By Nader Mehravari, Ph.D., Center Volunteer
Whether it is on stage, on screen, or in the pages of a cookbook, storytelling is what most captivates Naz Deravian. Storytelling was the core of her early professional life, where she acted in television series, feature films, and documentaries. In her second career as a writer of culinary blogs, cookbooks, and newspaper and magazine articles, storytelling has been just as important.
Nazgol Deravian — “Naz” to friends, colleagues, viewers, and readers — was born in 1972 in Tehran, Iran. Her parents, who both originated in the northern part of Iran — her mother from the northwestern province of Azerbaijan and her father from the Caspian Sea region — decided to leave Iran shortly after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, when Deravian was eight years old. The family’s first destination took them to Rome, where her parents had met as students and her older brother was born. The family spent two years in Italy during which time Deravian attended an American school in Rome, where she became equally proficient in English as well Italian and Persian.
In 1982, the family immigrated a second time to Canada where many other Iranian families were relocating; Vancouver became her family’s third home. While attending high school in Vancouver, Deravian acted in school plays and became seriously interested in acting and theater arts. After high school, she attended the University of British Columbia (UBC) and was enrolled in the renowned Bachelor of Fine Arts program. At UBC, as a theater major studying acting, she received professional actor training including improvisation, movement, voice, screen-acting, and, of course, storytelling.
After deciding to pursue acting professionally, Naz moved, by herself, to Los Angeles shortly after graduating from university. Her first show in Los Angeles was an avant-garde production based on the 19th-century German play “The Love Council” – a three-act play set in heaven, earth, and hell, respectively. It was during this show that Naz met her future husband – a fellow actor, and an American, in that show.
Her successful acting career spanned sixteen years (2000-2016) with appearances in many TV series including “JAG,” “The Unit,” “NCIS,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Criminal Minds,” and most memorably “Homeland.” Deravian also had major roles in such feature films as “IM Nowruz” (IM as in Instant Message), “The Ambassador’s Wife,” “Mossadegh,” “Djinn,” and “Man Down.” She also worked on several documentary films including “Speaking of Baghdad” where an acclaimed international cast told stories of life during the war from the perspective of Iraqi writers in Baghdad. In 2020, Naz was featured in Padma Lakshmi’s critically acclaimed Hulu show “Taste the Nation.”
After the birth of her two daughters, the challenges and uncertainties of dual-acting careers became too difficult for Deravian and her husband to manage. As the children became older, responding adequately to unpredictable acting opportunities, interviews, and auditions became burdensome to the point that Deravian slowly withdrew from acting. “I still needed a creative outlet so I began writing–and so, started a culinary blog. It gave me chance to express myself on my own terms and schedule,” she says.
Her culinary blog, “Bottom of the Pot,” started on a whim with the encouragement of several friends with whom she’d already been sharing recipes over email. “As more friends become interested in my Persian recipe emails, it occurred to me that it would be more efficient to simply put all the recipes in one place—on a blog—where everyone could read them,” she adds.
Writing the blog posts about recipes turned out to be more than just the instructions for preparing a dish. “It became a vehicle for storytelling; there were so many stories that were connected to the recipes that I was sharing with [my] friends and other blog subscribers,” she says. Once “Bottom of the Pot” really took off and Deravian got some attention and accolades from the larger culinary publishing community, she was approached about the idea of writing a book. Her immediate initial response was: thank you, but no. She had no intention of writing a cookbook at that time. She says she didn’t feel like she had enough stories to tell or enough recipes to share. “As was my lifelong habit to take my time, to sit on things, to ponder for extended [periods] before starting any new endeavors, I kept writing the blog and cooking in my kitchen for the next year or so. After about a year of considering it, I felt I had enough of a story to tell to fill a cookbook,” Deravian says.
The process of writing and publishing Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories took about two and half years. Deravian says that the book-writing journey required a lot of time, effort, sacrifice, and patience but was nonetheless satisfying. In one of her blog posts, Deravian compared her writing process to “having had a third child.”
On the surface, Bottom of the Pot might look like many other cookbooks – organized in chapters, each chapter for a category of dishes. A slightly more careful look, however, reveals stories, that are intimate and important. In each chapter, before sharing recipes, Deravian starts with a personal or family Persian food-related story. The appetizer chapter starts with a 1978 childhood story from Tehran. The ash and soup chapter starts with a story about Vancouver in 1983. The rice and tahdig chapter starts with a 2016 story from Los Angeles. As Deravian’s family traverse the globe in search of a place to lay roots, Deravian’s family finds comfort and familiarity “in pots of hearty ash, steaming pomegranate and walnut chicken, and of course, tahdig: the crispy, golden jewels of rice that form a crust at the bottom of the pot. The best part saved for last.”
Deravian’s cookbook has been quite successful and is currently in its eighth printing. It received the 2019 International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Julia Child First Book Award presented by the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, which is intended for the first cookbook by a writer who has not previously authored or coauthored a food or beverage related book. Since the publication of her cookbook, Deravian has been a guest on National Public Radio, Talk Iran podcast, the Farhang Foundation culinary program, and articles about her or by her have appeared in the national media including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Fine Cooking. She also now contributes to New York Times Cooking.
Follow Deravian’s work @bottomofthepot.