We had the good fortune of connecting with Zarah Khan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zarah, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
When I was in my twenties I was crazy. I would work 6-7 days a week regularly. My first year as an executive chef, I trained for and ran a trail marathon! Now, I need balance. I am more aware of burnout and I understand that creativity only flourishes when you have space away from the grind of work. You can’t be holding it together, short staffed, working 14 hour days and be your best from a leadership or creative standpoint. I have become more protective of my time to just be a human in the world because that effects how I am able to show up at work each day.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m really excited that the industry has started to diversify. When I started cooking I was super intimidated because most of what was getting recognition was very white and male. A lot of boys club, toxic masculinity. I’m sure part of it is me getting older and more confident in my cooking, my place in the industry, but it definitely feels like there is more space for people like me to gain a foothold and be taken seriously. Right before I moved to LA I staged at a place down here and I remember having this whole identity crisis, like, I’m just not the type of cook who can walk into any kitchen and kill the grill station, and I felt super vulnerable about it. But a colleague of mine was like, “thats not who you are as a cook, and thats not what you’re here to do. Thats ok. You have your own style”. And it really shook me. I spent so many years trying to prove myself. Trying to earn a seat at the table. It took a long time for me to be able to admit my shortcomings with confidence; to recognize that you can’t be great at every single thing / every single style. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but coming up in very male dominated spaces, I didn’t feel like I had any space for them. I’ve seen men behave in deplorable ways and go undisciplined. In our society, men are given much more room for mistakes. Women, especially POC women, are not given that allowance. It’s hard, in that structure, to give yourself grace and it’s been a learning curve for me. But allowing myself grace increases my ability to give my team grace. You can’t be super harsh on yourself internally, and successfully be soft outwardly. It starts within.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
OH man so many! I’m a runner so I would make sure we hit some of my favorite spots, Beachwood Canyon, Griffith Park, The Hollywood Reservoir. I have a favorite beach in Malibu, near Paradise Cove, where the path to the water is overgrown with bougainvillea and its gorgeous.
Cannot miss Far East Plaza in Chinatown. Say hello to Ken and his fam at Now Serving for all the best cookbooks and snag an apron from White Bark Workwear, Charlie is one of my favorite humans on this planet. Hit Lasita for amazing food and natural wine, tell Chase I sent you.
I dare you to go to Tsubaki and Ototo and NOT drink way too much sake while you eat some of the best food in the city. Hit Ricks Produce in East Hollywood or Moon Juice in Silverlake for smoothies to soothe your hangover the next morning. Pickup some wine and snacks at Wine and Eggs in Atwater. Go to Pine and Crane for bok choy dumplings and dan dan noodles. Get the mushroom tacos from Tacos 1986. Get the shrimp tacos from Mariscos Jalisco in Boyle Heights. Get tacos from Anajak Thai in Sherman Oaks on Thai Taco Tuesday. It’s worth the drive.
Hit up the Silverlake Flea on Saturday for great people watching and vintage tee shirts from my boy Cynn.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The whole team at Botanica really. I am very lucky to work with many beautiful humans who are excited about creating an environment of nourishing hospitality from the ground up. The energy there is unique.