Shared by Ronit Drucker, Rozita Gol, Evelyn Siouni and Coby Gohari
The ‘Boss Lady’ Mashadi Chef and Grandmother
The ‘Boss Lady’ Mashadi Chef and Grandmother
She was a “boss lady — one of the strongest women I ever knew,” says Evelyn Siouni as she describes her late grandmother Tamar Moradoff. “She was loving, but so tough. So honest and to the point.” She was also an extraordinary cook and caterer who was flown around the world to cook for families from the Mashadi Jewish community.
Born in 1929 in the Uzbek city Bukhara (then part of the USSR), Tamar’s family set out for British Mandate Palestine when she was very little. “Back then it wasn't so easy to travel from one place to another,” explains her daughter Rozita Gol. They left on a carriage pulled by a donkey first for Herat in Afghanistan and from there on to Mashhad in Iran, where the family decided to stay instead of continuing their journey.
She was the oldest of six children and the family tomboy, who always helped out her father, who imported foods from Herat to Mashhad. “Her nickname was ‘Tamara Aghah,’ which means Mr. Tamara in Farsi,” her son Coby Gohari adds.
When she was 18, she married Mosheh Elishayov, who was almost 40. A fellow Bukharian Jew, his family fled Bukhara around the time of the Russian Revolution and like Tamara’s, set out for Mandatory Palestine, but settled in Mashhad. They lived modestly together and she helped support the family by making cheese and pickles that she sold from home. In those days, matzo was baked locally for Passover and one day, she was asked to help when a worker didn’t show up. “That was her starting point,” in the professional kitchen, Rozita explains.
As the Jewish community started to move to Tehran, the family of seven (which would later become 9) followed in 1958. Unable to afford a home in the expensive capital, they moved into a local synagogue called Abdollah Zadeh and worked as the shamashim, caring for and cleaning the synagogue in exchange for rent. It was here that Tamar’s cooking career really took off. She would help out an elderly Muslim cook named Senobar in the synagogue’s kitchen, mastering Persian recipes and the ability to cook for large parties quickly.
“She became the official Mashadi chef,” Rozita explains. Jewish traders and those making their way from Afghanistan to Israel through Iran would stop for kosher meals in their home and she prepared food for parties in the community that sometimes had thousands of guests. Mashadi families in Italy, the United States, and Germany would also fly her in to cook for a simcha, or celebration. Rozita says she’s still approached by people who tell her her mom cooked the food for their wedding, bris, or engagement.
By the start of the Iranian Revolution in 1978, many of Tamar’s children had settled elsewhere. Rivka got married in 1967 and moved to Afghanistan, Coby went to Oklahoma to study, others to Israel and the U.S. Rozita and her brothers Michael and Avi were still living in Tehran, as were their parents. They moved to Israel and shortly after Tamar’s husband Moshe passed away in 1982, she moved to New York to be closer to her sons. Here, she continued to work as a chef and caterer, even owning a restaurant for a short while.
At home, she always brought her large family together with food. “For her, every holiday was an excuse to gather,” explains her granddaughter Ronit. She made stews like ghormeh sabzi loaded with herbs and another with chickpeas, turnips, and meatballs. For the springtime holiday Shavuot, which is traditionally celebrated with dairy recipes, she made shir berenj, a rice pudding topped with saffron syrup, an egg and herb omelet called kuku sabzi, green rice with dill and lima beans, grape leaves stuffed with rice and dried fruit, and a creamy noodle dish.
When Tamar turned 65, “She retired from catering, but never from cooking,” Rozita notes. She taught Persian cooking classes for young couples at a Mashadi synagogue in Queens and in Great Neck on Long Island and everytime Ronit would visit from Israel she would ask Tamar to teach her a dish that she wrote down in a notebook.
For Tamar’s 90th birthday, the family started assembling a cookbook with her recipes, but the project was put on pause during COVID. Now, Rozita and the family are working on it once again in memory of her mother, who passed away a year ago, at the age of 94.
Towards the end of her life, Tamar said her greatest reward was cooking for her family, bringing everyone together, and seeing the legacy she was leaving behind. She was the matriarch of seven children, 23 grandchildren, and 50 great-grandchildren. “My mom was a very special woman known by many,” Rozita says. “Her legacy is something that I am proud to carry through me. Our whole family is so grateful to her — we are where we are because of her."