Spice News: Why Southern Chefs Love the Iranian Saffron King

While the food world remains in thrall to all things local, an Iranian spice merchant is swimming against the tide, tempting American chefs with fragrant saffron, rose petals and exotic fruit from the farthest corners of the globe.

Behroush Sharifi, photographed by Con Poulous for Food&Wine.

Behroush Sharifi, photographed by Con Poulous for Food&Wine.


“I have the opposite of what everyone thinks they’re looking for,” says Behroush Sharifi, a.k.a. The Saffron King. “They’re looking for fresh and local. What I have is dried and global. My job is to encourage chefs to marry the two.”

In “The Saffron King and His Amazing Journey,” (Food & Wine, September 2010), Emily Kaiser traces the unlikely trajectory of Behroush Sharifi, an Iranian who spent his early years in London and Little Rock, Arkansas, before setting his sights on New York. After the birth of his daughter, Saffron Rain, in 2001, Sharifi, “a stay-at-home father,” decided to try importing spices from his homeland. His first product was Iranian saffron, his first customers chefs from New Orleans where he had attended the spring Jazz Fest for almost 20 years.

Southern chefs continue to be the biggest buyers for a line that has expanded to include spices such as coriander, cardamom, and cumin as well as rose petals, Afghan apricots and barberries. Justin Devilliers of La Petite Grocery in New Orleans, explains the allure: “Over the past few centuries, [Southern] food has been influenced not only by American Indians, but by the French and Spanish in New Orleans, and West Indians and African Americans across the South. Especially along the Gulf Coast and the Southern Atlantic Coast, you get a lot of those flavors.”

Devillers shares a modern twist on classic cheese straws, spiced with cardamom instead of cayenne. Other Southern-style recipes with Persian spices include Sugar and Spice Skillet-Roasted Duck Breasts (John Besh, Restaurant August), Grilled Corn with Aleppo-Pepper Aioli (Eric Ziebold, Sou’Wester) and Coconut Cake with Saffron Cream (Tyler Brown, Capitol Grille at The Hermitage Hotel).

To learn more about Behroush Sharifi, see “An Uncommon Thread” by William R. Snyder (The Wall Street Journal, September 9 2009). And to read about Jean Marie Thiercelin, a Paris spice maven who imports amazing saffron from Khorasan in eastern Iran, please go to “The Marco Polo of Saffron” right here on SpiceLines.

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