'Iranian cuisine has been one of the most spectacular discoveries that I have experienced in all the years that I have practiced this trade. You don't eat this, you savor it' — Jean-Pierre Coffe, French Cook to TV host of Vivement Dimanche presentator Michel Drucker
France and Persia have had a long history of mutual love and admiration for one another. The country of such authors as Montesquieu and Voltaire who gained fame for their philosophical and politically subversive tales respectively of The Persian Letters and Zadig, has always been fascinated by the Exotic Land of Persia ever since the flamboyant visit of the Persian Ambassador of Shah Abbas the Great to the court of the Sun King Louis XIV of France. A painting displayed to this day at the sumptuous Palace of Versailles immortalized the souvenir of this historical visit that was to seal the ties between the two countries. France was also to become the favorite destination of Persian Aristocrats of the Qajar dynasty (Mozzaferedin Shah was to make a memorable visit to Contrexeville at the turn of the Century) and later that of most Iranian students and intellectuals seeking further education and inspiration. That was the case of the doomed Persian Poet and writer Sadeg Hedayat who died in Paris due to a drug overdose and who is buried at the famous Cemetery of Père-Lachaise. While French schools like Le Lycée Razi or Lycée Jeanne D’Arc were to flourish in Tehran and other cities of Iran, French culture and Art de Vivre were to penetrate into the Persian middle class. The last Iranian Prime Minister of Imperial Iran, Shapour Bakhtiar, was to join the French Resistance during WWII and live a fruitful but short marriage to a beautiful French lady, little could he have suspected that he would one day die assassinated in the calm outskirts of his favorite city. The late Fereydoune Hoveyda co-founder of the famous film critic magazine Les Cahiers du Cinéma was to befriend Iranian expat later turned revolutionary Serge Rezvani who was to compose two of the most famous music scores of the French New Wave films of Truffaut and Goddard: Jules et Jim and Pierrot le Fou that were to immortalize for the Silver Screen the then beautiful Jeanne Moreau and the future International French Star Jean Paul Belmondo. A shy student of the French Beaux Arts called Farah Diba could hardly imagine that she would one day meet her future husband during an informal visit to the Iranian Embassy in Paris, nor could she imagine that their love at first sight was to shape the destiny of an entire nation to the peaks of glory and to the fatal end of 25 centuries of Persian Monarchy. If the country of France’s Liberator Charles De Gaulle was to enthusiastically greet the newly wed Royal couple of Iran in the early 1960’s, The country of Robespierre and Danton was to equally join the revolutionary fervor of the Islamic revolution of 1979 that brought to international spotlight the French Residence of Neuphle Chateau and host the Ayatollah Khomeiny...
Fortunately culture and mutual respect between the two peoples have survived the Winds of Change that blows on the international Arena of politics. Symbolic gestures have regularly been demonstrated over the years as in 1997, when Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami was to receive the Palme D’Or at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, from the hands of the beautiful French Star Catherine Deneuve or nearly a decade later Juliette Binoche the Oscar winner of the English Patient was to visit the Persian film maestro’s country and express her admiration for its fascinating culture and people.
The French educated Marjane Satrapi has also become the cultural icon of an entire generation with her French Comic book Persepolis soon to become a major animated film, which has been translated in several languages except paradoxically into its native language Persian. If a dialogue of civilizations is so essential in our times and particularly between Persia/Iran and France it was high time to celebrate it at the table of a Persian Chef who in the words of the Great French Chef Jean-Pierre Coffe “has introduced one of the unique and exquisite culinary experiences of my lifetime.”. A lover of the Arts and former student of the Beaux Arts, Shirazi Cook Ali Tavassoli has been drawing French and Persian Celebrities to his table ever since his participation to a popular TV show Vivement Dimanche a few years ago on the invitation of Iran’s former Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi who was promoting her autobiography “Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah”. Mazeh and its extension So Rice are two of his Restaurants set in the heart of Paris in the 15ème arrondissement. It also has a take away by the same name of Mazeh, which is situated at La Rue des Entrepreneurs (see below). The man with a dignified white beard that looks like one of the immortal guards sculpted in Persepolis will greet you with a pleasant smile, warmth and simplicity very much appreciated by the French clientele of the eternal city …
Impassioned by cuisine, Ali Tavassoli discovered the importance of gastronomy and made his first culinary creations amongst family and friends who, over time, persuaded him to pursue what had by then become a true passion. In the beginning, the circle of admirers was an intimate one but the circle quickly expanded to include those impassioned by gastronomy— faithful fans who followed with great interest his Persian cuisine. Tavassoli tried to add a personal touch to each dish and soon created new flavors and colors that have earned him the envied title of The Andy Warhol of Persian Cuisine.
Over the years, Tavassoli has become the preferred caterer of Shahbanou Farah on her visits to Paris and who recognized in him the essence of Iranian cuisine's gastronomic personality — a rare cuisine which, in its traditional form, offers a wide variety of flavors, flavors from another world! Saffron, pomegranate juice, dried lime from Shiraz, green dates, herbs, plums, white melons … dreams and imagination flirt with fantasy, the poetry of creation with the basics of gastronomy. Situated not far from some of the major TV Studios like those of France 2™ and Canal Plus™, more and more French Show-biz personalities are also discovering this new cuisine where rice is cooked as no where else: Philippe Gildas, Antoine de Caunes, Fanny Cotençon, Michel Field, intellectual Michel Polac, or legendary Louis de Funès’ favorite partner the no less great Comédie Française actor Michel Galabru. His table has reconciled Iranians of all backgrounds and social circles. If you go to Mazeh It would not be surprising to bump into Uncle Napoleon’s author Iradj Pezeshkzad speaking philosophy with French War correspondent Jean Bertolino over a good Chelo Kebab Soltani , Canal Plus’ literary and film critic Journalist Michel Field order a Joojeh Kebab with its smoothly marinated basil sauce or actor Bernard Giraudeau taste the latest Sorbet à la Concombre aka Cucumber Ice-cream Sherbert recently patented by Ali Tavassoli and Son at the recently opened So Rice restaurant.
So next time you hop into Paris make sure to take your friends or family to one of the two restaurants held by the Persian Cordon Bleu. You are sure to enjoy the food and also why not speak philosophy with Uncle Napoleon himself!!
Vive L’Amitié Franco-Persane!
Bon Appetit-Noosheh Jan!
Photo 1: A taste of Persia in Paris
Photo 2: Persian Cook to French and Persian Celebrities in Paris’ Mazeh Restaurant ©Ali Tavassoli, Mazeh