Iranian-born chef Donia Bijan has lived a culturally-unique life. She was born in Iran, but fled the country as a child during the Islamic Revolution in 1978. She lived in Spain, attended college in California, and went to cooking school in Paris. As a chef, she has held jobs all over the kitchen, and even opened her own restaurant in San Francisco. But Bijan is not just a chef: she wields a word with the same precision and grace that she wields a knife.
In her memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie, Bijan invites the reader into her family and into her life. She tells stories of her childhood in Iran, playing in the halls of the hospital run by her parents.
Lovingly, she writes of her father’s hard work ethic, and his dream that she would one day follow his lead and enter into a life in medicine. As a child, Bijan took extended family vacations in Spain with her parents and sisters. The family cooked all of their meals together and her father taught Bijan the importance of getting good local produce.
After graduating college, she attended cooking school at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, against her father’s wishes. She subtly conveys the distance that grew between her and her father while she was away.
However, her mother is a consistent reservoir of strength. Their relationship is beautifully woven throughout the memoir. With her mother’s support, Bijan works her way up to owning her own restaurant in San Francisco. She is an international journeyer of the culinary world and her story is fascinating.
Lucky for us as readers, Bijan culminates each chapter of her life with a selection of recipes. The sour cherry upside-down cake of her youth in Iran or the roast rabbit that she learned to cook while at school in France are all deliciously intriguing pieces of the chef’s life story.
I don’t consider myself a chef by any means so, while I enjoyed the food-prose and the recipes, it is not what kept me turning pages. What I loved about reading Maman’s Homesick Pie was Bijan’s descriptions of the quiet mornings of her childhood on Spanish beaches, or the Sunday afternoons playing volleyball by the sea with family and friends.
Spending the day cooking and reading, reciting poetry and relaxing. To me, the book is about slowing down.
Bijan says in her book that, as an adult, it took the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 to get her to slow down. With no electricity and no communication, she could not run her restaurant. She was forced to relax.
Most often I eat quickly and cheaply for convenience, I am busy like every one of us is busy. However, I encourage you to take a break from the bustle and read Bijan’s culinary autobiography and slow down. Cook one of her recipes and savor the process. And be sure to call me if you have left-overs.