By Iman Sadri
October 25, 2019
Penny Davidi is a Celebrity Chef who has been showcasing her Middle Eastern recipes and scintillating flavors of national television for over a decade. She was the winner on the hit show Food Network’s Chopped All Stars. She has been a contestant on Food Network Star, Cutthroat Kitchen, Kitchen Inferno and Guy’s Grocery Games All Stars. Chef Penny has appeared in over 20 network TV shows.
Chef Penny also became a series regular on Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules highlighting her skills in the kitchen as a Chef to the Stars and Nutrition Consultant. The latter role later elevated Chef Penny to become the Executive Chef and Menu Curator for Lisa Vanderpump’s newest venue Pump Lounge. In 2018, Chef Penny again joined forces with Lisa Vanderpump on Tom Tom in West Hollywood as Menu Curator. She is currently a culinary consultant with Sysco Foods in Los Angeles.
To get caught up with this prolific Persian we did a Q+A with Chef Penny Davidi in Los Angeles.
Iman Sadri : Please describe your early life, upbringing and education ?
Penny Davidi : My early life was not so easy, left Iran at the age of 5 for Israel and immediately to sunny California. My Mother was a jeweler and my father a Doctor. Naturally I was expected to follow in his footsteps, I kind of did, I did high school and college together and then I attended Emperor’s College, where I got my Masters in Oriental Medicine. I practiced for 12 years and then sold my practice and went into food in 2004.
IS : What were some of the early influences that led you to a career in the culinary arts ?
Penny Davidi : When we came to L.A. my Mother immediately went to work and I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother and her sister’s home where I learned the basics but old school, where things were still done by hand. It was so impactful.
IS : How did Persian dishes influence your decision to become a chef ?
Penny Davidi : I remember having friends over when I was young and they were always mesmerized by our cuisine but it also turned them off, it was too green, too red or too sweet or sour. So I wanted to take the mystery out of the most unique food around the world. What were some of your favorite Persian dishes growing up ? Tahchin of course, Albaloooo Polo and Fesenjoon. Yum!
IS : Congratulations of winning Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars and on your appearances on several of the national TV shows you have appeared on. Can you describe the process of being invited to those shows ?
Penny Davidi : After I sold my medical practice, and opened my pizza places, I knew I wanted to be on TV, so I tried out for The Next Food Network Star in 2010, I made it on as the Middle-Eastern Mama The rest is history. Almost 20 shows later on 5 major networks. I don’t take it for granted, it’s a constant hustle, you are constantly walking on glass.
IS : Who have been some of your celebrity chef influences ? Past or present ? In what ways has their work influenced your cooking ?
Penny Davidi : Anthony Bourdain has definitely been a huge influence. His raw talent and the way he looked at food and cultures around the world can never be duplicated. Ina Garten, Jacques Pepin. Ina, because she made everything look effortless and comforting and Pepin because he used less than 5 ingredients and turned out amazing dishes. At last not a celebrity but in my book she is, my Mother.
IS : What are some of your Top 5 favorite dishes that you make ? The top 5 list of dishes that you would showcase on a menu ?
Penny Davidi : A good menu always has a great beet dish with pistachios, an Americanized version of a Tahchin with lots of barberry, braised lamb with pomegranate molasses and root vegetables, beef bolognese and of course rib eye with rosemary butter and a whole roasted head of garlic.
IS : Where do you like to shop for meat / poultry / produce when cooking at home ?
Penny Davidi : My main places are Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. You can’t beat them, the local Farmers Market is great but I always get distracted and buy more than I need.
“Anthony Bourdain has definitely been a huge influence.” – Chef Penny Davidi
IS : Do you work at a restaurant currently ? If so where ? How can patrons taste your cooking ?
Penny Davidi : I curated Pump and Tom Tom with Lisa Vanderpump of Vanderpump Rules. I have plans to open my own places but I feel God has other plans for me and he rules.
IS : Can you describe some your original recipes / favorite dishes / and the process of creating the recipes ?
Penny Davidi :This would require a whole other segment on recipes. My signature dishes are my version of the classics just ‘Pennyfied.‘
IS : What are some of your favorite dessert dishes that you create ?
Penny Davidi : I don’t bake but love my Saffron rice pudding with candied orange peel.
IS : Where are some of your favorite restaurants in LA that serve exquisite dishes that you enjoy ? Please describe some of your favorite dishes from these venues ?
Penny Davidi : I love hole in the walls around LA. Corner place for the best Korean BBQ. Favori for the best French/Vietnamese baked Catfish. Sadaf in Encino is my favorite Persian restaurant. Felix for any pasta. Chef Evan makes and Bavel for Israeli food. Best pizza in L.A., Pizzana. Best Vegan, Masataco. Best burgers, Barney’s Burgers in Brentwood.
IS : Can you describe why certain dishes have more elevated levels of taste ? For example, fois gras always has such as sophisticated taste. What is in certain dishes at 5-star restaurants / the time prepared / ingredients / etc that makes some dishes taste so much more refined ?
Penny Davidi : Elevated refined is not necessarily better. A lot of hype around Foie and caviar. When I travel, I eat where the locals eat, that’s how you taste the real food from the region, culture and its people. Michelin starred places are amazing and its an experience I wish everyone to have at least once. But there is so much great food out there, Start with Smorsgasburg in Downtown LA, youl’l taste and see it all, that’s elevated to me no table clothe needed or white gloves. I am about the food trucks and street tacos.
“When I travel, I eat where the locals eat, that’s how you taste the real food from the region, culture and its people.” – Chef Penny Davidi
IS : Imagine you are 100 years old and reading your Wikipedia profile. What other career / personal milestones would you like to see on there ?
Penny Davidi : Author, media mogul and humanitarian of the culinary arts.
IS : What do you want people to take away from this Q&A with you?
Penny Davidi : I want the world to see our culture and its people through the food we create, its warmth and the love that goes into every dish. We are loving people with so much to share, our spices are just the beginning. Hope you will come on this journey with me!
Follow Chef Penny Davidi on social media @PennyDavidiBorsuk
Iman Sadri is the founder of @LASmileMagzine and @ThePersianObserver