Women In Food - Fery Haghighi - Fery's Catering
by Erin Peterson
Featured in Spokane Coeur d'Alene Living Magazine
You may not know her name, but Fery Haghighi was an early mover and shaker in the Spokane food scene. When I think about her, the first word that comes to mind is exquisite. Exquisite food, coupled with exquisite presentation, and an exquisite story and personality.
Not long before the Iranian Revolution, she came to visit her middle brother who was a heart surgeon in Spokane and while doing some household shopping, she bought around $2,000.00 worth of bedding and towels at the Crescent to take back home. She never dreamed that within a couple of years she would make this sleepy city her home. After she relocated here and began frequenting estate sales to furnish her house, Fery ended up at a sale with the very same woman who had sold her the linens under vastly different circumstances. Fery displayed the same sense of humor and grace that she is known for today as the two made the connection that they had once spent an entire afternoon together selling/purchasing the goods to take overseas.
Fery was born in Iran, where her oldest brother was the Minister of Education in the Shah’s Cabinet, and she was a debutante- the family story from Tehran to Spokane is the stuff of movies. Her husband, who was educated at UCLA and BYU, became a mining engineer, returned to Iran and worked with a subsidiary of Kaiser Aluminum. His role in the company afforded them a luxurious lifestyle beyond the wildest dreams of most of the population of the world, with servants, a spectacularly decorated home, and ironically, a live-in cook. Their situation rather suddenly changed with shifting political tension and because of her brother’s position, they were at risk to be executed when the Shah’s government was overthrown. With the help of both brothers and their connections with people from Geneva to Spokane to Washington D.C., including the help of then Congressman Tom Foley, the family was eventually allowed to come to America, after having fled Iran with one suitcase for all of them and taken refuge in Switzerland.
As Fery and her family struggled to find a way to make a living in their new surroundings, they turned to what Fery had been particularly gifted in - cooking and entertaining. At the time, Wonder Bread was THE bakery here in Spokane and French pastries were mostly an object of curiosity. They decided to introduce Croissants, baguettes and French pastries to the city. People fell in love with croissants instantly and would buy them by the dozen, but the baguettes and brioche went untouched. They did everything they could to introduce the population to the beauty of this freshly baked. Luckily, a trendy Italian restaurant moved in next door, and when they marketed their mini-baguettes to them, they sold dozens every evening. Eventually their breads became so popular that they opened a bakery to supply all of the local restaurants with their breads. They became famous for more than just pastries though. Their chicken and spinach pasta salad has a cult following, such that many young people who have moved away still return during visits home to seek them out for their chicken pasta. She lovingly calls them “Au Croissant Babies”, and she treats them with the same love and respect that she shows her own children. When cholesterol became a major health concern, demand for buttery pastries dwindled and their business slowed down. With another shifting tide pulling them from what they loved, they pivoted their focus to catering and continue successfully feeding the people of Spokane with their uniquely delicious Persian and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.
One gift in particular that Fery possesses, is that she is the most gracious hostess, at a level that I aspire to achieve. We were invited to attend a private dinner party in her home where she planned to invite upwards of 20 influencers and food writers to introduce them to her cooking, and of course, her dynamic and engaging stories.
She began the gathering by serving beautifully plated and presented appetizers, along with a wine selection that would be the envy of any book club. My favorite amongst the items she served was Crispy Shrimp in Kataifi Crust - and if you’d like to try it at home (even if it won’t be as good as Fery’s), feel free to try the recipe. They were moist and succulent inside, with the satisfying lightly salted crunch and of the Kataifi. It was the perfect bite. Another favorite was the layered cheese terrine, which has been a favorite of every catering client since the Au Croissant days.
Next, we adjourned to the sitting room so that we could chat while we enjoyed our meal, and that’s when this experience became so much more than a meal, but fellowship. All of the guests in Fery’s home felt instantly accepted, welcomed and like honored guests, and as we each introduced ourselves and shared heartfelt sentiments, the conversation grew in how we could help in Spokane. Chaps’ Celeste Shaw led a discussion on creating a community garden in Vinegar Flats, another discussed the challenge of becoming accepted into society as an immigrant and the challenge of loneliness, another person discussed the evolution of the food community, and the mood in the room took a deeply personal turn in the loveliest way. Once strangers, now friends. That is the power that Fery has when she gathers people around a table.
Next, it was time for dinner. There was braised beef, different salads, cabbage rolls, fire-roasted vegetables, delectably poached salmon, stewed eggplant and my very favorite dish from my childhood (where I grew up in a fabulously diverse neighborhood with Persian neighbors) - Tahdig - a Persian rice dish with a perfectly crispy bottom and lightly orange flavored, and saffron stewed chicken. The crisp on the rice looks almost black, but lends a nutty, smoky flavor to the richly seasoned, tender chicken.
The conversation and the wine continued to flow in the kitchen, where we were all honored to sit at Fery’s table and could watch her cook and ask her endless questions about her story. She obliged us later in the meal by telling us the entire harrowing tale of her escape from the Ayatollah, and then her courageous climb back to a self-sustaining life in a country she now passionately calls home.
The moment we have the opportunity to eat Fery’s delicious cuisine again by catering a party, a picnic or even a dinner for two, we are going to jump at the chance. This incredible woman is inspirational not just with her story, but also the loving touch she has with making food that comforts the soul as well as the body.
If you'd like to experience Fery's cooking for yourself, visit her at Fery's Catering - 421 South Cowley Street in Spokane, WA 99202. (509) 458-5234