Ara Zada is an Armenian entrepreneur and chef shaking up the world of cuisine. With his signature phrase, “Abbowwww,” Ara produces videos of traditional Armenian recipes with a modern twist. Currently, he’s doing a fundraiser to help our brothers and sisters from Artsakh. He is one of the authors of the recipe book Lavash, along with John Lee and Kate Leahy. With the same co-authors, Ara’s book Artsakh was published in 2021 and is sold on Etsy with proceeds benefiting Hayk For Our Heroes. Hayk For Our Heroes, in collaboration with All for Armenia and Veterans of Armenia, is providing humanitarian aid to the displaced families of Artsakh.
Talar Keoseyan (T.K.): Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
Ara Zada (A.Z.): I was born and raised in Los Angeles. My mom is Armenian from Egypt, and my dad was Armenian from Jerusalem. I grew up doing a lot of extreme sports and music, but my heart was always in the kitchen.
T.K.: How did the idea for Lavash come up, and what was the process?
A.Z.: When I first went to Armenia, I realized I didn’t know much of the food. Everything I grew up with was Western Armenian and was more influenced by the countries of the diaspora. When I met my co-authors, Kate Leahy and John Lee, we decided to write a cookbook highlighting Armenian cuisine from Armenia. We decided to travel to Hayastan and go village to village gathering recipes. That way, nobody will argue with us saying, “That’s not how it’s done.” We basically said, this is how we were taught in Armenia, and this is what they are currently making.
T.K.: You make everything look so easy on the Instagram tutorials. What motivated you to start with those?
A.Z.: Last year I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I had surgery back in October, and after I recovered, I really wanted to show the world what I have to offer. One of the best things is that most people are afraid of cooking the classic dishes they grew up with. I decided to show the world these recipes in a fun, quick way and also put a little modern twist on them to make it more inviting for younger people to cook.
T.K.: You’re very passionate about food. How did this come about?
A.Z.: I have loved food since a very young age. The nickname my Dede gave me as a child was “Kol-Kol,” which means eat-eat in Arabic. My mom and grandma were great cooks, and I always wanted to be in the kitchen with them – although the one thing I really wanted to do was flip a knife like Peter Pan. My mom told me, the only way to touch a knife was to cook with her, so I started cutting up salads. That was basically my intro.
T.K.: You also collaborate with other content creators and influencers. Can you tell us more?
A.Z.: I’ve collaborated with a lot of content creators, which is always extremely fun! I like to fuse what they do with parts of what I do and come up with interesting new food concepts. I think fusion food is the future, because it adapts what people already know to something new that they might not have tried. Also, it lets people understand new cultures through food. As far as business ventures go, I have a Spice Rub line that I’m going to be releasing soon, and I have my woodworking business @VayreniBurns that I started as a hobby during COVID, where I make serving boards and furniture. I burn them using 15,000 volts of electricity.
T.K.: You just hit 50K on Instagram. How does that feel?
A.Z.: It’s been a wild ride to 50K, but I’m loving every minute of it. The support and love has been overwhelming! I get stopped on the streets sometimes, people saying hello, taking pictures, telling me how they love the videos and to keep it up. All in all, it’s really fun.
T.K.: Where do you envision yourself in ten years?
A.Z.: In 10 years, I’m hoping to have my own show on a primetime channel, showing the world what I love and inspiring people to never give up on their dreams.
T.K.: What is your message to entrepreneurs?
A.Z.: Keep pushing, keep focusing on what you love, and if you truly believe in it, don’t let all the haters drag you down.
Ways to connect with Ara Zada:
YouTube Channel @ChefAraZada
TikTok @Chefarazada #PeaceForArmenians