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SD Voyager: Meet Bibi Kasrai of Harvard Cookin’ Girl in La Jolla

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bibi Kasrai.

Bibi, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up with artist parents who thought I am too smart to spend time in the kitchen. However, my ideal playground and summer camps were at grandma’s kitchen and garden where all year round something colorful and fragrant was going on. Be it tomato and pomegranate paste making or distilling roses to make rosewater or blanching slivers of almond and laying them on a bed of Persian jasmines or simply making the saffron pudding to feed the poor, my imagination and subconscious were always drawn to food. All of this stayed in the deepest, darkest alleys of my mind until they were once again revived during my stay in a dorm at the Moscow State University where all nations cooked together in a communal kitchen.

My culinary journey was taking a tour of the cuisine of the world through friends from all 5 continents. I learned the tricks of every grandma’s kitchen be it in Ouagadougou, Bangalore, Ho Chi Minh City, Havana or Warsaw. After an MA in Journalism, an MBA from Harvard Business School and many accolades and awards from the highest institutions and corporations, I decided to finally follow my first love and start a cooking place that no one has ever imagined before. Harvard Cookin’ Girl was a figment of my imagination in 2009 and now is one of the best places to cook and have a social gathering around healthy food from around the world. Now I teach and I learn at the same time and I am in a very privileged position to make a living with my first hobby.

Has it been a smooth road?
Life is for sure not a smooth road for no one. Starting your own business during one of the most historic economic downturns wasn’t a smooth road for sure and implementing your dream to make a living isn’t smooth either. That said, I think one can turn all the disadvantages into an advantage if you keep telling yourself each day that ” Failure isn’t an option”. That’s my motto. I have lived under very difficult circumstance and not only I have survived but I have thrived because I have always known that failure wasn’t an option. All around me on my street in la Jolla and for the last 9 years businesses have opened and closed and it’s scary. Small businesses fail because of rent, overhead, salaries, or simply because others steal and copy your ideas. For example, I offer corporate team building events and now every restaurant or every suzy homemaker offers it at their house too. So this pushes me to be more creative, think more, offer better options so a rough road can also be good otherwise life would be so boring.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Harvard Cookin’ Girl – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I am in the business of creating “the grandma food and atmosphere” in front of you. Look, if your food is not made in front of you, it’s hidden, not transparent and in most cases not honest. I don’t make empty promises because I make your food with you, in front of you, with our love and promise of integrity. You will see, hold, chop and cook real food. We promise children, adults and corporate clients, spontaneous fun, laughter, a good time breaking bread with friends or strangers. I create “collisionable hours” for you to open up and talk about your burning issues. I teach how to make great food out of simple ingredients with old world techniques. My clients will walk away with a piece of our family and a good taste in their mouth and the knowledge of making this food again and again.

My proudest moment isn’t the fact that my business succeeded. Three years ago, I learned about the San Diego Food Bank’s Backpack Program providing weekend food packages to chronically hungry elementary school students from low-income households who are at risk of hunger over the weekend when free school meals are unavailable. I never thought that kids in our backyard would go hungry over the weekend. I immediately called the CEO of the Food Bank to set up a meeting. Jim Floros gave me the tour of the Food Bank and outlined the need. I came out of that meeting and called my chef friend William Bradley of the Grand Del Mar and Fishmonger extraordinaire Tommy Gomes of Catalina Offshore Produce. With their support, I created the One Chef, One Dish, San Diego. Each month a great San Diego chef comes to HCG and demonstrates their talent when either the proceeds go toward the program or the SDFB’s top donors are invited and encouraged to fund more schools. This is one of the proudest moments of my career to be able to give back to the community that has supported me.

What sets me apart is that am I am self-taught. I never went to cooking school but am now one of the highest paid chefs in San Diego because as a child I had a grandma who helped me develop my palate. Since age 5 I have traveled the globe and have collected recipes in the homes and kitchens of the grandmas of the world. “ I don’t make beautiful plates or use liquid nitrogen, I make grandma food and you will know it as soon as the spoon touches your mouth”. I don’t try to measure myself against others I try to be the best Bibi I can be.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I used to think San Diego is the world’s best kept secret. I thought it’s provincial has no food culture beyond tacos but not anymore. Now we have to watch for all the fad and all the things that pop up and all the development that may make this LA#2.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Noushin Nourizadeh
Nancee Lewis

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