Today’s guest on #MWL is Louisa Shafia. We discuss immigrants and immigrant food in Nashville, Iranian food, and racial and gender equity in food coverage.

Louisa also talks about her book, “The New Persian Kitchen" available for purchase here.

Where to watch live:
https://youtube.com/marcuswhitneysvideouniverse
https://facebook.com/marcuswhitney
https://linkedin.com/in/marcuswhitney
https://twitter.com/marcuswhitney

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Get The Full Episode Transcription

MW

happy tuesday what's good another

episode of marcus whitney live

and uh today my guest uh i i love when i

have the food people on

because i fast in the in the mornings i

don't eat before the

show and then we talk food and then i

get like super hungry

uh and so as soon as the show is done i

go to my kitchen and i like crush

everything

uh today new friend um and we're gonna

have fun talking about

uh food and culture and

uh place making making people feel

comfortable welcome

uh how food can connect us uh and i

think i'll stop

now and introduce our guest for today

luisa

shafia luisa how's it going 

 

LS

hey marcus

so good to be here 

 

MW

yeah yeah and and uh

you are the first guest

to jump on with the phone and i have to

say so far

looks and sounds great so

congratulations on like

breaking ground here on the show 

LS

the

wonders of technology marcus it's

getting better all the time

 

MW

 it really is

it really is so luisa why don't we just

jump in

and uh start by talking about uh your

background your story

and uh maybe your your journey to this

Moment

 

LS

great um well thank you so much and my

goal

is to make you hungry throughout this

interview

so when you get off you are going to be

running

and getting some iranian ingredients

 

MW

okay i love that i love that

 

LS

yes so so i moved to nashville

about five years ago um before that i

lived in

new york new york city but i'm from

philadelphia originally

and my dad is from iran

my dad was raised muslim in in tehran

the capital and

my mom is american jewish

raised in philadelphia so i grew up with

Those  

two influences and yeah it's

so strange they're actually still

married 

 

MW

wow that's amazing

we should do a whole episode down the

line on your parents

 

LS

seriously it would be really interesting

especially if my dad could be

on it because his accent is as thick as

the

day he got to to america

MW

 i love it

 

LS

It’s pretty funny yeah um

but so yeah so i i grew up in a

milieu that was more just like

not religious and very far removed from

my dad's heritage uh i grew up

during the whole hostage crisis in iran

and um you know we kind of

weren't really proud of our iranian

identity let's just say that

so um you know i grew up

ended up deciding to go into culinary

for

my career and somehow

even though i started out cooking

healthy foods i

found myself drawn to persian

ingredients

saffron and rose water and pistachios

and all kinds of things

and i decided to write a book

on that kind of cuisine and it really

ended up being

sort of a journey to figuring out my own

Identity

 

MW

sure sure 

 

LS

and yeah

and uh yeah and so here i am i

write and cook about persian food i

one of the best things that happened to

me here in nashville

was when the the muslim ban

the so-called muslim ban started in 2017

um it was very upsetting for

especially you know people who have

heritage from the countries that

were affected by this span you know in

africa in

asia and certainly in the middle east

and

i was so upset and i have a lot of

extended family in the u.s um

from iran with you know different kind

of statuses like

they're on student visas or you know

work visas

and it really affected me personally

and i reached out to the tennessee

immigrant

and refugee rights coalition which is

based

in nashville amazing wonderful

non-profit they they are the organizers

of the international

food crawl every year and

uh i i told them i called them up and i

started crying

and i and i said i'm really upset about

this muslim ban

can i make some persian food

do some persian dinners to raise funds

for your

immigrant and refugee advocacy work and

you know it'll just give me a way to

contribute positively to this dialogue

around

immigration and we did it

we had our first dinner at butcher and b

restaurant in east nashville and then we

did another one

 

at the post which no longer exists but

it was

in east nashville wonderful venerable

place

um run by our good friend tanya 

 

MW

tanya, the best

 

LS

 The best, um

and we got such an overwhelmingly warm

response um so many people came who

had never tasted iranian food

and it was obviously open-minded people

that came but they all just felt so

encouraged to

find community on this topic

in a positive way by sharing food

together

and also of course it was just fun to

eat delicious food and

so it became an ongoing thing and i give

these dinners in my home and at

restaurants around the city

and and we also invite all kinds of

chefs from

different ethnic backgrounds to do the

dinners as well because

you may or may not know that nashville

has just such a

rich array of immigrants from countries

from

all over the world and they're they're

all here

many of them are around nolansville pike

where

you know sometimes they feel

inaccessible if you're in downtown

nashville but

they're all there making amazing

delicious food and um

it's just been a great way to connect

was

through this wonderful non-profit turk

 

MW

yeah so

uh so a couple of things one um i do

know

turk uh uh stephanie uh and i went

through leadership nashville together

um and uh and lindsay and i are

neighbors

so i know 

 

LS

 there you go 

 

MW

i know the turk

team really well

amazing organization i have been to the

food crawl it is a hard ticket to get

it sells out every year uh but

uh it is an amazing day it's so

much fun uh and you leave that day and

you're just like god i just want to only

come here to eat you know what i mean

because there's so

much variety and there's all these like

hidden gems and and you're right i mean

nolansville pike in

in nashville for those of you who uh

don't live in nashville

uh it is just an unbelievable strip it's

it's uh it's one of the the widest

uh streets and most traffic streets in

all of nashville

but uh just driving up and down this

strip you will find

unbelievable restaurants and grocery

stores

uh from all different nationalities and

uh it's and everything is good

everything is amazing and the people are

so warm and friendly

uh and it really you know i i think like

it's it's such an important part of

nashville

you know if you if you're if you haven't

spent any time much time here

you know and you go downtown i'm all for

it it's the tourism i get it you know

but if you really want to understand

where nashville is heading you know and

and where what we're becoming

nolansville pike is a great great place

to go visit so

so having having said all of that i also

want to just talk about

um the role that that food plays

in being able to bring people together

in you know

in ways that sort of disarms them um

where you know you talked about

uh the hostages crisis you know

unfortunately

the way that uh the american media and

education system works

we get you know consistently very very

negative uh

connotations and associations with

certain countries and i and i would

you know put uh iran and in that

category

you know i really would  

LS

right at the top

 

MW

yeah i

would put it in that category of of

places where we think about iran and we

think about

the hostage crisis and we think about

terrorism and we think you know like

this is sort of what we think about

um not thinking about all the refugees

who have had to

flee from you know places because

oh i don't know you know maybe they

don't agree with things that are

happening or

you know the rich culture that that that

is there and the wonderful people that

are there and

you know all these things that don't

have to do with politics and power

struggles and you know international

dynamics and

foreign policy and you know like all

those kinds of things just like the

people

um what if you like tell me about some

of the breakthroughs that you've had

um bringing people in and i know that

that generally speaking people who do go

on the

the food crawl are open-minded and are

looking for that

open-minded experience but like 

     Have you

 had any like real breakthroughs of

 introducing people to persian food and

 having them really kind of think

 differently?

 

LS

 Oh my gosh yes! I mean definitely

 breakthroughs around

 food. I won't say I've had a discussion

 with someone who was a super

 conservative and then decided

 to open their arms to you know diversity.

 But...but actually most of the people that

 come to my dinners have never had

 persian food before.

 And I've had the experience more than

 once of

 people tasting a fresh pomegranate for

 the very first time

 at one of these dinners and and saying:

 ‘I've seen these at the market and I've

 literally been scared of them and never

 known what to do with them

 and they're so delicious oh my god’

 You know?

 

MW

 yeah.  

 

LS

 Um and then

 also you were saying you know the media

 just kind of

 generalizes a lot and people come to the

 dinners and they say ‘oh this

 must be just like um you know

 the arabic food that I've had. You know

 where's the hummus

 and the falafel?’

 And...and I it gives me a chance

 to enlighten people about this cuisine

 that I am so passionate about

 and explain to them well actually you

 know Iran has

 mountains and there is snow

 you know 12 months out of the year on

 top of these mountains that are

 world-class

 ski destinations. And because

 of this you know we actually have

 orchards and there's

 irrigation and water and all kinds of

 beautiful fresh fruits.

 Um one of the sort of classic signatures

 of Persian cuisine

 is stews made with fruit and meat. One of

 our most

 famous ones is chicken with pomegranate

 so it's like a little bit sour and a

 little bit sweet.

 You know there's also like lamb with

 quince and

 uh you know beef with say peaches. It's

 all

 like you use the fruit in any way you

 can. It's not just for dessert like we

 think of it

 mostly in you know the west. 

 

MW

yeah 

 

um

so i i love making this food for people

and you know

garnishing with rose petals and you know

having people taste say saffron rice for

the first time

and there's this really fun thing that

we do and

with persian rice is we make something

called tadiq on the bottom of the pot

it's

like the fried layer of rice that's

crunchy and

you do this whole dramatic thing where

when the rice is done cooking

you put a plate on top and you flip it

over

and the bottom is just like this crispy

golden

disc and everyone's always like oh

you know 

 

MW

Hey did i did i see that on like a

Show

 

LS

you may did did you watch the padma

Lakshmi

 

MW

i think so yeah i s... like i saw that

what you're just talking about like the

the making the rice and like the bottom

layers crispy and you flip it over and

like when you pull it up you're like yes

like it came out

you know exactly right

 

LS

 exactly yes and

actually the woman that did that on

now i can't think of the name of padma

lakshmi's series but it's amazing

 

MW

yeah 

 

LS

um the woman that did that nasda

ravi and she actually came here to

nashville

when her book bottom of the pot came out

and we did a turk

fundraiser dinner at my house so

she did that that night and you know she

read some persian poetry

 

MW

so yeah so so so what did what did you

end up really

learning about yourself you know you

said that that this was the path for

self-discovery for you you know what

what were i mean

you've already said some things that i

didn't know like i didn't know you know

that there was snow 12 months out of the

year like that was not something i knew

about the the terrain and the climate so

you know what what are some of the

things that you learned that were just

really big breakthroughs for

for you 

 

LS

oh my gosh um

so many things well when i wrote the

book i had never

had the opportunity to travel to iran

just because

paperwork my dad had left so long ago

um so there were things i didn't

understand that i

understood even more deeply once i got

to go to iran in 2014 and

an iranian friend of mine said to me you

know when you go to iran

you will see the things in yourself that

are iranian

and i and i thought i wonder what he's

talking about i really don't know you

know i grew up in philadelphia

and like you know i was just like this

urban

sophisticated milia i don't know what

he's talking about

and then i went and i realized oh my

gosh

i do this thing that um in persian

culture is called

taorov and it's being

there's different ways to describe it

but it's sort of social

rituals that come that that if you're a

westerner can come across

as sort of fake politeness but it's

it's an ancient way of conducting

yourself

an example is in iran

if you are say at a long table even if

you don't know the

people next to you if their food comes

before your

your food comes they will turn to you

and say

would you like some of our food and

you're supposed to say

no but it's just like a politeness

ritual 

 

MW

yeah 

 

LS

and and i realized

how much i do that and it's like my

friends don't do that

my other american friends don't do that

i super

100 got it from my dad

you know so that's one of the things i

realized it's like

oh my gosh you know like iranians you

always offer to cover the check

first if you go to a restaurant you know

stuff like that like stuff like that i

realized um

but but it was also just so much deeper

like i

i really embraced this part of my

identity

I've been 

 

     

 MW

 It's a thing.

 

 LS

 It’s part of your

 subconscious.

 And you know afterYou know in the U.S. It's... it's

 changing. I think but you know we've

 always had this

 one beauty ideal that is

 pretty white, like blonde hair blue eyes

 whatever.

 And so growing up you know I had super

 curly hair

 and like big eyebrows and you know it

 was

 hard to you know think of oneself as

 attractive, you know you didn't see other

 images

 you know coming back at you that were

 idealized as beauty.

 Not that that's like the end-all be-all.

 But...

 

 MW

  It's a thing.

 

 LS

  I just...

 it's but... but...

 

 you know going in depth with this

 cooking research and cooking with you

 know my extended family and cooking with

 just

 Iranian friends I really

 I felt inside so much beauty and

 so much pride around this culture

 and and I had this experience that maybe

 kind of encapsulated it.

 Was um...There's this amazing place

 in Irvine, California um

 that is a food market/food hall.

 And I went there

 and whenever I go to LA I like to go to

 the you know food markets and shop

 Around. And

 I went to this place with this new

 awareness when I was researching my

 Persian cookbook. And you know looking to

 taste as many dishes as I could

 and so I you know got my order and I sat

 down with my tray in the little

 Cafeteria area. And I looked around and

 I looked like everyone else in

 the store and that had literally never

 happened to me before.

 And it was incredible! Not like you

 always have to have that all the time

 but

 it just really helped me get a better

 sense of myself.

 

MW

yeah that's amazing. so so like let's

let's

uh continue down that path a little bit

but maybe broaden it from your own

personal experience

um you you haven't just written your

book you also

write and and you you write about food

you

you've recently written an article about

who's soon going to be a guest on the

show and currently my favorite

uh ice cream chef loki um you know

talk about uh you know how that

experience

has has given you a perspective on how

important it is to represent

uh diversity in in the in the food

spaces i mean i feel like right now we

we are we are having a coming to terms

with uh embedded systems

of um preference and uh

you know quite frankly superiority uh

along ethnic and gender lines that are

uh that are not good for anybody they're

just not good for anybody

um like what talk a little bit about

like your writing

and and um you know how how you have

experienced

this now that that you have had these

experiences that are

um that make you feel proud and and you

know

your words beautiful which i think is

you know so important and so amazing for

everybody to see themselves as as

beautiful

um how how important is it that we we

do much more work to diversify around

around food

 

LS

well i love everything that you just

said and

it's so important and

so you were mentioning lokalani alabanza

have you have you tasted her ice cream

 

MW

Yes i have had

uh yes i have had it she's delivered it

i've eaten it

it's very good i haven't ordered seconds

because at some point you have to

realize like you're gonna have a real

issue with something

you know you're going to be eating it

instead of like i don't know oatmeal for

breakfast or something like that so

so uh yeah it's outstanding i

can't wait until i allow myself to order

it again yes

 

LS

yes oh my god well said yeah so

her ice cream is incredible um

but she and i when we met last fall

really connected because she also

through her food journey was

and is discovering her own identity yeah

um and and that is just it's so

important for everyone to be able

to do to feel like you know

your heritage has worth and

your heritage is worthy of being shared

and and that is you know what the

process that i went through and

the process that she's going through you

know

her grandmother grew up in tennessee

and passed down a lot of her food

traditions to loki and

um you know she's kind of now channeling

those things into these

beautiful ice creams that are so unique

and you know she's

adding a new voice to our landscape

absolutely and and that's valuable

that's valuable like

the more diversity we have the better

for all of us that's how we learn about

new exciting things

 

MW

yeah i mean you know quite frankly like

it's ju it

to me there's the there's the aspect of

of heritage that is so important for us

to

be able to embrace and and to use it to

counter sort of the the monolith

of the narrative that the media gives us

about people

that aren't us um but there's also this

opportunity for innovation which i like

absolutely

am passionate about and love and i have

to say like the

idea the image of

a black woman who's also an ice cream

chef

is just it's just so cool you know what

i mean like it's just like the coolest

image you know what i mean and like from

there

it's just like okay well if that can be

an image then all of the things you can

like build off of that image

you know what i mean

 

 

LS

 i know what you

Mean

 

 

MW

 like it just

opens up a possibility that

feels like it opens up another door in

the universe yes

you know what i mean that like wasn't

like forget the door was closed i didn't

even know the door existed

you know what i mean like i didn't even

know the door existed and now

it's like she's not you know she's not

just a black woman making ice cream

she's making it

with with cbd and and it's and it's

vegan and like which means i can eat it

and it's like

it's like whoa hold on 

 

LS

and and they're

flavors that

you've never even heard of before and

then you're like oh

this can be an ice cream i didn't even

think of that

 

MW

yes exactly uh it's unbelievable 

 

LS

and it just admit

we're all the richer for it

 

MW

absolutely absolutely okay you wrote a

book

uh and having worked five years on

a book i put authors man authors are

special people okay like it is

hard it is hard it was hard for me how

about that

how about that it may not have been hard

for you luisa but like for me

 

LS

Marcus it's hard i i feel like if you put out

something of worth

it was the process was hard like if

you're really

sharing some truth then like there's

some blood on the page and it was hard

 

MW

it is hard so

 

 Let's take some time to talk about your

 book ‘The New Persian Kitchen.’

 

 LS

 So yeah, so um... this book

 emerged out of my first cookbook which

 was a lot of like um

 seasonal eco-friendly recipes but I'm

 still really passionate about that kind

 of cooking.

 Um but I had a few persian family

 Recipes in that book

 and when I was just playing around with

 those and researching them

 I just said to myself oh my gosh I need

 to do a whole

 book on this because it's so beautiful.

 Um...

 so persian food has kind of had a

 reputation as being

 very very difficult to make. You know,

 women standing in front of the stove for

 hours and days and my thing was to kind

 of

 contemporize it a bit and simplify it

 for people.

 Um and you know maybe have some

 shortcuts in there and

 have like an emphasis on a lot of fresh

 ingredients

 and quick cooking. Um

 and so yeah it's just...

 gosh I don't know it's a pretty

 traditional format

 with you know the soups and salads but

 then

 you know we have really special things

 in Persian cuisine like

 kebabs. So there's a section on kabobs.

 There's a section on making persian rice

 because you know rice for Iranians is

 Like

 pasta for Italians. It's... it's a palette

 and I want you to color it however you

 Want.

 

MW

yes i want you to give me one

uh one key to making persian rice

um i am like a super rice fiend

oh yeah i'm a super so so here's the

deal i'm i'm uh

i'm coming up on a year of being being

plant-based it's been very good for me

because i

i like to fancy myself like a late in

life athlete

around martial arts and weightlifting

and stuff like that um 

 

LS

right on

 

MW

but what i have what i have really

embraced through that transition is

carbs i love carbs i ate them all the

time

all the time bread and rice and pasta

i love so much and i have

like like recently in in our house my my

wife and my son

have mastered making one of the simplest

things in the world which is just

chimichurri

and chimichurri on rice

 

LS

that's a meal right there 

 

MW

that's like my

last meal like it's the simplest thing

on earth

and that's what i want for my last meal

so having said all that

what is like tell me about persian rice

because i'm just

you know we talked about like how hungry

i'm getting that's what i'm getting

hungry for

 

LS

okay yeah here let's go on that hunger

Journey

 

MW

yes 

 

um so persian rice

it the final product when it's cooked

should be like the opposite of say a

chinese

sticky rice persian rice should be

fluffy

the grains should all be separated

and they should all be uniform and

unbroken

and it should be very very light

although it should be made

with a ton of fat usually

butter but you can do coconut oil you

could do ghee you can do

olive oil um and we always use the very

fine basmati

rice white basmati rice 

 

MW

okay 

 

LS

and you

know just

one trick one trick you can do to

achieve that nice fluffy texture

is to soak your rice in cold water

you can do it for an hour you can do it

overnight

either way you know stick it in the

fridge and forget about it and then

rinse it out in cold water and you'll

see all the starch

wash out with that

 

MW

 that's what i was

about to say yeah so

because it's the same thing with like

making like deep fried uh french fries

is like you know you you slice them up

and then you like soak them and all the

starch kind of gets pulled out

of them and so that allows them to be

fluffy and and stay separate yeah

 

LS

oh well yes well let me tell you

something marcus you can make the

crunchy rice on the bottom of the pot, tahdig

 with rice

and also potatoes 

 

MW

oh my gosh 

 

LS

you do a

layer of potatoes

first season with like a little turmeric

and saffron

and then you put rice over those

potatoes you let

that all fry a little bit in oil and

then you pile your fluffy rice on top

well it's in par cook and let that steam

and then you flip it over at the end and

you have golden potatoes and rice

on top of the fluffy steamed bits of

rice

so how about that

 

MW

 that sounds

 

LS

 you could

have that all by itself

 

MW

that sounds unbelievable and i i'm

pretty sure i have basmati rice i have a

ton of potatoes in the house right now

and i think that's that's dinner for the

night

i i think uh when the show is over

you're gonna give me a couple more tips

and i think i'm gonna

give that a first try um so before

before we started the show

uh you also were telling me i guess just

just recently of a new etsy

project that you've launched so let's

let's just touch on that really quickly

and then we'll then we'll wrap

 

 

LS

yes well i have some very special

persian

products that i sell one of them is

called

a rice bonnet and you put this bonnet

over the lid of the rice pot it looks

like a shower cap

for the bottom of the lid and you put it

on top

of the rice as it cooks and it soaks up

the steam and the condensation

so it gives your rice a chance to be

even

fluffier instead of having the

condensation drip back down and make it

you know sticky so that's one of the

things i sell on my etsy shop

it's actually a very traditional old

persian cooking tool

called called a dam coni but mine is

made with organic hemp and cotton

um so i have that and then i have a

persian spice set

that's all the really random

spices that you can't find at a grocery

store

like rose petals dried lime

barberries sumac and i've given so many

cooking classes where people are like

where do i get this where do i get that

so instead of telling you to go to 12

different stores

if you want you can order this beautiful

fragrant persian spice set that's one of

the things i have

um and then of course signed copies of

my cookbook

 

MW

love it that's amazing uh cool so i

think

that is a lot and uh i'm gonna start

making some stuff tonight but now i feel

like my rice is not gonna be as good

because i don't have the bonnet yet so i

need to

get the bonnet and then i won't have the

condensation going back into my rice and

it will be fantastic

i'm really excited about this 

 

LS

Yes

 

MW

 i'm

really excited about this lisa this was

uh this was amazing i told you 30

minutes goes really quickly

um any final uh just words of

encouragement for people who

may want to use this time where you know

quite frankly we're not going out as

much we're spending more time in our

kitchen

uh you know other than going to your

etsy shop and just

you know clean house fill up the cart

buy everything because that's everything

you're going to need you get the

cookbook you get the bonnet you get the

spices boom you're perfect but like

what other you know just uh just any any

words of wisdom or advice or

encouragement around uh exploring

uh you know new cuisines new cultures

you know in this time when quite frankly

uh we could use uh food as a vehicle to

open our minds in our hearts

 

 

LS

well you know if you have the time

and you're in nashville to go drive to

nolansville pike

to one of those wonderful restaurants

and they're all doing

curbside pickup and you know take out

go some of my favorite markets are

new raw's markets they have a whole

bakery in the back where they make bread

in these traditional ovens this

beautiful long flatbread

you can go in there pick up a bag of

that

they have they make kebab and stew and

you can take an order of that to go

actually they have the best shawarma

sandwiches um

but go like your people are probably

bored of having the same thing over and

over or you know going to just like

their local

pizza joint to get takeout like

go try something new and and go support

an immigrant-run restaurant because

those people need support right now

small businesses are having a hard time

hanging on so

you're not just doing a good deed but

you're actually gonna get a delicious

Meal

 

MW

i love it that is that is the perfect

guidance uh luisa thank you so much and

everybody out there

make sure to follow luisa uh at luisa

shafia right yeah 

 

LS

on instagram

 

MW

 yeah on

instagram

yeah uh and luisa.com um

if you haven't already and i've heard

from some people today that claim that

they're really good friends of mine but

they are like yeah i haven't gotten the

book i don't understand that create an

orchestrate it's in stores now you

already missed the best seller window

and the 99 cent deal

on kindle so shame on you uh but but

that's fine you can pay more for the

same thing

i'm cool with that uh no i'm just

kidding uh go grab it create an

orchestrate

out now the podcast you're watching it

live but it also is archived every

single day at marcus whitney's

audio universe wherever you get your

podcast and of course uh follow me

online subscribe

to the newsletter two worlds at marcus

whitney.com and at marcus whitney on all

social platforms

that's it i am not going to be back

tomorrow because uh my good friend

marquise

who was going to be on the show tomorrow

he's traveling and we just decided it

was too much stress

uh to like rush it tomorrow so he's

coming on august 5th so i'm taking the

day off which i probably need

uh but i have loved meeting up with

everybody uh

every day non-stop doing the show i will

be back on thursday and everybody out

there have a great day

and let's build the normal y'all peace

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