A lot of us graduate and feel at a loss because we don’t know what we want to do with the rest of our lives. There’s a sense of pressure mixed with the desire to tap into something that drives us not only to success, but aligns with our passion.
When Amy Pezeshkifar, 23, graduated in 2012 her passion was clear, but the path was one she knew would bring little support from her family and her Persian community.
While at CSUN she had been dedicated to her studies which led her to graduate with a degree in business, all of which made her family proud. But something was missing; although she knew she could use her degree, business wasn’t what she craved.
Pezeshkifar wanted to be a chef, but not just any chef; she wanted to be a MasterChef.
She says she saw early on that preparing and sharing food was an act of love that had the power to bring people together. Some of her fondest memories are of helping her grandmother prepare meals for holidays and the family’s Sunday brunches.
Her love and appreciation for it was so powerful that she put together a book of recipes in junior high which led to her hosting “cooking parties” in high school and college for her family and friends.
Although everyone always enjoyed and raved about her meals, Amy said only one person supported her desire to make a career out of it. She notes that the lack of support is more cultural than personal as careers in food are looked down upon in the Persian community.
When others turned their back on her dream, her brother, and biggest supporter and motivator, Alex, stepped up and encouraged her to go after it.
“I always thought she’d be good for TV,” he said. “She’s always wanted to be a little famous.”
After years of her cooking and the family watching MasterChef together he decided it was time for Amy to take control of her destiny.
So when he found out the show was holding auditions he urged her to tryout; the only catch was she’d have less than 24 hours to pull something together.
Alex said his sister was nervous at first but he assured her that she had nothing to lose.
When she claimed she wasn’t ready and didn’t have time to think of something to bring because of the short notice he wouldn’t hear of it.
“I told her that she had better get up early to make something before she went” he said.
When asked what was going through her mind when they called her name the next day she said all she could do was scream.
All of her hard word and devotion to honing her craft had just landed her a coveted top 30 spot on the shows 5th season.
“I was the only one in the room yelling,” she said. “I had been dreaming of being on one of these shows, but you never really think it’s going to happen.”
It was in that moment she realized the power of stepping out on faith and going for what she wanted.
Although she was eliminated in the earlier rounds she said she’s thankful for the experience and friendships that came from it.
She credits Chef Gordon Ramsay for helping her become a better chef everyday.
“I really learned to look up to him even more after MasterChef,” she said. “He gave such great criticism and feedback in such a positive way.”
While being on the show was one of her life’s highlights, confirmation that she has what it takes to succeed was one of the biggest rewards.
“Being able to prove to myself and my family that this is my calling and passion and that I can be successful was one of the greatest achievements,” said Pezeshkifar.
CSUN’s school of Business Professor David Fox and one of Amy’s former professors, said her dedication and commitment to seeing things through and working as part of a team are just two of her many strengths.
“Amy is a person who has a great desire to do her best in everything,” he said. “Her culinary interests were just one aspect of her abilities.”
She said if she’s fortunate enough to compete in season six it will be for the right reasons. “I went on the show to prove everyone wrong,” she said. “If I’m able to go back next season, it will be for me.”
“I am extremely proud of Amy and I am sure that the MasterChef competition is just the beginning of her accomplishments,” Fox said.
These days she is working on a Masters in Business at Pepperdine and a book of recipes for the family with her grandmother, including some of the ones she jotted down in that composition book from Junior High.
Her ultimate goals are to publish her recipes and build an empire which would include her own brand of cookbooks and cooking segments.
She believes all of these aspirations are more than attainable if she incorporates some of the tools she learned from her business classes with Dr. Fox.
“He put real situations in front of us each week and we discussed what we would do in each situation,” she said. “The classes taught me how to delegate and prioritize which has helped me a lot with cooking and life in general.”
Pezeshkifar said she uses those lessons to encourage those around her to push their limits especially with cooking. “I like to get people to participate; to show them ‘look how easy this is, you can do this too.’”
To show just how easy it is she’s provided two of her favorite go-to recipes for you to try.
Spinach Artichoke Dip
1- 12oz bag thawed spinach
1/2 Cup of Mayonnaise
12oz chopped artichoke hearts (canned or frozen)
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1/2 Cup Ramano Cheese
3/4 Cup Chicken Broth
1-8oz Box Cream Cheese
3 Cloves of minced garlic
Chili flakes (depending on how much you want)
1/4 Cup Mozzarella
In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients together excluding the mozzarella cheese. Put the combined mixture into an ovenproof dish. Top with the mozzarella cheese. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes until you can see the edges bubbling/boiling. Serve with bread, chips or carrots for a delicious appetizer!
Tahchin with Chicken
Tah means bottom. Chin means layers. This delicacy is a crispy rice cake that makes an excellent dish served with salad.
2 Cups of Rice
5 Cups of Water
2 Tablespoon Salt
1 ½ Cups of Plain Yogurt
½ Lime (juice)
4 Strands of saffron
¼ Cup boiling water.
1 lb Boneless chicken thigh
½ Teaspoon Turmeric
5 Tablespoons oil
1 Tablespoon Barberries
Boil the water with 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the rice and allow it to cook for 8 minutes, until it is al dente (not cooked all the way and has a bite to it). Strain the rice and rinse with cool water.
Combine the saffron and ¼ cup of boiling water. Allow it to steep for a couple minutes. In a bowl, mix the yogurt, yolks, juice of ½ a lime, saffron water, 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Add the rinsed rice to the yogurt mixture. Reserve ½ cup of the mixture for later use.
Marinade the chicken in ½ teaspoon turmeric, ¼ teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Allow it to sit together for a couple minutes. Heat a pan with 1 tablespoon of oil and cook the chicken. Once cooked, chop chicken into 1-inch cubes. Add the chicken cubes to the reserved yogurt mixture.
Put about 4 tablespoons of oil in a 9×9 oven proof dish (I used a Pyrex). make sure you coat all of the sides and the bottom. Add half of the rice and yogurt mixture and press down firmly to flatten out. Add the chicken mixture and 1 tablespoon of barberries. Top it off with the rest of the rice and press down firmly again to make sure it is even,flat, and compact. Is compact the right word? lol
Cover loosely with aluminum foil and puncture the top so steam can escape (we want a crispy bottom!). Put into a preheated oven at 350 for 1 hour and 30 minutes. If you use a pyrex, you will be able to see the bottom and sides turn golden, and that is when you know it is ready. Use a knife to loosen the edges and flip over. You want the crispy bottom to be on the top. Cut this just like you would a cake and serve slices with a side of salad. Enjoy and don’t be intimidated, you can all do it!
For more of Amy’s culinary adventures follow her on Instagram @amypez