has often been overshadowed by political strife and regime changes. Through my cooking, I am happy to share some of that culture with the people of San Francisco. I feel fortunate that it has been so well received.
3Q: Do you see the richness and subtlety of Persian food finally gaining a foothold throughout the U.S. – either in pure form or in a modern fusion? Like Southeast Asian cuisines over the past 20 years?
HZ: I would definitely describe Persian food as rich, but I’m not sure I’ve ever referred to Persian cuisine as subtle. Our food is nutritious, well balanced, and seasonal, but above all else, bold and full flavored! It’s one of the things I love most about my cooking. That being said, I do see Persian food and it’s influences gaining popularity in the U.S. For example, Jean-Georges (New York) has integrated traditional Persian herbs and spices such as fenugreek, rose petal, angelica, and sumac into his recipes.
As I mentioned before, people are becoming more sophisticated and open minded to cuisines outside of their own. Everyday in my restaurant, I see Persian food gaining popularity not just with Persians and Persian-Americans, but with people of all cultures. I feel this is just the beginning and I predict that we will see even more Persian influence in American culinary culture in the next 5 years.