Dinner Party Mezze Spread: Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, Labneh, Homemade Pita Bread, Muhammara, Grape Leaves; Original Mezze Recipe

For All the Flavors of the World! Chef Crista Is Offering a Full Experience of Mezze

526
0

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Years after putting on an apron for the first time when she was only 17, chef and entrepreneur Crista Marie Ani Aladjadjian traveled 31 countries, discovered world cuisines and created Mezze, a platform that introduces food and culinary cultures from “the rest of the world.” We agreed that I could call her Crista for short, while discussing the future of the food industry on Zoom. She was in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, while I spoke from her hometown of Los Angeles. Crista has been in Mexico since January, promoting remotely Middle Eastern cuisine through her new platform and telling stories about ethnic food that excite all the possible taste buds of those millions of viewers and followers. And the name comes out just right for the platform, Mezze, meaning in the original Persian, to taste, which became a way of living for these last years of Crista’s life constantly on the road, living like a “nomad.”

Crista Marie Ani Aladjadjian, while traveling through the southern Albanian countryside in 2020, visited the town of Berat

“A mezze spread has different flavors and colors, textures and foods. Your life is a white canvas and you paint it with food. You can paint with experiences and travel the same way you enjoy a mezze spread. And I also love the idea of sharing: on the mezze table everyone is sharing, talking and the energy at that table perfectly embodies our mission,” she explains.

Labneh 3 Ways: Za’atar and Olive Oil, Peaches with Mint and Nigella Seeds,
Pomegranate Molasses and Pistachios; Original Mezze Recipe

After 13 years of building a career as a chef, in 2017 Crista was offered the role of the Culinary Director at a new food media company called Cocina, which intended to elevate Latin cuisine. She was the perfect candidate, having Latin roots on her mother’s side. Crista’s maternal grandparents are from Mexico and Spain, where her mother grew up. However, work at Cocina created the perfect opportunity to think about her paternal Armenian side as well.

A live cooking demonstration of elevated Latin cuisine for the food media company, We Are Cocina

“Seeing the success of the brand of my Latin roots, I thought ‘hey, what about my Armenian heritage and culture!’ So that’s what inspired the whole idea of Mezze.”

Christa’s grandfather Krikor Aladjadjian was born in Syria and grew up in Jordan. He immigrated to Detroit, Michigan, when he was 18. He got an education, served in the army and was very much involved in the Armenian community. Young Krikor sung in the local Armenian church choir where he met Crista’s grandmother, whose parents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide. One day in 1964, Krikor received a phone call from Gabriel Injejikian inviting him to move to Los Angeles and become one of the first teachers in Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School. In fact, Crista’s father also became one of the first graduates of the school. The family tradition continued, as Crista, her brother and sister received their education from the same school.

Baklava: an original Mezze Recipe

Through that same establishment Crista found her other passion, dance. She joined the Hamazkayin Niari Dance Ensemble. “Even though we weren’t able to stay in Ferrahian and finish school, through the dance I was able to stay connected to my culture. My director Catherine Hayrabedian was the one who really helped me preserve that connection to my Armenian heritage. She is a very big part of what inspired me to build a business around culture,” Crista acknowledges with gratitude.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Middle Eastern culture always was a significant part of her family. Being able to expertly distinguish what kind of grape leaves is used to make sarma or what cheese is being used in beoreg, Crista can fully see how these ethnic cuisines on the “other side of the world” play a significant role in the global food market. She said: “If you look at the trend of the Mediterranean diet being the number one diet in the world for so many years now – It’s healthy, it’s fresh – the only thing that was holding us back for all these years was accessibility for non-ethnic people. They have to go to a specific store to buy certain ingredients to make a specific dish. They need to educate themselves about how this food is made. We are putting a lot of responsibility on them. We can make a little more of an effort to make all these types of cuisines more accessible for everyone. That would bridge the gap between cultures and that will start a very important conversation. Food can be a catalyst for a very important change that we could see in the world.”

Crista’s excitement made me think that during the last 15 years I gradually saw a growing number of non-Armenians shopping at my neighborhood Armenian store and many others reserving tables at the local Armenian restaurant. Then there was that Canadian friend drinking only Armenian wine after discovering it at my place. Crista goes on with contagious optimism: “In the US we are developing a real culture by adopting all these ethnic cuisines and food experiences. Famous chefs want to do something new. It can be a new dish or even a new ingredient; Aleppo pepper is suddenly everywhere, sumac is suddenly everywhere! You go to the nicest, award-winning restaurants in LA, like Republique, and you see Armenian cucumber on the menu (they call it Armenian Cucs), or labneh! It’s amazing!”

The same optimism appears when she talks about Armenian-owned food businesses in the US, observing how the new generation is making huge efforts to better market their fathers and grandfathers’ eateries and restaurants according to the new standards and “extending the reach, trying to get to the ‘odar’ communities and increase the popularity of our cuisine.”

Intending to present the experience of world cuisine with the utmost intensity, Crista is working on her very first product, a spice kit organized by a specific country’s food palette. For example, if you want to explore North African cuisine today, here are the six base spices that you need to make pretty much any Moroccan recipe, and the recipes come with a cookbook.

Visiting the famous Basterma Mano restaurant in Bourj Hammoud in Beirut, Lebanon for their delicious Soujouk Shawarma and Basterma (of course), with Crista’s boyfriend and business partner, Law Casey (this is part of the new Mezze travel series that was inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown”)

Two years ago, Crista traveled to seven Middle Eastern countries with a film crew and worked on a movie series to somehow continue the efforts of her major inspiration, Anthony Bourdain, to share all these stories from different parts of the world. “In Western culture we tend to brush a lot of cultures that maybe we don’t understand, or that have politically complicated pasts, under the rug and we don’t explore them. We don’t necessarily have the same level of appreciation for not just food, but artistry in general for specific parts of the world. Our mission became to put these ethnic cuisines in the spotlight not just as a trend, but because these people have become a big part of Western culture and brought so many things to the western part of the world.”

Traveling down the Dubai Creek on an abra in the United Arab Emirates (this is part of the new Mezze travel series that was inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown”)

Crista is dreaming of having her own hotel somewhere in France, or even any other country, where she can offer a full culinary vacation to her guests. But until then she keeps on exploring the flavors of the world.

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: