7 rising Armenian chefs who are making a mark on L.A.’s food scene
For decades, Armenian immigrant food in Los Angeles was the hospitable shop skewering varieties of kebab, charring lahmadjoon in a brick oven or slicing shawarma onto pita bread, sumac and roasted garlic puncturing the air, streaming from the vertical rotisserie out to the sidewalks.
When a genocide and political turmoils forced millions of Armenians out of their homeland, their culinary heritage met influences from the Middle East and other countries where they found refuge. They carried those traditions — some old, others more recent — all the way to the United States, where food became one of the most important and defining facets of the community. As the Armenian community in Los Angeles grew to become one of the largest outside of Armenia, it became more and more difficult to distinguish Armenian food as a whole.
Crista Marie Ani Aladjadjian, founder of Mezze Spices, an ethically sourced spice collection that pays tribute to her Syrian Armenian heritage, says: “To me, Armenian food is a foundation of certain flavors, and then building off of that, a sort of seamless fusion with other cultures that were so hospitable to us as a people. In return we’ve kept and preserved their culinary heritage through our cooking.”
Over the last decade, a new generation of Armenian chefs and restaurateurs has emerged, eager to break boundaries and expand the cuisine‘s narrative by bringing in new flavors and spices. Take Ara Zada, chef and co-author of “Lavash,” a cookbook that explores the flatbread that’s so integral to Armenian cuisine. Zada and comedian Jack Assadourian Jr. went viral earlier this year when the pair began releasing cooking tutorials for unique Armenian Mexican dishes, including a “lahmarito,” or burrito with rounds of lahmajune, spiced basturma meat, hummus and traditional fillings of carne asada, Mexican rice, pico de gallo and salsa, all wrapped in lavash.
“If we stick to traditional food and don’t acclimate to what is trendy, I think our food will get lost,” said Mary Keledjian, the supervising culinary producer for “MasterChef.” “There is a special place in keeping traditions alive and [cooking something] exactly as it is supposed to be. And there is this other spectrum of mixing Armenian food with different styles. It’s the way forward.”
As sons and daughters of first- and second-generation Armenian immigrants entered into the culinary world, they kept in mind the flavors cherished by their parents while embracing all the diversity that a city like L.A. offers. The chefs and restaurants highlighted here serve as pioneers in the transformation of Armenian immigrant cuisine, drawing influence from California’s seasonality, local food cultures and more.
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