For Reyna Simnegar, author of Persian Food from The Non-Persian Bride, the story of how she developed a passion for Persian food is as much a part of her cookbook as its recipes or stunning photography. Reyna’s story begins when a young, beautiful, college student from Venezuela falls in love with a handsome, Jewish guy from LA who happens to be Persian. Her journey in learning to cook Persian cusine was to be a ‘gift’ to her now husband Sammy. It was her soon to be mother in-law who first taught Reyna how to prepare traditional Persian food.
Reading Persian Food from The Non-Persian Bride is what an IRT (in real time) visit with Reyna must be like. Her book is filled with funny stories about her five sons, why she converted to Judiasm and its influence on her life all the while integrating recipes from family and friends. Please enjoy our interview-chat with Reyna Simnegar.
Diva Foodies: Persian Food from The Non-Persian Bride is a beautiful cookbook that tops over 350 pages. It’s quite obvious that a lot of time and caring went into the writing and development. How long did it take to complete?
Reyna Simnegar: It took over one year to complete…I was taking my time so thank goodness for my publisher (Feldheim) putting deadlines on me, otherwise we might still be waiting for it! When It was done, I had a party and invited all those that collaborated recipes and everyone that was invested in the project.
Diva Foodies: I bet that was a great time with wonderful food! As a first time cookbook author what were some of your challenges researching and writing and producing Persian Food from The Non-Persian Bride?
Reyna Simnegar: I wasn’t sure of what format to use…I have never written a book! Thank goodness for my creative Art Director, Amanda Nugent, because she was of huge help in that regard. It also took a long time to create and test recipes because people had these recipes passed down for many generations and there were no measurements.
Reyna Simnegar: I included first my children’s favorite dishes (because this was a book that was not meant to be massed published…this is a very a personal cookbook) When I realized it was going to be published I decided to include the most popular Persian recipes along with some pretty hard-to-find ones.
Diva Foodies: There are many home cooks that have interesting ideas for cookbooks. What advice would you give the wanna be cookbook author?
Reyna Simnegar: Many people tell me they want to write a cookbook too. I tell them “don’t want, just do”
Wanting will never get it done. You have to believe in yourself and use all your resources and just get it done.
Diva Foodies: Which ‘professional’ cook most inspired you when you began to explore writing a cookbook? What did you incorporated into Persian Food from The Non-Persian Bride?
Reyna Simnegar: Poopa Dweck author of Aromas of Aleppo was a huge inspiration. I wanted to not just write a cookbook but to do good with it. She inspired me to donate all my personal proceeds from this cookbook to charity. Just like she does with her own cookbook.
You can see her book’s influence in the design and structure of the cookbook. Her book is focused on Syrian culture/cuisine and really it is the ultimate Syrian Kosher cookbook. I wanted mine to become the ultimate Persian Kosher cookbook.
Diva Foodies: With the holiday of Pesach (Passover) quickly approaching, what is your favourite dish to serve and why?
Reyna Simnegar: Rice! Of course! I love being able to serve rice on Pesach because I feel tremendously proud of my Sephardic heritage.
Diva Foodies: Often Passover falls on my birthday. Although I love the holiday I must admit I’ve had too many boring sponge cakes. Any ideas for a delicious Passover birthday cake?
Reyna Simnegar: How about something a little healthier than cake? How about some saffron date spheres? How about rice cookies? Almond brittle? Walnut stuffed dates? I think cake is over-rated. Persians are known for their fabulous entertainment touches. Along with cardamom Persian tea they serve a variety of sweets…almost like a stunning Middle Ester Tapas! I would rather have a few decadent bites of glorious variety than just one slice of cake 😉
Diva Foodies: Delicious ideas Reyna! Persian Food from The Non-Persian Bride is as much about your family’s story as it about the food you love. What was your family’s reaction to having their story told throughout the book?
Reyna Simnegar: Incredibly enough I had to change a few names and hide a few identities. Like I said it is a very personal cookbook and many stories and from about my in-laws. They were all cool with that. However, when it came to dealing with political ideologies, I had to be careful because my husband still has family in Iran. I would not want to put anyone in danger.
Diva Foodies: Which of your sons likes to cook and bake with you the most? Why do you think that he enjoys it so much?
Reyna Simnegar: Yosef is the chef. He is the one in the picture looking down. He loves to cook. I honestly think he just likes the creative process and he loves the accolades that come with having cooked something. We also enjoy the time together very much.
Diva Foodies: Baking and cooking with children can be a joy and sometimes a bit of a challenge. In life we learn from many people. What lessons did your son/s teach you by sharing the kitchen together?
I think what has helped me as a mother is to finally understand that with kids in the kitchen there will ALWAYS be a mess.
I have accepted that something will burn, break, and spill. I learned once from a wonderful Jewish parenting class that a mother always needs to know her “script”. In other words, if you know what’s coming you will be ready to react with grace and accept it with a smile. Of course, some times I massively regret ever letting them into the kitchen LOL!
Diva Foodies: With TV programs like Masterchef Junior (Fox) and Baking Champions (Food Network) TV food shows quickly becoming popular with both kids and adults.As a popular cookbook author and a mom, what are your thoughts about kid food TV competition shows?
Reyna Simnegar: We don’t have a TV at home. The best decision I have made in my life. My kids are all bookworms.
Diva Foodies: Seems like you’ve been speaking at many different events about Persian Food from The Non-Persian Bride. What foodie question comes up the most in your Q&A? And of course as a follow-up … how do you address it?
Reyna Simnegar: Why is Saffron so expensive? That is always a popular question. Well, it takes an orchard the size of a football field and 40 hours of hand labor to acquire just a pound of saffron. It has been the most expensive for thousands of years…since the time of the Gemara.
Diva Foodies: You have several social media, we like to call them assets, e.g. Blog, Twitter, Facebook and even a YouTube Channel. How are you using digital and social media to extend your brand for your cookbook? What is working best for you and why?
Reyna Simnegar: Honestly, the most precious “asset” I have encountered is word of mouth. Most of my customers from shows and talks come to me because they have heard of someone wither having a blast at one of my demos or a truly inspirational experience from one of my talks. I mostly use Instagram and feed Facebook and Twitter with it. Most of my posts have nothing to do with food. I noticed people don’t want to be bombarded with advertising (including myself) so I simply share my everyday life moments and my personal hobbies. I also share the places where I will be doing demos and talks. My cookbook brand is me surviving in the Persian world. The food is just the icing on the cake. J
Diva Foodies: In addition to cooking delicious Persian Kosher food, I understand you are an accomplished painter.
How do the visual arts inspire your creation of new recipes?
Reyna Simnegar: That is the nicest compliment. Thank you! I went to school for Interior design and had to take a lot of art classes. Painting is like gardening to me. It relaxes me and fills me with joy. I love art. I am also a makeup artist and did all the food styling for the cookbook. I think that is where the visual arts came in handy. I need the food to look gorgeous. I have a huge appreciation of aesthetics and see beauty in everything.
Diva Foodies: Your work is beautiful! On the flip side of that question, how does the culinary world inspire your art?
Reyna Simnegar: When I serve food it has to look stunning. My table has to look like a king is invited (funny I said that because HRH Prince Reza Pahlavi (crowned Prince of Iran) was once at my house for dessert). I see food styling as a wonderful way to express myself artistically.
Diva Foodies: What’s on the horizon for you Reyna?
Reyna Simnegar: Working on a Latin American Kosher cookbook…mostly South of the Ecuator. The dessert chapter almost swallowed me alive but I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I spoiled my Mother-in-law with a Persian cookbook now it is time to spoil my Mom.
Diva Foodies: Love it! As is our tradition at Diva Foodies, we’re tossing the virtual mic to you Re. Wrap it any way you’d like!
Reyna Simnegar: That’s cool! Loved the interview and the questions. Thank you so much for the chance of getting to know each other better. When I buy a cookbook the first place I put it is on my night table. I spend time reading it front to back.
I want to see beautiful pictures, interesting text and wonderful story… I want it to have a soul. That is what I hope I give all the people that purchase my cookbook. A good laugh and a lot of soul J
Diva Foodies: Pleasure was ours Reyna. I’d say you succeed on all accounts!
Special thanks to Sandy Swartz for the introduction.
Vilna Shul, Boston’s Center for Jewish Culture, will be hosting Reyna for a Purim cooking celebration on 2/26/15 .
Disclaimer – we recevied a complementary copy of the book; however, all opinions are those of the author of the post.