Chef to the stars Ariana Bundy loving life at her own pace
Ariana Bundy's childhood was peripatetic, to say the least. She was born in Iran, but went to boarding school in Switzerland when she was just 5 years old. Her family left Iran during the 1979 revolution and in the years that followed lived in New York, Paris, London and Rome.
Many of her memories revolve around food: "In Switzerland, it was all ham and fondue, which seemed very strange after Iran. When we moved to New York, the neighbourhood we lived in had local Mexican, brilliant Japanese, Turkish, Italian, everything. Then we arrived in London, in the early Eighties, which felt like a small town. There was nothing - not even ice in the drinks," she says, laughing.
While Bundy, 41, says these early travels influenced her cooking style, it is to France that she is most beholden.
"My biological father lived in France before I was born," she says. "He was obsessed with not just the food, but Paris, too. I feel that I know French cooking instinctively and I base everything else around that."
Bundy's father ran Chez Michel, the first French fine dining restaurant in Iran, and later opened an upmarket French-Californian restaurant in Beverly Hills.
"I used to sit in the restaurant, eating my food and watching the action, but he never let me in the kitchen - it wasn't a place for young ladies - so I missed out on that side of things," she says.
After studying international business and marketing at London's European Business School, she took a marketing role at her mother's haute couture fashion house. Despite the glamorous lifestyle, she was restless: "I didn't feel happy or fulfilled. Looking back, I was quite lost. One day my uncle asked me what I loved and I told him: 'I love food; I love cooking for people and making them happy'. He told me to go and find the best cookery school in the world and said he would pay for me to go there."
The offer enabled Bundy to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she studied for Le Grand Diplôme in patisserie and later cuisine. It was here that she found her niche.
"Some people in the industry make fun of Le Cordon Bleu," she says. "They think it is just filled with spoilt kids, but that wasn't the case. The teachers were amazing, with so much experience, and I was surrounded by people who were really passionate about what they were doing."
After graduating, spurred by a vow from her uncle that if she gained the requisite experience they would open a pastry shop, she landed the job of head pastry chef at the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles.
"Things happened very fast after that," she says. "Suddenly I was in charge of the kitchen and we were doing after parties for the Oscars and Golden Globes or events for Vanity Fair. We did the food for the launches of Sex and the City and Eyes Wide Shut. They would fly me to New York to consult - it became a huge thing, very quickly."
While this was an exciting time, it was also exhausting: "I became very run down. I would call my uncle, crying, and ask him: 'Is it time? Is it time to leave yet?'" Eventually he concurred that it was.
"When I left the hotel after two years, I was burnt out," Bundy says. "Working like that was never my long-term goal, it just happened. Afterwards, I needed time to reassess what I wanted to achieve."
Although they never opened that pastry shop, she says: "I'm actually glad that we didn't; nowadays, I do what I love, but I can also be with my family" - husband Paul, 42, and son Dara, 3, with whom she lives in Dubai and Paris.
Soon after she left the Mondrian, in 2002, the idea for a cookbook - one featuring traditional Iranian recipes - began to take shape. Various events meant that she was forced to put this concept on hold, and instead she wrote Sweet Alternative, a cookery book of dairy-, soy- and gluten-free desserts that was inspired by her and her family's dietary intolerances. Her growing reputation led to several appearances on UK cookery shows.
On March 6, 10 years after she first started to mull over the idea, Pomegranates & Roses: My Persian Family Recipes (Simon & Schuster UK) will go on sale at the Emirates Literature Festival in March. "What I really wanted to do is show Iranian food in the right light," Bundy says, "to teach people who haven't discovered it what the cuisine is really like - delicate and delicious, with plays on flavours. I'm nervous."
She needn't be. A sneak peek shows that the feminine, beautifully presented book is filled with appealing family-style recipes.