What is the Secret in the Sauce?
By Monique Polak
“Food for me is everything,” said Mahin Kalantary, as she sautéed the chicken for Zereshk Polo Ba Morgh, which is Persian for Barberry Rice with Chicken. Even as a child growing up in Tehran, Kalantary, now 58, loved eating and cooking. “I learned all the Persian recipes from my grandmother and my aunt,” she explained.
Kalantary is the first person I interviewed for a delicious new Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project called The Secret is in the Sauce! Together with photographer Monique Dyskstra, I’ll be meeting twenty English-speaking Quebecers – all over the age of fifty – from immigrant and First Nations communities, and getting a recipe from each of them. I’ll blog about the experience; Monique D will use her camera to document our foodie adventures. Come spring, Blue Met will release and launch a book full of recipes, stories and photos, at its 2021 Literary Festival.
I was thinking about what Kalantary said – that for her, food is everything. I decided that for me, food is in my top five favourite things. Neck and neck with stories, learning, family – and love.
As Kalantary combined her barberry sauce with the sautéed chicken, she told us the story of how she followed her husband to Canada, and how when she worked as a dental hygienist, brought Persian food to her co-workers. We also learned about the different cuisines of northern and southern Iran – pomegranate is a popular ingredient in the north; hot peppers are a staple in the south. We even met Kalantary’s family – her eldest daughter Natasha popped by with her baby daughter Ariana. At nine months, Ariana has just begun eating basmati rice. As for love, the Moniques sampled that too – when we tasted Kalantary’s Zereshk Polo Ba Morgh.
In fact, Kalantary sent us each home with a generous helping of the dish. “Food,” Natasha told me, as Ariana bounced in her arms, “is also about giving. It’s nicer than receiving.”
The Moniques have nineteen more people to meet for The Secret is in the Sauce! It’s hard to imagine we’ll have as good a time as we had with Kalantary and her family. But here’s our secret: we’re not just hungry for food, we’re hungry for stories. And we hope you are too!
Monique Polak is the author of 26 books for young people. Her spring 2019 titles are I Am a Feminist: Claiming the F-Word in Turbulent Times, and Princess Angelica, Part-Time Lion Trainer. Monique is a two-time winner of the Quebec Writers’ Federation Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Monique has been teaching at Marianopolis College for 32 years. She is also a freelance journalist whose stories have appeared in the Montreal Gazette and in Postmedia publications across the country. Monique is a columnist on ICI-Radio Canada’s Plus on est de fous, plus on lit!
The Secret is in the Sauce! is sponsored by Canadian Heritage’s Official Languages Program.