Zov Karamardian Anniversary Tribute
ZOV Karamardian Anniversary Tribute.
The usual focus of this feature is a chef’s recipe using selected seasonal produce, provided by Melissa’s, to demonstrate creative ways to prepare the fresh ingredients like a professional. Although this article does come equipped with, not one but two, recipes using the bounty from the first harvests of summer, both must take a back seat this month to Chef Zov Karamardian. Here at Melissa’s she is part of the family on many levels, so in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of ZOV’S BISTRO, in Tustin, California, it is very appropriate that this feature abandon its normal format for a blatant toast to this amazing woman and friend.
Much has happened since Zov flipped the sign to OPEN that first day in 1987 with a crew of three, including herself, serving only lunch six days a week and hoping for the best after years of home-kitchen catering. Today this talented culinary entrepreneur has recently opened a second location, with a third due to open in November, and employs a staff of 145 dedicated people. Over the years, the original restaurant has expanded into three venues under one roof: the Bistro and the Café, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus there’s the amazing Bakery, which would be more accurate if named The House of Temptation!
Long before she published her own successful cookbook entitled, Zov: Recipes and Memories from the Heart, her writings on cuisine and cooking had been appearing regularly in all the major food publications. Her office walls are cluttered with culinary awards and the stack of glowing reviews from the most esteemed critics in the business has never stopped growing since the first plate was served at her eatery. The cooking classes that she still conducts on the premises are sold out weeks in advance and both locations also offer catering and banquet services.
While Zov was building her eatery into the thriving business it is today, she was also successfully moonlighting full-time at being the life partner to husband Gary and mom to son, Armen, and daughter Taleene. As Gary wound down his own successful engineering career and the kids grew into creative individuals in their own right, all have become integral parts of the family business. Armen, the financial manager of the company and a proud father, pointed out that there is also another generation being raised to join the family’s business. Armen is infectiously passionate about his role in developing the family’s interests and is obviously in charge of the visions department. In fact, everyone in the family seems to be having a great time working together!
Zov has also managed to find the time and the heart in recent years to selflessly host numerous charitable events. This socially concerned woman has donated countless hours supporting local and national organizations dedicated to helping others. As recently as May 25, Zov was one of five business women, out of nearly 160 outstanding nominees, presented with the 2007 Women in Business Award by the Orange County Business Journal. A one word internet search will generate a litany of Zov’s awards, reviews and accomplishments over the years.
However, this is a tribute to those sitting at the head table in this feature, so to speak, who have found a way to balance a deep friendship with a very successful and professional relationship that started in a living room and extends far beyond the Bistro’s kitchen. The business relationship with Melissa’s, the company, grew from a friendship between Zov and Sharon Hernandez, the wife of Joe, founder of Melissa’s, and mom to the real Melissa. It began with a chance meeting at an International Association of Culinary Professionals conference and developed first between the women, then spread to their husbands and children. The two couples have traveled the world together and attended the weddings of each other’s children. The bonds between the two families are heartfelt connections that preceded the business relationship and will always supercede it,” says Gary Karamardian.
Armen added his thoughts on why the relationship works on a business level: “We are two families of friends who all understand business and the role that personal relationships play in being successful in our professional endeavors. That understanding means that we can distinguish and separate our business relationship from the deeper friendship that came first, which is exactly why we can operate on both levels without jeopardizing either. It’s a balance rarely achieved, mixing business and friendship, but that’s the point – we don’t.”
Gary tells the story of sitting around their living room one evening complaining to Joe about his dissatisfaction in the restaurant’s produce supplier at the time. “After listening to me whine long enough, Joe, whose business was focused exclusively on supplying retail grocery stores, offered to use his company’s resources and delivery system to solve my supply problems. Before he could change his mind, I gave him my order sheets right then and there.” Melissa’s is in the foodservice business because Joe responded to the needs of a friend, as is his way, which many in the extended Melissa’s family know well. Today the company supplies fresh produce to eateries throughout Southern California and Las Vegas, as well as all the major professional sporting arenas in the region. It all started in Zov’s living room and we thank her for setting that table!
Some of the pictures in this feature are from last month’s 20th Anniversary celebration held at Zov’s Bistro. Selflessly, but not unexpectedly, Zov deflected some of the attention from herself by using the event to benefit two of her favorite charities: Serving People In Need [SPIN] and The Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine. The evening made good on the event’s promise of serving, “1001 Mediterranean Spices and Flavors” with an eclectic array of Zov's incredible cuisine served to a room full of loving friends and admiring fans.
When contacted for this feature, the anniversary gala was just weeks away and the second location in the Newport Center, Newport Beach, had been open only one week. Still, as this month’s Guest Chef, she somehow found time to look over our June harvest list to come up with two great summer recipes. First, as a fitting compliment to whatever is sizzling away on the grill, Zov’s Favorite Potato Salad relies on a refreshing hint of mint to accent the wonderful taste of our new crop of Dutch Yellow potatoes. She then serves up a delectable Peach Orange Parfait, an elegantly light and flavorful ending to any meal on a warm summer’s evening.
So Zov, the Hernandez family, as well as the entire extended family at Melissa’s who have worked with you, be it on supplies for next week’s menu or some special needs for a cooking class or helping with one of your events on behalf of others, raise our glasses in toast to you for your friendship. While we may each define that term differently, we can all agree that it’s been a pleasure. May all that you have accomplished be a glass half-filled and may your future spill over with success and happiness. From the bottom of our hearts, Bon Appetit!
To learn about the amazing family who grew the organic peaches used in Chef Zov Karamardian’s wonderfully flavorful Peach Parfait see the UNKNOWN GROWER feature in this same edition.