MEET TEAM LAVASH, who ate their weight in lavash while making this book.

John Lee, Ara Zada, and Kate Leahy. Photo by Raffi Youredjian

John Lee, Ara Zada, and Kate Leahy. Photo by Raffi Youredjian

JOHN LEEphotographer

When I got the invitation to teach photography in Armenia, I had already become established in San Francisco as a photographer working primarily in food and portraiture. But my roots are in photojournalism. I was a staff photographer for the Chicago Tribune from 1996 to 2005, which included covering presidential campaigns, the rise of China, civil unrest in Haiti, Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan and Indonesia, and the war in Iraq. I was also part of the team of journalists at the Tribune who won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for its profile of the chaotic American air traffic system. Since leaving the Chicago Tribune in 2005, I have photographed more than two dozen cookbooksI like to approach food photography from a cultural perspective, as seen in my previous project, Burma Superstar: Addictive Recipes from the Crossroads of Southeast Asia (2017).

ARA ZADAchef + food stylist

I grew up in an Armenian-Egyptian household in Southern California, which meant spending a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and eating. My nickname growing up was “kol-kol” given to me by my grandpa, which means, “eat-eat” in Arabic. I would eat anything and everything in my path. I naturally gravitated towards the kitchen but it wasn’t the food that brought me there alone, I really just wanted to play with the knives and this was the only way my mom would let me. I did eventually (sort of) grow up, graduating from Le Cordon Bleu and working for Jaime Oliver on the television show Food Revolution. Since then, I've worked for ABC, CBS, NBC, and Food Network as a food stylist and I've participated in Jamie Oliver's Food Foundation as a culinary instructor in the foundation's mobile teaching kitchen. I have also led cooking workshops elsewhere, including Armenia. Today, I am an executive chef for Fresh Gourmet Cuisine, where I develop recipes for Las Vegas hotels and supermarkets nationwide. When I was a kid, the only Armenian cookbook I ever saw was The Complete Armenian Cookbook, Including Favorite International Recipes. The problem is, it's really not "complete." I want Lavash to raise the bar on Armenian cookbooks, giving cooks a window into the real, and really old, world of Armenian food.


The first piece I ever had published was "Feeding Nostalgia: Cookbooks and Armenian-American Identity," which ran in Explorations, a UC Davis research journal. It involved a year's worth of research, including visits to the California State Library archives, reading every Armenian-American community cookbook available through interlibrary loans, and driving to Fresno to eat lahmajoon, among other things. Once the piece was done, though, I put the subject of Armenian food aside for years. I went to work as a line cook in Boston, San Francisco, and Napa before later attending Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Since then, I have written or contributed to more than eight books including A16 Food + Wine, winner of the IACP Cookbook of the Year award, Cookie Love with pastry chef Mindy Segal, and Burma Superstar:Addictive Recipes from the Crossroads of Southeast Asia, a cookbook about a California-Burmese restaurant in San Francisco. Yet I never quite forgot about the ties between Armenia, food, and cultural Identity that drove me to spend a year researching a country that was both very far away but felt tangibly close. Returning to the subject of Armenian food for Lavash feels as though I'm picking up where I left off. 


In the press/more about us

Hear co-author Kate Leahy talk about learning how to make lavash on the Modernist Breadcrumbs podcast. LISTEN HERE

Read about lavash in Explore Parts Unknown HERE

Read about khorovats in HERE

For more about how the three of us met, read Part 1: Forming Team Lavash