The Dubai-based Iranian-American chef Ariana Bundy has done what many chefs and cookbook authors secretly aspire to: star in her own cookery and travel series. The first episode of her eight-part series, called Ariana's Persian Kitchen, debuts Friday, May 8, on Nat Geo People and will be broadcast in Asia, the Middle East and much of Africa. It comes three years after the release of her award-winning cookbook Pomegranates and Roses: My Persian Family Recipes. In her television debut, which is a self-funded project and for which she employed local filmmakers in Iran, Bundy travels and eats her way across the country to rediscover her heritage. Filmed over two years, the result is an intimate glimpse of the people, culture and cuisine of Iran.
What inspired your love of cooking?
My grandparents grew fruits and vegetables and reared sheep on a commercial scale. That’s where my grandfather’s livelihood was from. They owned lots of land, so I basically saw farm-to-table happen in front of my eyes. And my father was a restaurateur. When I finally got into the business, I realised it’s actually in my blood.
How does Iranian food differ from other Middle Eastern cuisine?
It is exotic but quite familiar. You can find all the ingredients at your local store: saffron, turmeric, beans, rice, pulses, vegetables and fruits. There are lots of vibrant herbs, lots of nuts – but very delicate, so no chillies, no overuse of spices. The interesting thing about Iranian food is the play of flavours. You’ve got pomegranates and walnuts or orange, chicken and cinnamon. It’s basic ingredients, but put together in a way that makes it really spectacular.
Why did you want to do a television show on Iranian cuisine?
Cookbooks are fantastic, but I think the visual aspect of this series helps people learn about Iran through its food. I feel like it really brings out the message in a clear, visual way. In the show, we have women cooks, women tour guides, women bloggers, women who are projected in a positive light and actively doing things. There’s a lot of information packed into each episode.
What did it take to put together eight episodes?
We had about 15 people in the crew. A couple of cameramen, a make-up artist, a producer and runners. We’d get on a bus and travel around the country. We did it for two years. I wanted to capture the different seasons. Editing was difficult because I couldn’t find an editor who spoke very good English. It took a very long time to put together. We would spend two weeks in Iran shooting, then leave and go back two months later and do another shoot.
• Catch the world premiere of Ariana’s Persian Kitchen on Nat Geo People on Friday, May 8 at 4.50pm