Chef Sepehr Sadrzadeh
IOWA CITY’S popular Pullman Bar & Diner pays homage to America’s hard-working past while putting a fresh spin on traditional diner fare. Its long, narrow space references the interior of a railroad car, and patrons can sit at the bar overlooking the open kitchen and watch staff prepare tasty dishes. Chef Sepehr Sadrzadeh describes the Pullman as “heavily embedded in American comfort food. . . . But everything we do is with a chef-driven twist and a focus on seasonal ingredients.” He kindly agreed to tell us more about his inspirations and motivations as a chef.
Tell us a little about your background and career highlights.
Chef Sepehr Sadrzadeh: I was raised in Seattle, Washington, and started my career catering at the age of 15. I went to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in California’s Napa Valley, and did an apprenticeship under Chef Chris Weber at the legendary Herbfarm restaurant in Woodinville, Washington. After culinary school I moved to Iowa to open Big Grove Brewery in Solon as the sous chef under chef Benjamin Smart. After 16 very busy and successful months, we opened Pullman Bar & Diner and I was named executive chef. Since opening Pullman in 2015, we have been featured in the New York Times and on The Today Show and the Food Network.
What inspired you to become a chef?
The team mentality and instant gratification of restaurant cookery really appealed to me as a teenager. I’ve never had any other job than being a cook, and I really don’t think I could have a desk job. At a young age I put the idea in my mind that I would become a chef and have been pursuing that dream ever since.
What’s your favorite part about developing new recipes?
My favorite part about menu development is mentoring my management staff in the kitchen on the creative process. There are tons of variables involved in finding an appropriate menu item—cost, seasonality, practicality, etc.—and the route to finding the best idea is a tricky one. I very much enjoy watching my sous chefs come to their own conclusions with what they have learned on the job.
If you could create a dream menu, what would it include?
I absolutely love noodle soups. My dream menu would definitely be a ramen shop. My friend Lennon and I have been dreaming up a concept for five-plus years. That’s the dream we hope to make a reality someday.
What food trends do you find particularly inspiring?
As a first-generation American, I’m so inspired by young immigrant or first-generation American chefs who are delving deep into the food culture of their people. More often I’m hearing of chefs looking to their roots for influence on their menu. It’s something I’m trying to do more of with my Iranian heritage.
The counter at Pullman Bar & Diner overlooks the busy kitchen.
What food trends do you deplore?
Honestly, there aren’t any food trends that bother me. I’m a big believer in supporting people trying to make a living in food service through something they care about. If people are doing niche things in the market that they believe in and work towards every day, then they are a member of the kitchen family and have my support.
Currently, what’s your favorite vegetable?
Kohlrabi has always been my favorite vegetable. I can eat them like apples.
What neglected food should more people eat, and why?
Offal meats. We try to teach whole-animal butchery to our staff at Pullman as much as possible. A big part of my philosophy is using every part of an animal if we are going to be taking their lives.Plus, they are delicious when prepared properly!
What do you end up cooking at home?
I’d be a bold-faced liar if I said I cook at home regularly. When I do cook something, it’s usually just a roasted chicken. There’s something very comforting about having a simple roasted chicken and some good bread.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you do?
Music is the biggest part of my life outside of being a chef. I started playing cello in fifth grade and still play in my free time. I’m deeply passionate about hip-hop and have been making rap music since a young age. I’d definitely be trying to make it in the music industry if I wasn’t a chef.
Tell us the best and worst things about being a chef in Iowa.
The access to amazing produce in the warmer months is an awesome part about cooking in Iowa. As far as the worst part, I really can’t complain much, but as a Seattleite, being far away from the ocean is strange for me. I do miss the fish markets and the Puget Sound, for sure. But we have different advantages to us here in Iowa!