A journey to Armenia through food: The Armenian bread that’s at the heart of every meal

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ara Zada found himself drawn to the kitchen at an early age. 

"I started in the kitchen when I was five… I honestly wanted to play with knives, and that was the only way my mom would let me play with knives, so I started cooking," Zada recalled. He is now the Chef and co-author of a cookbook called "Lavash."

However, he didn’t start out as a chef.  Zada first got involved in the family business, yet always found himself back in the kitchen.

"I went to culinary school and started my process. Cooking has always been a passion of mine, and it's been something that I enjoy doing so that was kind of my journey into it," he said. 

That journey eventually lead him to Armenia.

"I was always told that when you go to Armenia, you're going to have this different feeling inside of you, a different kind of experience. I wasn't really sure about it until I first set foot there. One of the main things that I noticed is I didn't really know much about the food; the cuisine was completely different than what we know as being Armenians here in LA," said Zada.

Ara partnered up with TUMO, a free educational program for teens, and taught cooking classes.

He met and teamed up with John Lee who was teaching food photography and Kate Leahy, a cookbook author from San Francisco. The three of them decided to put together an Armenian cookbook.

"We said 'we'll put our boots on the ground in Armenia, we’ll get recipes from villages and nobody can deny the fact that this is what they're making in Armenia'. So, it's more of like a timepiece— this is what people are cooking in Armenia at that time," said Zada.

It took four trips and four years to put their book together. They went with the name "Lavash" -- because you will find lavash at the heart of every Armenian table.

"Lavash is a beautiful flatbread that's cooked in a ground oven called a tonir. They basically slap this thin dough that‘s stretched out over the walls of this tonir," said Zada.

There are over 60 recipes in the book, which are sectioned off by experiences. Those experiences lead the three of them to try things they had never imagined.

"You’ve got to think about Armenian cuisine in that region as hundreds and hundreds of years ago where borders weren't drawn. There were villages, there were kingdoms and people were making food from the land, and that food is going to cross. So dolma (grape leaves) is Armenian to me, and if you go to Armenia they're going to tell you that dolma was Armenian, but you can go to Greece and they're going to tell you that dolma is Greek. So it's regional— the flavors are different," said Zada.

"The beauty of Armenian cuisine and Armenians in general, is that if you go to Armenia, you can be walking through a random village and someone will spot you out, they'll bring you into their home, they’ll feed you, they’ll make you stay the night—and this is somebody you don't even know!"

Check out the YouTube channel "1,000 meals" to get how-to’s on the recipes from the book.