In December 2007, Atoosa Sepehr arrived within the UK from Iran, realizing nobody, her life forward a transparent area, a clean sheet. She was 30 years previous, fleeing a disastrous marriage and her escape – extra of which later – had been an in a single day flit. She’d packed in below an hour, been pushed to Tehran at velocity by her mom, purchased a ticket and raced via departures.
She landed in a London lit up for Christmas, the crowds buzzing. “That did give me a boost, it was beautiful, everywhere was bright, everyone was celebrating,” says Sepehr. “I felt some hope – like this could be home – but no one was talking to me and that was hard. In Iran, wherever you go, people talk to you as if they’ve known you for years. I was very down, scared and homesick.”
Alone, in a flat in north London, Sepehr started to cook dinner. “Until that point in my life, I’d just cooked food,” says Sepehr, “however now, I needed my mum’s meals. On Christmas Day, I made a decision to make her particular dish – herbed rice with meatballs. I ate that and spent all day wrapped in a blanket and watching TV.
“And after that, I made extra of her meals, and my grandma’s, my aunt’s. I used to be killing myself to get each proper – phoning them up and making 1 dish 20 occasions to get precisely what I used to be used to. It’s laborious to place into phrases, however I used to be lacking residence and people tastes, once I bought them proper, had been taking me again – like listening to music that you just listened to way back.”
Soon, the neighbours from her constructing began to introduce themselves and to ask what she was making, what created these scrumptious smells? Sepehr started knocking on their doorways and providing them dishes. Then she invited them round to share it. Without realizing it, she was constructing the foundations of a model new future.
Now, greater than 10 years later, these recipes have been written up in Sepehr’s first e book, From a Persian Kitchen. She nonetheless lives in the identical constructing and nonetheless cooks for her neighbours, however London is her residence now, a metropolis she loves. A British citizen, she has an English accomplice of 5 years and hopes this e book would be the first of many.
It’s a world away from the life she anticipated. Born within the south of Iran, however primarily raised within the central metropolis of Isfahan, Sepehr’s father was an engineer whose hopes for his daughter had been no completely different to these for his son. “My parents were really liberal, my dad was a feminist,” she says. “My mum had the same rights as he did and is a strong woman. She didn’t have a career and loved to look after us, to make life easy for me and my brother. She never let me cook because she wanted me to get on with my school work.”
But Sepehr definitely realized to like meals. “My mum was a great cook, a fantastic cook,” she says. “The love I noticed her giving the meals was unbelievable.
“As kids, she’d take us to completely different locations outdoors town simply to get the appropriate components. I bear in mind going to a farm to get yogurt or milk simply out of the cow, after which to a different to purchase beans. At dinner time, no matter we had been doing, no matter was occurring, we got here to the desk. Eating is like that for everybody in Iran, wealthy or poor. It’s a social factor, by no means simply useful. Everything revolves round meals.”
It wasn’t till Sepehr left residence to check laptop science at college that she cooked for herself. After commencement, she moved to Tehran the place she constructed a formidable profession in a male world, first working as a pc programmer, then within the inventory market. After finishing an MBA, she turned a high-earning excessive flyer, importing and exporting metal. “It wasn’t a place for a woman and that’s why I chose it,” she says. “No women were doing that job – so I wanted to.”
On the face of it, Sepehr was forging forward – a job mannequin for the trendy Iranian girl. At residence although, her marriage informed a distinct story.
“I married when I was 27. My husband had been my class mate at university,” says Sepehr. “He was sweet, popular, handsome, really charming. When people met him, they’d always say: ‘He’s beautiful, where did you find him?’ Unfortunately, he had two faces – and when we married, he became a completely different person. I didn’t even know him.”
Her neighbours heard the scenes (“He would throw things and threaten to jump from the building to put me under pressure”) and urged her to depart him. But Sepehr saved granting “second chances”.
“I wanted to make it work,” she says. “He was the person I once loved and I could see that he loved me – although that’s something my mum always questions. Now, looking back, was it love or control? At the time, I didn’t want anybody to know unless there was no hope. I never give up on anything easily.”
The couple sought counselling with a psychologist, however when Sepehr was capable of see the therapist alone, he took the identical line as her neighbour. “He told me not to go back,” she says. “He said: ‘If you were my daughter, I’d want you to divorce.’”
But in Iran, divorce wasn’t simple with out the husband’s settlement, which Sepehr knew her husband would by no means give. He additionally holds the facility to ban his spouse from leaving the nation. “I felt that would be the first thing he’d do if I tried to end the marriage,” says Sepehr. Instead, she made a plan of her personal – quietly arranging a switch to work in her firm’s London workplace, and making use of in secret for a five-year visa. “It was the hardest choice I’ve ever made,” she says. “Carry on in this life – or give up everything and start again.” Only when the paperwork was in place did her mother and father make the seven-hour drive to Tehran to speak to her husband (who rapidly turned abusive), then take their daughter again to the household residence.
“My husband didn’t know about the job in England, and I thought I’d reconnect with my family, then maybe in a month, move to London,” she says. But that very same night, inside hours of arriving in Isfahan, her husband referred to as, begging her to return. When Sepehr refused, he informed her that tomorrow, her passport can be revoked. “My mum said: ‘Pack your bag. You must leave tonight.’”
Sepehr had no air ticket and at the moment in Iran, funds had been in money, not bank cards. “The cash machines weren’t open at night so my brother called his friends asking them to quickly bring any money they had.” Soon Sepehr was again within the automobile together with her mom driving her to Tehran airport. “She always follows all the rules, but on this night, she broke every speed limit.” Somehow, they made it. “It was a miracle – everything worked. There was a plane. There was a ticket. I got the flight. The next morning, my dad received a phone call to confirm I’d been banned from leaving the country. It was too late – I’d already left.”
The divorce took 4 and a half of years, by which period, Sepehr’s ex had accepted that she wasn’t coming again. For that interval, Sepehr couldn’t danger going residence, even to go to, so threw herself into a brand new life. First, within the metal firm, then slowly, the cooking took over. She started a weblog, then edited an internet journal. Though she’d by no means imagined a profession in meals, it turned her consolation, her shortcut residence.
Her e book is a love letter to the Iran she left. For 3 years, with no agent, no writer, Sepehr labored alone, perfecting household recipes, styling the dishes and taking all of the images herself. (She purchased a digital camera and taught herself via YouTube, although her accomplice mentioned they’d by no means be skilled sufficient for a e book.) In some methods, says Sepehr, she was a girl possessed.
“If you’d seen me, you’d have thought I was mad. Every morning at seven, I’d get up, go to the kitchen to cook, then I’d spend the afternoon in my living room, which I’d turned into a studio, taking photographs. Every dish has so much emotion and practice behind it.”
The e book can be a tribute to her household, devoted to her mother and father, her grandmother and her aunt, although she is ready to go to them now. They’re pleased with her reinvention and, in fact, relieved. “When I held the first copy in my hands, I called my dad and said: ‘Would you ever have thought I’d write a cookery book?’ He answered: ‘With you, Atoosa, nothing surprises me.’”
From a Persian Kitchen by Atoosa Sepehr is revealed by Robinson at £26. To order 1 for £22.10, go to guardianbookshop.com
Anna Moore from theguardian.com