Sunday, January 15, 2012

by Donia Bijan

Coming from a family where food embraces their heritage, Donia Bijan knew by the age of five that she wanted to be a chef. The kitchen door was always open and Donia would watch her mother create these incredible feasts. Soon enough, as she got a little older, Donia was doing tasks to help out with the food preparation. This was no ordinary home, though. The Bijans lived on the top floor of a hospital in Tehran (Donia's father built the place himself). Both of the parents were in the medical field: he, an obstetrician and she, a nurse and midwife. All of the meals were prepared by Donia's mother and their cook, using what was grown in their garden or bought fresh from the market. In due course, this unusual lifestyle would come to an abrupt halt.
The summer of 1978, the entire family went to Spain for a vacation. In their tiny apartment, Donia's mother whipped up fabulous meals. They never went out to eat because Donia's father didn't trust restaurants. Instead of going to the usual tourist attractions, he would rather forage for the best places to buy local ingredients. During their idyll in Majorca, the uncle called and told them not to return to Iran. The revolution had begun.
By this time, Donia took leave of her family and went off to a private school in Michigan to study. Being a foreigner was a difficult enough adjustment but the food was a whole different entity.
A few years later, she went to college in California and reunited with her parents. Her mother's cooking brought her back to her roots. Donia would go off to Paris in 1984 and attend the Cordon Bleu (she studied under Madame Brassart who had made Julia Child so miserable back in 1949). After graduating, she apprenticed in France at three-star kitchens. She knew that she wanted to have her own restaurant and it finally came to fruition when she opened L'Amie Donia in San Francisco.
Maman's Homesick Pie is such a delight to read. Donia's writing style is fluid and she seamlessly weaves everything that happens to her, effortlessly. It's truly charming, honest and savory. At the end of every chapter are a couple of recipes. If you're up to it, challenge yourself. This is not the typical food you are used to seeing. Her cuisine is a fusion of French and Persian, so for many of the ingredients, you would have to shop in specialty stores.
A mouth-watering gem.