The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. It wasn’t until she was in college that Roya Shariat fully appreciated her mom’s Persian home cooking. For years, she dreamed of collaborating with her mom on a cookbook. In March 2020 Roya started uploading videos to TikTok of her mom Gita Sadeh perfectly packing their dinner leftovers and quickly went viral. Fast forward two years, and they’re working on Maman and Me, the cookbook! We joined them in Gita’s home to make kuku and chicken stew and chat about how they’re sharing their heritage with each other and the world.
Gita: My mom had a philosophy: We had to go to school and be good students. Learning how to cook and basic sewing were something she introduced little by little when I was in high school. I am the eldest daughter, so I was in charge. I started cooking and would mess up big time, but little by little I got it. I went to college in Tehran, and being there by myself I knew the basics. Any food with egg, vegetables with potato and green beans.
After college, I discovered new spices and ingredients from other countries by being nosy in different supermarkets. Now, every time I go to Iran I come back with five suitcases. I bring back so many spices and so many nuts. They say the best pistachios here are from California, but — I don’t want to brag — the best are from Iran. I stock up on saffron. I’m a generous person, so if anyone comes to me and says they don’t have saffron … I have a kilo for you.
I stock up on saffron. I’m a generous person, so if anyone comes to me and says they don’t have saffron … I have a kilo for you.
Roya: My cooking story is similar to my mom’s. It started in high school. We always sat around the kitchen watching her do her magic, and the kitchen was and still is the heart of our home. It's where we gather to sit and chat, and it was in college when I realized, Wow, I miss my mom's cooking. It was that period of my life when I realized I took what I had for granted.
The kitchen was and still is the heart of our home.
Gita: For me, the main thing when finding a home was the kitchen should be the heart of the house. I try to make each room of the house beautiful, but everyone ends up in the kitchen.
I’m so excited when I cook; I have so much energy, and I feel like I’m in power. I get a high! I control the pepper, the salt, the sweetness. When it’s done everyone gathers,and when it brings a smile to their faces it makes me happy.
I’m so excited when I cook; I have so much energy, and I feel like I’m in power.
Roya: I feel like a magician when I cook! I feel like I'm a witch! I’m putting in tomato paste and caramelizing it and then adding the right amount of salt. I think it’s about taking humble ingredients to make something really delicious. So for me, I definitely feel empowered and happy when cooking, but I also feel deep joy when I get it right or when I see someone take a bite and smile — there’s no better satisfaction.
I feel like a magician when I cook! I feel like I'm a witch!
I didn’t know how good of a cook my mom was and that not everyone grew up with homemade food like me! It was that experience that made me want to be a better cook and preserve her recipes. My connection to my heritage is through food, and if I lose that I lose a part of myself.
My connection to my heritage is through food, and if I lose that I lose a part of myself.
Gita: My philosophy on cooking is from my heritage. My grandma used to make bread inside the tanour — all of the cooking was so basic and primitive, but it was something that brought everyone together. I’ve been here for 35 to 36 years, the connection my children had to our heritage was through food. I started by sharing simple ingredients with her that she can find here. I bring special herbs from my country here, but I focus on the simple things so everyone can get it, make it, and enjoy it.
I’ve been here for 35 to 36 years, the connection my children had to our heritage was through food.
Roya: Maman has been a teacher for forever.
Gita: I try to keep my culture alive with my family, but I’m also a teacher, mainly teaching Farsi language and culture to small children. I love my job. I love it — you see the lightbulb go on in students. The moment I enter the classroom the kids jump to hug me. So sometimes I will make simple food to bring in, and it makes them happy. When I see them happy it brings me joy. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s cooking or sewing or Farsi — I can teach.
Roya: I work at Glossier as their senior manager of social impact, so I get to run all of their charitable initiatives, ranging from a grant program for Black-owned beauty businesses to nonprofit partnerships.
My interest has always been impact and making a difference, which I inherited from my parents. With immigrant parents I recognize how much they sacrificed for me to be here, so I always felt like I needed to do something to give back. Life is short, life is precious, and I was brought here for a better opportunity, so I might as well pay it forward.
It’s so fun to be at the intersection of what I'm most passionate about, which is giving back in a company focused on beauty, which I love and is so tied to your confidence. I think cooking and beauty are actually quite similar in that they are both very emotional and very personal.
I think cooking and beauty are actually quite similar in that they are both very emotional and very personal.
Roya: We are working on a cookbook this summer, and the idea for a cookbook has been on my mind for at least 10 years now. I always wanted to honor my mom’s cooking, and it comes from a place of fear. Like, if I don't know how to cook these dishes then what connection do I have to my identity and my roots, and how do I pass that on to the next generation? I need to preserve these recipes — if not for anyone else then for myself.
I need to preserve these recipes — if not for anyone else then for myself.
In March 2020, I was home with my parents because of COVID, and every day I watched my mom put food away in the perfect Tupperware. Every time it was perfectly filled, no gaps. I thought this was so magical, like, Let me post it to TikTok to remember this special time we are having together. By the time I posted the 7th or 10th video, I was featuring such an ordinary stew, but, for some reason, that video went viral, and then the other videos started getting views. Now we are at about 84,000. But it started with Tupperware videos.
All of these people were so comforted by my mom and her cooking. They always comment that she’s our mom. They’ll stop me in the comments and be like, “You mean our mom,” or, “Adopt me.” She reminded them of someone in their family or someone who maybe didn’t have that growing up, and they felt comforted watching that. That is what made me more confident to pursue the cookbook idea more seriously: People wanted the recipes. Then I made the Instagram account Maman and Me — the name has been in my head forever.
All of these people were so comforted by my mom and her cooking. They always comment that she’s our mom.
Gita: She has done everything for me. I call us Bonnie and Clyde or Thelma and Louise — we’re a duo together. I’m kind of more reserved, but having her beside me gives me confidence. The encouragement she gives me I have never gotten from anyone else, and every time she is here something good happens. She has so much positive energy.
I call us Bonnie and Clyde or Thelma and Louise — we’re a duo together.
Roya: We made two dishes today.
Gita: Kuku is like frittata. For Persian New Year we use so many herbs. This is a dish of eggs, greens, salt and pepper, and turmeric, with a touch of baking powder and flour. I added chopped walnuts because I love crunch. It came out so good, and it is simple. We also made kuku in Small Fry — it is so cute. That pan gave me so much power and joy. It came out so good.
The chicken stew we made was my mom’s favorite dish, and it’s very simple. I use chicken thighs, but whatever piece you have you can use. You can also use whatever vegetables you have in your fridge; we used celery and green beans. My cooktop is induction, too, and I love that I can use these on the cooktop. I was so happy, and I love the color. I saw it and said, “What a beautiful color.” And I love the GJ logo because my friends call me Gita Joons!
Roya: I was so surprised at how easy it is to cook with Small Fry. The kuku turned out perfect. It was so easy to flip, and the pan was so lightweight. With Dutch Baby I thought the chicken turned out really good — it was special. I’m excited to see what else we can make with it, and I want to try moving it from the stove to the oven.
Gita: I had guests coming, and I wanted to keep everything shiny and new because it was so beautiful.
Roya: We used Holy Sheet to serve because it was so beautiful and perfect for taking bites off of it. It’s also so sturdy.
Roya: One thing I've learned is how much innovation these immigrant moms have in the kitchen and how much intuition and smarts they have with years of experience. I grew such an appreciation for how my mom cooks. I see the details, the hard work, and I admire her so much. She’s the best cook in the world.
I see the details, the hard work, and I admire her so much. She’s the best cook in the world.
Gita: Cooking together has made us more bonded. We call each other and talk about our next project. My purpose with simple food was to bring everyone together, and when I see her using that food to bring the family together I feel like I have done my job. The food was my legacy, and it’s going to be her legacy from now on. As a mom it makes me proud.