The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Andy Baraghani is a cookbook author and former editor at Bon Appétit who’s earned a loyal following for his on-camera work. He joined us at the Union Square Greenmarket to demo how to make herb-centric larb, and opened up about his career trajectory in food media and when and why he decided to embrace his Iranian roots.
I grew up in California, specifically the Bay Area — East Bay. If you've never been there, it has such an incredible food culture, so it was a natural progression for me to be attracted to cooking.
I'm first-generation American. My parents came to California just before the revolution in Iran; Dad was going to graduate school, and they ended up staying put. I would say the majority of the time we were cooking and eating at home, and it was a lot of Iranian food.
I think this is unique to children of immigrants, that you end up realizing, during school lunch, Oh, the food that I eat is actually not what most of my friends are eating. But I love that food, even though it took a long time for me to actually embrace it and take some of those flavors and techniques from my childhood and apply it to my cooking. I was resistant to embracing, or cooking, Iranian food when I was going into food media.
I was resistant to embracing, or cooking, Iranian food when I was going into food media.
What led me to Bon Appétit? — the million-dollar question! I worked my way up at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, where I'm from. And from there, I ended up coming to New York, to NYU, and a fellow student knew someone who also used to work at Chez Panisse, and she knew someone who worked at Saveur magazine. I started interning at Saveur when I was 20; I was there in the test kitchen, then I came back more as an editorial intern to help them with a big issue on Iran. I also worked at a few different restaurants.
When I graduated, I met with my former boss and mentor David Tanis. He said, "If you're going to work in restaurants, you’ve got to work at Estela.” I was there for about eight months. Then my old Saveur boss and I reconnected just as he was starting Tasting Table. He ended up kind of completely pulling the rug out from under me and nominating me to be the food editor there.
I ended up getting that job a few weeks later. I was at Tasting Table for about two years. At Bon App, a position for senior food editor opened up. I once again was not aware, but editors I knew there put my name in. I said, “Yeah, of course,” but was also thinking, Is this crazy? Because everything has happened in my life — not too soon in a bad way, but just early. I got to work at a restaurant that I had such respect for by the time I was 16. I was just always very young — not as in immature, but I was very wide-eyed and open, which was actually amazing because I absorbed all this information early on. So when Carla Lalli Music, who I loved, ended up interviewing me, I was a little unsure! I think self-doubt is not a terrible thing.
I think self-doubt is not a terrible thing.
There was definitely a good period where I wouldn’t cook at home, though. I was cooking so much at work, and I had a busy social life, so I was out all the time — you know, five, six days a week. My party-boy phase has pretty much fizzled.
But now I'm cooking a lot at home, especially because I just have more of a routine than ever before. And when I’m in the test kitchen, I always think, Hey, if you're able to make this at home in your tiny studio-apartment kitchen in New York City, it’s possible for anyone.
You could develop the best recipe in the world, but if no one makes it, I don't want to say it’s a failure — but nobody would ever know about it. I want to develop recipes that people are really incorporating into their regular schedules. That's what I'm hoping for, and that's the real shift I’ve made, I think, in the last three years.
I want to develop recipes that people are really incorporating into their regular schedules.
I made pork larb at the Greenmarket. I ate lots of larb before I had ever gone to Southeast Asia. But in my early twenties, I made a trip out there by myself, spending a little over a month, and was eating constantly. Pretty much after the first year I lived in New York, I made a rule where I told myself, I'm going to go to a new country by myself every year, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to keep that promise to myself. It’s really been the best thing I've done.
With pork larb, I’ve tried so many variations that I’ve loved. Why I love the one I made at the Greenmarket, and why I decided on that one, is because it's something that comes together really, really quickly. The thing that takes the longest is the prep, which isn't even that long. My recipe uses a lot of produce, like garlic, shallots, scallions, and all these herbs and lemongrass. It's spicy. It's a little sour. It has a little bit of thump from the fish sauce. It's salty. And it's just fresh. You kind of take a bite and you want to keep going and make it over again.
If you look at my recipes, I pull inspiration from my life, whether it's from my Iranian heritage or from my time in restaurants or my travels abroad. Food still is the easiest entry point into culture.