By Syune Arakelyan
Cooking is not just a regular activity of making food, it’s not just an everyday duty, and Ara Zada knows how to make it more interesting and enjoyable. Armenian American Chef, author of the cookbook Lavash is showing you how to make Armenian rice pudding or even Armenian sushi and have fun from the process.
Together with his childhood friend, Mexican Armenian comedian Jack Assadourian, Ara has created the comedy video series of Armenian-Mexican food fusion where they are mixing famous dishes from the two cultures. It had coverage on LA Times as well.
Ara has been featured on a number of popular TV shows, among them, PBS No Passport Required, Discovery Channel Recipe Lost & Found, and Fox Good Day LA. He has also worked with Jaime Oliver Food Revolution, Food Network, ABC, CBS, NBC, Breville, Gelson’s, and a range of others.
In his interview with NEWS.am STYLE’s ArmenՅԱՆs (Armenians), Ara speaks more about his roots and love towards Armenian cuisine.
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Ara, if I’m not mistaken, your ancestors fled from Armenia during the genocide in 1915 and they moved to Egypt. You have mentioned that they had changed their surnames. Could you tell this story and what was your original surname?
My family was originally from Mardin, my great-great-grandfather changed their name from Manoushyan to Zada. He was a well known artist in Mardin, and during the Genocide he was asked to finish painting the mosque and then they would let him go. And one day before he was completely done, one of the guards, which he was friends with, told him they are going to kill him and his whole family. So, he fled with his family to Egypt through Jordan, and they changed their names to Zada from Manoushian to avoid further persecution.
And how did your family get to the US? Where were you born?
My family got to the US through Canada. My Mom was born in Egypt, my grandparents were born in Egypt; when Nasser came and took over in Egypt, they left and went to Canada. My Mom was raised in Toronto, and when she was 18, my family left to LA, where I was born and raised.
You’re living so far from Armenia, but managed to maintain its culture, traditions, cuisine… how it all happened?
When I first went to Armenia, it was actually 2016. I went on a vacation and I was always told that ‘once you go to Armenia you’re gonna fall in love with the country, it will feel like home.’ The second I stepped there I did feel like home. But the one thing I realized in Armenia, is I didn’t recognize any of the food. So, I continued to go back; and I went back almost every six months from the first day I went there learning about the food, and I wanted to bring them back to LA and the States to kind of show more people, more Western Armenians what the cousin in Armenia was about, and through that I was able to maintain more of my culture. I had a deeper connection with my culture through food. Also I went to Armenian school till the 6th grade, and my grandparents and my Mom as well helped to keep the language and the culture. I do speak Armenian, but I understand way better than I speak it; but through my travels in Armenia I’ve learnt it, I speak more Western Armenian, so I’ve learnt more of the Eastern dialect, as well.
How did your interest towards cooking start?
I started my love for cooking probably when I was 5 years old. I thought I was Peter Pan, so I wanted to go and play with knives in the kitchen; and the only way my Mom would let me do that was by helping her out. So I started cutting up salads and it progressed from there. I always had a love for food. I used to eat everything, and it just gravitated towards cooking.
You had worked with Jaime Oliver Food Revolution, Food Network, ABC, CBS, NBC, Breville, and Gelson’s. Can you share with this experience?
I worked with a lot of different networks, did a lot of food styling. It was my dream to be in front of the camera. With Gelson’s and other large companies like that, I developed recipes. So, I have had the honor of developing different recipes, go train the stuff, and then they mass-produce it there.
Now you, together with Jack Assadourian, are releasing funny videos on Armenian-Mexican kitchen. How did this idea come to you?
Jack and I were childhood friends, and we reconnected in the past four months. He has been doing a lot of stuff ‘cause he is a well known comedian. With my cooking, we just wanted to make fun of Armenian-Mexican fusion dishes and kind of bring a little bit more life to the similarities of the two cultures ‘cause Armenians and Mexicans are very similar. Honestly, we’re just having fun in the kitchen. Most of the dishes we make, we come up with on the spot. So, we’re just having a good time and it just comes off on camera that way.
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When you first started, did you imagine that the show would become so popular and gain lots of followers?
I’ve always dreamt of having a cooking show that was quiet popular. When I started, it was a little bit of a struggle, but it was my hopes and dreams to gain a tone of followers and popularity just ‘cause I enjoy doing what I’m doing and I’d love other people to see that fun and how easy and simple most of the stuff is. I mean everybody eats, so everybody should know how to cook.
On March 11 you had a cooking show at Haha restaurant. How did it go? Will it become something usual?
On March 11, we did the first Arm-Mex fusion pop-up. It went really well, I think we definitely will be doing some more. It got a lot of press, a lot of people do want to see more of it, so we will figure out the ways to travel with it and do more Armenian-Mexican fusion pop-ups, Arm-Mex.
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Ara, when was the last time you’ve visited Armenia? Do you have any interesting memories?
The last time I visited Armenia was before the Covid in 2020. I love Armenia and I wish I can go more often. I’m trying to get there hopefully by the end of the year. There are tons of memories there. One of my favorite memories which I’ve done three times, is going to the top of [Mount] Aragats and eating khash. I love khash; so it’s a very beautiful place to seat there and eat it.
What are your future plans?
We’re defiantly going to do more of this Arm-Mex stuff. With content creating it’s kind of taking over, so I’m doing much more videos now, and it’s working, it’s fun. I would love to have my own cooking show. Right now we are working on possibly doing the second book follow-up to Lavash; possibly an LA-Armenian cookbook. And hopefully I’m working to get a whole video series of possibly eight episodes to show where I come to Armenia, to show the world what the hospitality and food of Armenia are like.
Photos provided by Ara Zada
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