Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Peter Teimori’s Persian Sandy Springs restaurant has set the pace for designer furnishings, marvelously flavored dishes rich with tradition, and the eponymous spice saffron (zafron in Farsi).
Eating at Zafron on a Saturday night is a convivial, mostly Jewish crowd, confident of consistent melt-in-your-mouth food that one cannot make at home.
Known for his specialty rices and desserts “to die for,” Teimori knows his way around hospitality and food service.
Jaffe: Share your beginnings in Persia. Did you grow up in a home with good cooks?
Teimori: One of my earliest memories in Tehran was baking a pound cake with my older sister. I also have fond memories of a dish called “horack” with quince pears, apples, tomatoes and peppers, flavored with saffron, cinnamon and cardamom.
My family’s culture did not look at me being a career chef as a good thing versus the requisite doctor or engineer.
Jaffe: Describe your varied background.
Teimori: I left Iran during the 1979 revolution. After Queens College, I headed west for a degree at UC Davis in food science. I have trained at two culinary institutes (one in the South of France).
I worked in the edible oil industry and at top-notch hotels all over the world like Saudi Arabia (teaching the use of local flour to make bread). I owned a successful café bakery in Hawaii, and then, in Atlanta, an upscale destination, Picasso on Peachtree. Also, I was VP of operations for the Atlanta Bread Company.
In our current location, we operated Flavors, which became Zafron in 2014. All meaningful chapters leading to here.
Jaffe: How did you become an expert in pastries and align with the Ritz organization?
Teimori: I was content at the (InterContinental) Mark Hopkins in San Francisco when a friend suggested I come to Atlanta to meet with Horst Schulze about a Ritz start up. “Just go and talk,” he said.
So, you can guess, they sold me the job as corporate pastry chef. I opened 57 Ritz Carltons.
Jaffe: What is the magic to your wonderful desserts?
Teimori: Many secrets revealed here: Our ice cream is a traditional Shiraz recipe with pistachio and saffron versus the French and Italian gelato with egg yolks. We use salep, an orchid found high in the mountains in Northeast Iran near the Turkish border. The orchid flour is ground into fine powder and blended into milk. The end result is an elastic-like gummy texture – so delicious.
We also have chocolate mousse made with honey, not sugar. For the holidays we do a non-dairy decadent flourless cake. Everything here is gluten-free except bread and soy sauce. Chanukah is a big season for us too.
Jaffe: What is unique about Persian food?
Teimori: We make our own sauces and dressings that you cannot find in a store: homemade pomegranate, sumac and honey apple cider vinaigrette.
A popular appetizer is a spicy minced mango and pepper blend cooked in vinegar and saffron – a recipe from southern Iran in the Persian Gulf.
Our rice is unique. We use a basmati from California aged two years to get a nutty flavor. Then we add pistachio, almonds, orange peelings, orange blossom water and dried cassis (not canned). Others less educated in Persian cooking use carrots. That’s the difference. Our jeweled rice has sour cherries, fava beans, fresh dill.
Zafron’s signature fresh seafood is salmon and sea bass … plus often a special succulent barramundi from Greece.
The vegetable kebab has onion, Japanese eggplant, red bell pepper, zucchini, yellow squash, and portabellas flavored with saffron sauce. The open flame over our special grill makes it perfect!
Jaffe: Has the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center affected your business?
Teimori: You bet! Many of the events just across the street are sold out. We see customers start at 5:30 to 6:15 to make an 8 p.m. show.
Jaffe: Do you see any new trends in dining? How often do you change the menu?
Teimori: Our food is semi-traditional. Every day we take it apart and put it back together. Maybe we have done new menus four times in the last few years. Food is always changing, even in presentation. Next, I hope to introduce clay pot vessels.
Jaffe: Where do you dine in Atlanta?
Teimori: Antico Pizza, bartaco, Legal Sea Food (downtown) … I’m all over the city. Truthfully, the best pizza I make at home!
Here’s what we went crazy over:
• Zafron Special – Diced mango, hearts of palm, eggplant, hot chili, herbs – It’s a contest between the sweet mango and the chilis where both win. Happy taste explosion.
• Mirza Ghasemi – Smoky rich blend of eggplant, tomato, onion and garlic
• Kashk Bademjoon – Oven-roasted eggplant, mint and fried onion, cream of whey topping
• Baked goat milk feta cheese – Served with pistachio compote. This is the richest, most divine combo ever! The pistachios are sweet and plump. Careful, served steaming hot.
• Fabulous Salads: Kale, arugula, Mediterranean, quinoa – All sparkling fresh and designed like an artist’s palette. Opt for the sumac dressing. Note: Every guest gets a complimentary plate of walnuts, feta, olives, radish, fresh mint and tarragon.
• Sea Bass – Fire-roasted lily white rectangles served with fava beans and dill rice. A rare five-star dish for me! Teimori cautions that sea bass may no longer be Chilean. Australia and India are more reliable suppliers.
• Veg Kebabs – Large chunks charbroiled with special “secret sauce.” The sumac bread is nicely textured and unique.
• Khoresh Karafs (Vegetarian stew) – Artichoke, portabellas, celery, herbs, basmati rice
• Shiraz (Persian) Turkish ice cream triangles balance well in sour cherry sauce.