For nearly 20 years local Iranian Jewish caterer David Javaheri who is the founder of the Sason and Nana Catering businesses has been delighting his L.A. area Jewish clients with a continuously unique assortment of “kosher fusion” food. I had a special opportunity to taste some of his culinary creations and found that they were not only delectable in taste but remarkably artistic in presentation. Fusion food is basically the mixing and matching of different cultural foods with different spices or seasons to bring about new and exciting dishes. Whether you like Persian, Italian, Mexican, Indian, Asian or good ol’ fashioned American classics, Javaheri’s professionally trained executive chefs will not disappoint your pallet! Through Sason and Nana Catering, Javaheri has mastered the art of fusion food and has been successful in offering it to local Jewish clients who are increasingly demanding new varieties in the kosher foods for their guests at weddings or other parties. (The menus for his catered food are sinfully delicious).
Many of Javaheri’s clients hail from the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California and I recently interviewed him for my latest piece about the latest trends in the foods they are selecting for their weddings. The following is a portion of our conversation…
Can you share with us a little of your background and how you go into the catering business?
In October 1993, the partners of Sason where my father, my current partner and myself. Three months after we opened the business my father passed away. At the time I was 19 years old and going to college at Cal State University Northridge studying psychology. So it took four to five years after I graduated from college to become fully involved in the catering business. One of my biggest advantages of going into this industry has been the fact that I was educated in here in the U.S. and every aspect of catering has been done with education. Every year my staff and I have been going to seminars, catering conference to continuously learn about the latest in design, décor, food handling, and other food preparation from some of the top catering executives chefs in the country. We do this because we want to maintain a high level of service to our customers and be on the cutting edge of the culinary industry. Today we have reached a level that has surpassed our wildest imagination. My goal was to reach a certain level when it comes to our revenue, growth, décor, design, type of foods served— and we have well surpassed that today. What I really love about catering is not just how the food tastes— but the key aspect that the food has to look good and we have to constantly have new designs that come out that appeal to our guests. The most important aspect of catering is not just the food but creating an incredible experience for your client.
What do you recommend to couples when they are looking for a caterer for their wedding?
The first thing I advise my clients is to look at the reputation of the caterer. You should ask around about that caterer’s level of work, level of service and performance in the past from others that have used them for events. Next I recommend my clients check the caterer’s credentials, certifications and records with the health department. If they have a letter ‘B’ or ‘C’ level grade with the health department, then you need to know why. Typically those letters mean that they have an unsupervised kitchen that means you as the host of the event are taking more risks with an executive chef who does not know how to handle food properly. There is a lesser risk of contamination when you have food that comes to the caterer at the right temperature, is kept at a right temperature and is handled properly by the kitchen staff. For example, your caterer can buy the best quality chicken in town and prepare the best chicken kebab, but if get a few drops of the chicken juices get into the lettuce for your salad, then you will likely have salmonella contamination. These days the hotels and cities are getting tougher and requiring caterers to have food handling certification for their staff to prove that the staff knows how to properly handle food. All of these ratings for a caterer are available to the public on the health department’s websites and list what exact violations each caterer may or may not have had. I always ask every single couple who approaches us to attend one or two of our events. I recommend they see us in action and how we do what we do. Every wedding is unique for us and their wedding is different because of the design. We want a long term relationship with their customers and not just to do the catering for your wedding.
Can you share a little more about kosher fusion food?
Sason Catering is probably one of the very few kosher fusion caterers in the Los Angeles area. Since we are kosher, we are therefore limited to type of food we can use. So there are no dairy products that we can use in any of our food, that makes our job tough because you have to improvise and instead of using products like milk and butter, substitute them for other products that are ‘parve’ or dairy-free. Nevertheless we became really really good at it. Fusion food came out about eight or nine years ago and has been very popular especially in L.A. with all the different cultural groups you have living here. For example, you can take make a sauce that has Asian influence and mix it with other types of spices or flavors. So we have a chicken gyro station that is very popular because our chefs infuse Moroccan and Greek spices to the chicken and then we attached it into an Indian tandoori oven. Guests who try this chicken are simply blow away by the different flavors and styles of cooking incorporated together. We also have a barbecue glaze that goes over an Asian Sea Bass that is simply divine because it takes away from the oily nature of Sea Bass.
What is the most challenging aspect of working with the Iranian Jewish community?
About 40 percent of my customers are Persian Jewish and what I really love about the Persian Jewish community is that they really appreciate good food and good design. A Persian event is usually six hours—with six or seven hours with people eating. So food is important. Appetizers are very very important in the Persian event because for us appetizers are like the dinner and the dinner is like appetizers! This because people come hungry and they can visit different stations and have choices. At dinner they take their time and are not as hungry. Despite the fact that Persians negotiate on the pricing, they still want the best and that has been positive for our companies because it pushed us to constantly improve our services on a regular basis.
Does pricing substantially impact the quality of food or level of service you typically receive from your caterer?
If you are negotiating on pricing with a caterer, each caterer is different— couples have to realize that while they may get a lower price for their event, but at the same time that caterer may be cutting down on the quality and design of the food they offering for their wedding. Choosing a caterer properly is key, especially in the summer months for a wedding because that caterer may be doing four of five events in one night and the clients could be taking a risk by hiring a caterer that is too busy and may not be able to provide 100 percent to your event. The bride and groom has to put themselves in their guest shoes to provide less of a risk, because in the end if the caterer screws up and people leave hungry, then the event ends unsuccessful because the guests have not enjoyed themselves.
Can you share with us an instance where things went wrong at an event and you came out on top at the end of the night?
Catering work is always a challenge. There was a plated dinner at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown L.A. and all the ovens suddenly went dead. We had a 700 person event with people that need to be fed. Luckly we were able to cook the food quickly an properly with back up systems we had in place. Your guests don’t know what is going on in the background and only a true caterer knows what to do to prevent a disaster from happening at an event. For example, as a caterer you must always have a back up car or truck to the event. I send our transportation three hours ahead of schedule. A good caterer looks ahead and plans accordingly.
What advice do you give couples who might be stressing about their wedding party?
One of the things I always tell my clients is that you are getting married hopefully only once and you need to enjoy yourselves as much as possible for that night. Once you hire the right coordinator, or caterer, or entertainer, then just walk away and let them do their job. If you’ve made the right choices in picking the right vendors, then your event should flow smoothly and successfully. Remember most vendors have done more weddings than you have and know what works and what doesn’t work— so trust in them.
Individuals seeking to taste Javaheri’s delicious dairy dishes can also visit his glatt kosher restaurant Nana Cafe in the Pico-Robertson area.