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Iranian heritage on your plate: meet alumnus Sepehr Sarlak

Sepehr Sarlak

Sepehr Sarlak is an Iranian chef with a deep attachment to the history and heritage of the region where he was born, Isfahan. Inspired by his passion for art, he turned to the culinary world after working as an engineer on oil rigs. He now owns two restaurants where he blends French culinary techniques with traditional Iranian cooking styles, seeking to create a harmonious fusion on the plate.

Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Sepehr Sarlak, and I was born in Iran, where the prevailing societal expectation is for children to pursue careers in engineering or medicine. Accordingly, I initially studied chemical engineering and began my professional journey as an engineer on offshore oil rigs. However, my inherent passion for art, heavily influenced by the rich cultural heritage of Isfahan province where I was born, steered me towards a different path. 
Inspired by my love for art and encouraged by a friend, I transitioned into the culinary world. Cooking, to me, embodies the essence of artistry. This shift marked the beginning of my culinary journey as I immersed myself in learning and refining my skills, driven by a deep-seated passion for culinary arts.

Why did you decide to study at Le Cordon Bleu Paris?
After embarking on my culinary journey at my friend's restaurant, I quickly realized the depth and complexity of culinary arts. Recognizing the need for comprehensive training—from mastering foundational techniques to delving into advanced principles—I sought an institution that would provide unparalleled excellence in culinary education. 
Le Cordon Bleu stood out as the pinnacle of world-class culinary schools. Its renowned reputation and commitment to culinary excellence made it an obvious choice for me. Additionally, the school's exceptional support throughout the entire process—from assisting with the visa application, which involved a meticulous 5 to 6-month process, to welcoming me as a freshman—underscored their dedication to nurturing aspiring chefs like myself. 

What is your favorite memory from your adventure at Le Cordon Bleu Paris?
One of the most transformative aspects of my journey at Le Cordon Bleu was experiencing the school as a culinary Hogwarts—a place of boundless innovation, discovery, and generosity. The school introduced me to innovative techniques and ingredients that were entirely new to me, expanding my culinary horizons beyond what I had ever imagined. 
What truly stood out was the unwavering support and generosity of the teachers and staff. Their mentorship went beyond the classroom, as one of my instructors even helped me secure a position at a prestigious Parisian restaurant, marking the beginning of my career as a trained chef. 
All of these profound experiences unfolded in less than a year, highlighting the intensive and transformative nature of the education I received at Le Cordon Bleu. It was more than just a memory; it was a life-changing experience that shaped my culinary journey.

What have you accomplished since graduating from Le Cordon Bleu Paris?
After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu, I began my culinary career at a Parisian restaurant where I honed my skills in a high-pressure kitchen environment, gaining invaluable experience. Upon returning to my home country, I secured positions in prestigious establishments, including a renowned French-style patisserie and boutique hotels near the French embassy in Tehran. 
Driven by a passion to innovate, I launched my own restaurant, 'L'Atelier de Sepehr Sarlak,' offering a unique set menu an unconventional approach in Iran. I infused the innovative techniques I learned in Paris with local Iranian ingredients, creating dishes that celebrated both tradition and innovation. 
Following an incident in Iran that prompted a change, I seized the opportunity to expand my culinary venture. I opened my second restaurant, significantly larger than 'L'Atelier de Sepehr Sarlak,' showcasing my commitment to culinary excellence and innovation on a broader scale.

What is your most famous dish?
One of the standout dishes that sparks intrigue and debate among diners in Iran is my unique presentation of 'kaleh pacheh,' traditionally made with the head, feet, and face of a sheep. Recognizing the polarizing nature of this dish, I reimagined its presentation to challenge perceptions. The revamped dish has captivated both first-time tasters and skeptics alike, surprising them with its deliciousness. 
Another notable dish on my menu is one featuring calf's brain, which has garnered a dedicated following of fans who appreciate its distinctive flavors and textures. 
In the realm of desserts, my restaurant has become a destination for patrons seeking unique sweet experiences. We offer a variety of desserts that have attracted a loyal customer base.

What's the secret to your success?
The key to my success can be distilled into three essential elements: hard work, perseverance, and ambitious goals. These principles serve as my guiding light, especially during challenging times when exhaustion and pressure tempt me to consider giving up. 
In Iran, we face unique challenges that may seem trivial in other countries. However, my unwavering commitment to hard work and perseverance fuels my determination to overcome obstacles and strive for excellence. 

An advice to share to a future student who wants to work in gastronomy?

My advice to future students pursuing a career in gastronomy is to begin your journey by working in a restaurant led by a trained, professional, and experienced chef. Instead of immediately aiming for positions like sous chef after completing your course, start at a lower level in a well-disciplined restaurant that follows a clear concept and system. 
Starting from the ground level allows you to gain invaluable insights into the workings of a kitchen and the challenges faced by your fellow colleagues. This experience will enable you, as a future chef, to make informed and empathetic decisions when leading a team. 
Additionally, remember that the food industry encompasses more than just becoming a head chef. During internships or work experiences, explore different sectors within a restaurant to understand which areas resonate with you the most. Experiment and discover your niche within the food industry, whether it's in the kitchen, front-of-house, pastry, or management.

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