Juliet and Persian New Year go way back.
Well, I guess we only have so far back to go on our corner of Washington and Webster streets, just a few blocks from home, where our little restaurant just celebrated its first birthday. Our company though, likes to claim the Persian celebration of spring as something of an anniversary.
We named Bread + Salt Hospitality in front of a full dining room on the first day of Noruz [Farsi. Literally, New Day. Colloquially, New Year], a thirteen day holiday beginning on the spring equinox. The dining room overlooked a cavernous, darkened ballroom at Cuisine En Locale, which would later become Once Lounge, but where Bread + Salt Hospitality would first, just over a year later, produce Gitana, a temporary restaurant celebrating classic and modern Spanish cuisine.
Katrina and I were still working long hours running a couple of the area’s notable restaurants. On that New Day, 2014, we announced to a full room of our biggest fans that at some yet undefined but not too far away date, we’d build a restaurant of our own together; and we intended to do so in the city where we live.
A week later (still Persian New Year), we packed the whole show up and took it on the road. Bread + Salt Hospitality presented Noruz to two sold out seatings in New York City. Manhattan. East Village. A neighborhood gem of a bar, Jimmy’s No. 43, put their evening in our hands. They kept a few seats open at the bar itself but otherwise shut down the place for us to try something new, very far from home. I cooked brunch and then boarded a bus to the city, where Katrina was already waiting, having driven down a few hours earlier in a Zipcar loaded top to bottom with a week’s worth of work and a dream. Six hours later, we filled that room twice. The next day we went back to work.
But it was only a couple of months before I worked my last shift in someone else’s kitchen. We took our little event production company and took on a more substantial calendar of catering and private party requests, and started knocking on doors. One of those doors we eventually leased for our restaurant, but it was a long march to get it renovated and ready.
Another Persian New Year came and went first. This one we spent cooking at the prestigious James Beard House [another New Year in New York], preparing their annual celebration dinner for the holiday. We brought along a team of five, almost our entire staff. In that year’s celebration, we looked around with as much confidence and hope as we had uncertainty about the future. This was our first event that wasn’t entirely self produced. On our first anniversary as a real company, the table was laid for us at the center of the American culinary establishment, and there was a place at that table for everyone who worked with us throughout that first year. Noruz 2015 was really something.
Katrina’s history with Persian New Year goes back much farther than Juliet’s, farther than Bread + Salt Hospitality’s, and certainly farther than my own. While my partner’s father, from Tehran, may not have espoused cultural identity and traditions as a rule; that rule did not apply to culinary heritage. Maybe you saw Katrina last month contributing to Bon Appetit Magazine on just that subject: Nobody Hosts Like An Iranian.
When she introduced me to this cuisine of her childhood (reintroduced really, but somehow I missed the point the first time around), I was immediately hooked. Surprisingly uncommon in a sea of trends that values cultural culinary mashups from the Arab world, Persian cuisine is a compendium of textures and colors applied to bright, fresh flavors. Persian cuisine, and specifically the meals built around mountains of fresh herbs folded with rose and scented with saffron of Noruz, is a perfect balance of extravagance (expensive spices, caviar, salads built entirely of herbs) and simplicity (rice, pickles, flatbreads) that would be the envy in design of any temple of high gastronomy. Although Katrina is quick to remind me that her father or her Amehs (Farsi: Aunts), would be horrified at my heavy hand with the saffron. I can’t help it, I love it, and I like to promote the cause of our farmers who grow the spice on repurposed opium poppy fields in Afghanistan (we purchase it via fair trade arrangements supported by a company born at Harvard Business School, Rumi Spice).
Last year I shifted left and right on my feet struggling to keep up with a steady stream of tickets printing during our busiest lunch to date, just about a month after opening Juliet. We weren’t yet serving dinner at all, just breakfast and “long lunch” seven days a week. I was open twelve hours a day and working almost twenty trying to keep up with ordering, inventory, prep lists, and cleaning without established systems, and without yet a manager or sous chef to lean on.
As I shifted nervously trying to remember which refrigerators which ingredients were waiting in and which sandwiches required which breads, Andrew Knowlton took a seat at the counter directly in front of me. I had no idea he was Andrew Knowlton, editor of Bon Appetit, at the time. Although I did suspect he was somebody. The guy wouldn’t stop asking questions that I really didn’t have time for. And so politely too… Something was off. But I made time, of course. We usually do.
I had no idea that was Andrew, or that Andrew was on official magazine business. I had no idea that a few months later he would name us to the magazine’s annual list of the 50 best new restaurants in the country, based largely on the strength of that Persian New Year lunch. We were overreaching a bit that week, but we didn’t want to miss out on our annual tradition. We held on though, and it paid off. It usually does.
Anyway, here we are. One year post being named to the best in the country, two years post serving dining culture big shots, three years post deciding to leave our jobs and turn our attention to creating jobs instead; another Noruz.
This year will be our biggest New Year production yet. Four years in the making. With six full performances, Thursday through Saturday, this week and next. I’ve been developing the menu for years, back and forth for audiences across two cities. We spent a lot of time bringing this event to you, and we’re very excited this year to simply bring you to us. Although I wouldn’t wait to make those reservations, they are nearly full. Happy New Year.