Botanica, Los Angeles
CHEF ZARAH KHAN’S STORY
Originally from Seattle, WA Zarah’s passion for food started at a young age, learning to bake with her dad as a little kid and cooking for weekly dinners for her family beginning at age thirteen. In college studying environmental science and forestry at the University of Washington, she would stay up researching recipes and dish ideas late into the night. Throughout her studies, Zarah was struck by how human impact on the planet is most damaging through our food systems. She decided that she wanted her cooking to connect people to the environment they live in, and inspire people to become more cognizant of the choices they make a minimum of 3x a day.
After graduating, she decided to dedicate herself to learning in professional kitchens, starting first in pastry and then expanding to savory. Zarah spent several years throughout her twenties working on farms both domestically and abroad. Always inspired most by the hard work and passion of farmers, she has been known to parade an especially bright leaf of rainbow chard around the restaurant to show the whole team and get them as hyped as she is about it.
Zarah has worked under Jerry Traunfeld of the Herbfarm and Autumn Martin of Hotcakes and Frankie & Jo’s, both of whom have greatly influenced her commitment to local organic products and prolific use of herbs. Her first executive chef job was at the esteemed Matt Dillon restaurant The London Plane in Seattle, where she made a name for herself with her bright, flavorful, veg-forward cuisine inspired by her Middle Eastern heritage. Now in LA, Zarah helms the kitchen at Botanica, where she brings a commitment to good vibes and beautiful healthful food. An avid runner, she is also a certified yoga teacher who can be found reminding her cooks to breathe through the dinner rush.
1620 Silver Lake Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Q&A WITH ZARAH KHAN
Story Plate: What are your top three go-to restaurants in your hometown (Seattle)?
Zarah Khan: Bytae, run by Sun Hong in Capitol Hill’s chophouse row. It’s an 8-seat, lunch-only, handroll sushi bar that is out of this world. You have to get there before 9 am to put your name on the list for one of the three seatings they do each day, and it is well worth the effort. Sun is extremely talented and charismatic, he runs the counter with his wife Erin, who is also a total gem. It is hands down the food I miss most in Seattle.
Bakers in Sunset Hill. This cocktail/natural wine bar run by Brian Smith and Molly Ringe used to be my home away from home. With weekly wine tastings and delicious small plates, there is nowhere I would rather go for a night out with friends. It’s super small and intimate with a lovely back patio. Molly also owns a bottle shop next door and there’s no one I trust more than her to pour me something delicious and talk about life.
Am I allowed to say The London Plane? I worked here for 3 years and it was my first head chef job. The space is incredible, an old bank building that boasts lofted ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. The floral shop at the front lends beautiful bursts of color, rivaled only by the effusive energy of Yasuaki Saito, part owner and general manager, who pours his heart and soul into that place. There is nowhere else in the city that captures the essence of old-school Seattle like this place.
SP: What’s a must-have or your favorite kitchen item and why?
ZK: Those smaller red and white rubber spatulas. So simple but so necessary. I literally couldn’t go a day without one.
SP: Who/what inspired you to get into the culinary industry?
ZK: When I was studying environmental science and forestry at the UW I would stay up late into the night researching recipes and ideas. I’ve always been a creative person, and with food the ideas just flowed. I couldn’t get over the fact that people were eating meals a minimum of 3x a day and not knowing where their food came from. I started working on farms since then my respect and admiration for farmers has just never stopped growing. These people work tirelessly and are ultimately at the mercy of mother earth. As a chef, I would be nowhere without all the behind-the-scenes labor of the farmers – their produce is both the backbone and the star of the restaurant. The things they grow inspire me, and the exchange of excitement that occurs between a chef and a farmer brings this super special energy I want to expand into the dining room.
SP: What is your favorite foodie destination and why?
ZK: Last winter I was lucky enough to spend 10 days in Tel Aviv and it absolutely blew my mind. I have never been on a trip with such consistently amazing food. It is so humble and ingredient driven and nourishing and sexy all at once!
SP: How do you manage stress, what advice can you give your fellow girl bosses?
ZK: I run and do yoga pretty religiously. I used to work doubles a lot in when I lived in Seattle and I would take a break in the middle to run along the waterfront. It slows down my thoughts and puts me in my physical body in a way that calms me. Also, so simple, but remember to breaaaathe when you’re stressed at work. That and stand up straight. We spend so many hours on our feet in the kitchen and tend to get slouchy. But your body will thank you if you maintain good posture habits as you get older!