On the Line: Azmin Ghahreman of Sapphire, Part Two

Today's installment of our three-part Q&A with chef Azmin Ghahreman of Sapphire is one in which we get a little more personal with our subject and he tells us what George H.W. Bush asked for him to prepare. If you missed the first part, click here.  Come back tomorrow for Part Three–a recipe!
What show would you pitch to the Food Network?

I've got a fantastic idea! But I'm not telling. . . .

You're making an omelet. What's in it?
Oh, that's easy: shredded poached chicken, mushrooms, Gruyère and fine herb cream “à la grand-mere.”

You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Ripe tomatoes.

Weirdest customer request:
Papaya juice–you can get pulp from a papaya, but very little juice.

Favorite OC restaurant(s) other than your own:
Bluefin in Newport Beach for great, authentic food and L'Hirondelle in San Juan Capistrano for a casual night out with my wife and friends.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
To stick with your gut instinct, always.

What would your last meal on Earth be?
A magnum of Williams Selyem Pinot Noir and an 80-foot-long antipasto table.

Who's your hero? Culinary or otherwise?
My dad. He was such a big personality in our city. He was both a doctor and a lawyer. He helped everybody–he would go barefoot so someone who needed shoes could have them. Everybody knew him and loved him.

What cuisine that you are unfamiliar with would you want to learn more about and why?
North African street food–great flavors!

It has been four years since you opened Sapphire in Laguna. What have you learned in the past four years that you didn't know before you opened?
To be ready to surf any financial wave that might come, and to fight to stay afloat for my business, employees, family and the community. When you have all those people counting on you, you'll do everything you can to come through for them.

Would you have done anything differently? If so, what and why?
It's very hard to say because it's hard to predict, in retrospect, what the consequences of doing things differently might have been.


You've cooked for kings, presidents and heads of state. Care to share who was most difficult to please or any fun details?
The kings and presidents and powerful people of the world have tended to be the easiest guests to please. The hardest part about serving them is all the security that's involved: When you have a head of state visiting your property for two hours, you might have 40 security personnel scouring the place up to one week in advance, with snipers on the roof and metal detectors set up just to get into your own kitchen. Keeping the food hot as it goes through the sheer mechanics of getting from the kitchen to, in some cases, the food tester, and then to the king can be challenging.  

You've cooked for President George H.W. Bush. Do you remember what you prepared for him? Did you know not to serve broccoli?
President Bush requested pork fried rice. And no, no one told me about the broccoli, but it wasn't an issue.

Though you were born in Iran, you don't pigeonhole yourself by focusing on any one cuisine more than another. What kind of food do you and your family eat at home more than any other?
We tend to eat the children's favorite a lot: Persian rice with tahdig (plain basmati rice, with a crispy crust), accompanied by simple fish or meats and vegetables.

Getting back to Persian cuisine, where would you go in Orange County when you're really craving authentic Persian food?
Jozef Besharati's House of Kabob in Lake Forest, or his House of Kabob II that recently opened in Irvine.

Of all the countries you've been to, which food style sticks out the most in your memory and created the most indelible impression?
Malaysia, which is an amazing melting pot of Indo-Asian people and cuisine, with each of three major cultures and religions represented: Indian (Hindu), Malay (Muslim) and Chinese (Buddhist). I learned so much about food, flavor and balance during my years in Malaysia.

What dish would you tell Sapphire Laguna newcomers to try first?
Totally depends on the person–there's a best dish for every individual, and if I don't have it, I make it.

What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
Farming and running a general store.

What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about starting a career in food?
A few: 1. Never compromise. 2. Never lower your standards. 3. Never kill a fish twice (i.e., respect your ingredients). 4. LOVE WHAT YOU DO.

What do you see yourself doing in five years? 10 years?
In the next five years, I would love to expand my Sapphire At School program. In the next 10, develop a few more fun concepts.

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