Question – Are humans predisposed to a particular course in life or are we free to choose which path suits us best? The middle road of this argument could be that while we may have predispositions, unless they are nurtured, it is possible to find one’s own way in life. Just because a family has owned a farm for generations does not mean that the oldest son has to become a farmer himself. Perhaps he longs for the big city and the limelight. But, on the other hand, if he were so inclined, the son in question could probably grow one heck of a bunch of tomatoes. Zov Karamardian is a prime example of being predisposed to a particular course in life as she could be described as the ultimate hostess. Zov is the chef and owner of Zov’s Cafe, Bistro, and Bakery. She opened the Bistro in 1987 and since then has added two more locations, the Cafe and Bakery.
Before opening her first restaurant, Zov began her training to become a chef and restaurateur at a very early age. Her grandmother was a private chef and Zov clearly remembers making pita bread as a child with her mother. She says that her grandmother and mother were excellent chefs and natural entertainers. Her family was a very large one and there were always people over to her house socializing with her parents. Because of that constant entertaining, Zov learned to cook and take on the role of hostess by watching her mother meticulously make soups and stews and serve them to guests.
From this environment of hospitality, Zov grew up and moved on to start her own family. She raised two children and stayed at home with them until they had both become young adults. Once the children had moved away to start their own lives, Zov began working in the purchasing department at the University of California, Irvine. Whenever possible, Zov would cater events out of her house because it was something she loved and had grown up doing. Soon she was so busy with the catering business, as are most great up-starts, that she either had to abandon the business altogether or start her own restaurant. Over time, one restaurant grew into three and a small dynasty was created.
All of her culinary experience was learned from her grandmother and mother or from cooking out of her house. She never attended a day of culinary school. Zov admits that she would have gone to culinary school if she had not been so deeply engrossed in cooking and entertaining from such a young age. From what she knows of culinary school, she believes that it teaches young cooks good time-management and proper techniques. Outside of that, she feels that everything else can only be learned from doing. Chef Zov says that her advice to aspiring culinary professionals is to work in a kitchen for a couple of years before deciding to go to culinary school. The time spent in the kitchen will give young cooks a chance to see firsthand what the industry is all about, and, if after that time they still are passionate about cooking, then they could enter a culinary school to refine their techniques. In short, she advises that aspiring cooks should be prepared to pay their dues and to always do their homework.
Zov admits that if she weren’t a chef she would be a teacher. She loves to share her knowledge of everything and she loves to mentor young cooks in her kitchen. In fact, Zov had the honor of being mentored by one of the culinary industry’s most beloved figures, Julia Child. Julia and Zov met at conferences held by an organization they were both members of. Over time, they became intimate friends and Julia would stay at Zov’s house when she visited Orange County from her home in Montecito, and Zov had the opportunity to stay with Julia at her house on occasion. The most memorable advice she ever got from the illustrious chef was that no matter what you planned to cook, whether it be a simple stew or an extravagant meal, make it the best as you can possibly make it.
Zov describes her style as comfort food classically prepared with contemporary Eastern Mediterranean flavors and techniques. It is very important for Chef to incorporate the tastes, smells, and techniques of her culture. One of her favorite things to cook is fish with vegetables while experimenting with the flavors. She also loves the slow cooking tajines offer and to utilize bold flavors in dishes such as her kabobs. Zov also has a special admiration for the humble nature of items such as preserved lemons. To her, items such as this were food “of the people.” Food preservation techniques, salting and curing meats, and slow cooking were all done out of necessity in days gone by because the people could ill afford wasting food. They had to make do with what they had and make it last as long as possible. Now, she finds that these techniques are becoming chic and people are coming to expect these flavors more and more.
Zov, of course, practices what she preaches and she definitely does her homework. In order to stay on top of the latest trends and styles, Zov makes regular trips to the Mediterranean; she attends seminars, and makes sure to keep in touch with the younger generations of cooks so as to discover any new flavors, styles or techniques that she can incorporate in her dishes. Currently she is into Blue Zones diet exploration. Blue Zones are regions of the world identified by scientists to show life averages extending into the 100s. Parts of the Mediterranean have been identified as such and Zov is focusing much of her attention on to what foods and techniques from this region lend to healthier lifestyles.
Whatever Zov is cooking in her Bistro, Cafe, or Bakery you can rest assured that she has explored it, studied it, and tested it well before it hits her patrons’ tables. Her innate talent and passion for providing the total experience to diners is what has made her such a natural success.
To view Chef Zov Karamardian’s Fried Haloumi recipe, visit our Recipes page.
Chef Zov Karamardian
WHAT IS YOUR ANNIVERSARY WITH THIS RESTAURANT? January, 1987.
WHAT IS THE RESTAURANT’S ANNIVERSARY? January, 1987.
AVERAGE NUMBER OF HOURS YOU WORK IN A WEEK: 65-70.
FIRST COOKING OR FOOD-REALTED MEMORY: My mother’s delicious soup and baked goods!
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB? Purchaser/Buyer for UCI Science Department.
WHAT FIRST INTERESTD YOU IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY? It’s in my blood and genes.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST HOSPITALITY JOB? My own restaurant!
IF NOT A CHEF, WHAT WOULD YOU BE? Teacher.
FAVORITE KITCHEN GADGET OR TOOL: Microplace, mortar and pestle, chef knives.
FAVORITE KITCHEN APPLIANCE: Food Processor.
FAVORITE TYPE OF COOKWARE: All Clad – Love their skillets!
FAVORITE CONDIMENT/SPICE: Harissa, preserved lemons, red pepper.
MOST RECOMMENDED KITCHEN TOOL AND SOURCE (ONLINE OR RETAIL SHOP) FOR HOME KITCHENS: Sur La Table.
MOST RECOMMENDED FOOD INGREDIENT SOURCE (ONLINE OR RETAIL SHOP) FOR FOODIES: www.artisanalcheese.com, it’s all about cheese, and www.confiserieflorian.com, the most amazing French preserved fruits and jams.
BIGGEST MYTH ABOUT WORKING IN THE KITCHEN: That it’s really fun and glamorous – it’s not!
SIGNATURE OR FAVORITE DISH TO MAKE: I like to cook slow-cooked food, tagines, soups and bread.
HOBBIES: Reading, experimenting with food, spending time with grandchildren, family and friends.
FAVORITE OC RESTAURANT: Marche Moderne in Costa Mesa.
FAVORITE DISH TO EAT: Anything on the menu!
FAVORITE JUNK FOOD: Potato chips.
FAVORITE RAW INGREDIENT: Garlic, olive oil, lemon, mint.
DO YOU WATCH FOOD TV? IF SO, WHICH PROGRAM(S) IS/ARE YOUR FAVORITE? Yes, I love watching Top Chef and Top Chef Masters.
FAMOUS CHEFS YOU’VE MET: Too many to mention!
CULINARY HERO(ES): My mentor and friend Julia Child.
WHAT OTHER PUBLICATIONS HAVE YOU BEEN FEATURED IN? Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, LA Times Magazine, OC Register, Westways Magazine and more.
YEARS OF CULINARY EDUCATION: Never went to culinary school.
OTHER EDUCATION: San Francisco State
PLACES TRAVELED TO EXPLORE AND LEARN ADDITIONAL CUISINES: Morocco, Vietnam, China, Armenia, plus Italy and all around Europe.
WHAT THREE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOUR CULINARY STYLE? I need more than three! Comfort food, updated classics, food with flavor, natural fresh foods, bold flavors, delicious, beautiful, contemporary, modern.
YEARS IN THE BUSINESS: 24.
PREVIOUS INDUSTRY EMPLOYERS: None.
CHARITY AFFILIATIONS: SPIN (Serving People in Need), Laura’s House, CHOC Hospital, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes, Heart Association
ZOV’S BISTRO 17440 E. 17TH ST., TUSTIN, CA
Mon-Sat: 11 am – 2:30 pm; 5 pm – 9:30 pm
By Chef Zov Karamardian
Tomato Herb Sauce:
2 T Olive oil
1 T Fresh garlic – chopped
1 T Fresh shallots – chopped
1 1/2 C Whole peeled tomato
2 T Fresh basil – chopped
1/2 t Salt and pepper
Pre-heat medium sauce pan with olive oil. Add garlic and shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato, basil and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper then use the blender and puree.
4 oz Pearl Couscous
Add couscous to a small pot of boiling salted water and cook for 5 minutes. Drain well, keep aside.
2 T Olive oil
2 t Fresh garlic – minced
2 t Fresh shallots – minced
4 ea Jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 oz Seabass – cut into 1″ cubes
4 ea Manila clams
4 ea Green mussels
1/2 t Chile flakes
1/2 C White wine
4 oz Couscous
3/4 C Tomato herb sauce
1/2 C Clam juice
1 T Unsalted butter
1/4 t Salt and pepper
2 T Fresh parsley – chopped
Pre-heat medium saute pan over the high heat. Add oil, garlic, shallots and chile flake, saute for 20 seconds. Add the shrimp and saute until almost cooked through, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the shrimp to a bowl and set aside. Add clams and mussels to the saute pan and toss to coat with the garlic and shallots. Add wine and reduce to half. Add tomato sauce and cook until most of the mussels and clams have opened, about 3 minutes. Add the sea bass, cooked shrimp and couscous to the sauce and cook until the fish is just cooked through and all the clams and mussels open, about 2 minutes. Stir in the butter. Pour the seafood in large pasta bowl and garnish with parsley.