Louisville Restaurateur Anoosh Shariat Doesn’T Plan To Let His Recent Diagnosis Affect How He Lives.
Story by Steve Kaufman
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
Anoosh Shariat sat down at his Brownsboro Road restaurant last week to reveal that he has been diagnosed with cancer. The disease is never something to be glib about. But Anoosh (it’s always “Anoosh” – how many people in Louisville know him by any other name?) has turned a cancer diagnosis into an upbeat, positive, life-affirming experience.
Anyone who knows Anoosh knows that this is exactly how he lived his life before the diagnosis: smiling, positive and a believer in healthy eating and other good habits.
Anoosh and his wife, Paula Barmore, have been vegan for years. He uses only outstanding ingredients in his restaurant and in his home, practices Tai Chi and hosts a monthly “Compassion & Cooking” breakfast with his personal trainer, Carlos Rivas, director of fitness and wellness operations at Proformance Health and Wellbeing.
Word may have previously leaked about Anoosh’s condition. He has now officially come out with the news (although he declined to talk about the type of cancer he is dealing with or the prognosis for this story). But don’t cry for him, Kentuckiana. He still runs two thriving restaurants with plans for a third – or more – and still caters practically every charitable event in town. (A partial list includes Families for Effective Autism Treatment [FEAT], The Healing Place, Court Appointed Special Advocates [CASA], March of Dimes, the Multiple Sclerosis Gala, Denim and Diamonds for the Parkinson’s Support Center and Bourbon & Bowties for Norton Children’s Hospital.)
Has this recent development changed his life? Well, he now takes a day off now and then. In fact, part of his announcement was that Mark Ford, his chef de cuisine at Anoosh Bistro, will take over as day-to-day head chef. Ford, a Sullivan University graduate, started his career with Anoosh at Browning’s and Park Place before moving on to Louisville Country Club and St. Charles Exchange. He rejoined Anoosh earlier this year.
“Mark has exactly the same philosophy about the guest experience as I have,” Anoosh said. “Besides, I’m 60 now, and I was looking to pass the baton. It’s a good time to transition.”
He has dinner with Paula at home more often rather than working until midnight, which is good for her. “I would always just throw a sweet potato in the Instant Pot or something,” she admitted. The pair has been together for 12 years. Before they got together, the recently-divorced Paula actually fixed up the recently-divorced Anoosh with one of her friends. “My friend and Anoosh did not have any connection,” she recalled. “I sent him flowers the next day, he asked me out and we’ve been together since.”
Regular trips to the Norton Cancer Institute for chemotherapy are now part of his regular routine. But he also had a port inserted in his chest and walks around with chemo and immunotherapy pumping through his system.
“It keeps me ambulatory, able to work and to get around, and to be with friends I didn’t always have time for before,” he says.
He spends more time with their blended family of five children and two grandchildren. He shook his head when he thought of the parties and events – even his own kids’ graduations – he previously missed because he was always working.
“Life is for living,” says the man whose slogan is, “Eat Well, Love Life.”
Italian Hostage Situation
Like a lot of Iranian restaurateurs in Louisville, Anoosh came to the U.S. to study engineering in the late 1970s. He then became isolated here when the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81 led to his family’s funds being frozen. To earn money for school, Anoosh and many of his compatriots worked in restaurants – cooking, waiting or bussing.
“Iranians weren’t particularly popular in the U.S. then,” he recalled. “The owners of the restaurants would tell customers we were Italians.”
The happy result of this includes a number of Louisville staples: Majid’s, Z’s Steakhouse, Saffron’s, Pesto’s, Caspian Grill and every other restaurant Anoosh has owned and operated since he came to Kentucky from Texas in 1988. He was executive chef at Remington’s, then ran Shariat’s, Browning’s and Park Place at Slugger Field.
In 2014, he opened Anoosh Bistro in the Brownsboro Center, a cool and elegant 85-seat space where he resumed his high-end dinner practice.
Two years later, he opened a new spot across the parking lot, Noosh Nosh – an inviting breakfast-lunch-all-day restaurant. It’s a casual, come-as-you-are, family place.
The brightly colored sign above the door looks like it was made out of Life Savers. But don’t suggest that candy reference to Anoosh or Paula; sugar is something these healthy eaters avoid like the plague. Anoosh has introduced as many healthy options into his menu as possible.
Eat Your Veggies
“I’ve challenged myself in my cooking to put vegetables front and center,” he said.
His special skill is to make everything as delicious as possible and so, he said, his fire-roasted skillet brussel sprouts “fly out of here.” They’re as popular as his mac-and-cheese and French Toast Foster. He also whips up cream and Hollandaise with the best of them, and some of his most popular dishes come with a Pappy Van Winkle maple syrup.
At the Bistro, he has vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free items, several tofu dishes and lots of vegetables on his menus. He uses grass-fed beef and goat cheese. He makes mozzarella cheese out of crushed and smoothed almonds and offers soy or almond milk and various real-fruit juices.
“I had the first five-course vegetarian menu in the city,” he said proudly. But even non-vegans benefit from his skills. “My claim to fame has always been that you feel satisfied but you won’t need Pepto-Bismol,” he said. “Our food is not covered with multiple fats. Food that’s right – best ingredients, best preparation – doesn’t sit heavy on you for hours afterwards.”
However, he’s not a scold nor a proselytizer. “Whatever you want to eat, we’ll give you the best we can give you,” he said, “but we’ll talk to you about better eating if you ask.”
Few things make him happier than pleasing his guests. His eyes shone when he talked about the couple that recently came to his Bistro to celebrate their 30th anniversary. “They celebrated their 15th anniversary at Shariat’s,” he said. “And they ordered the same food this time as the last time.
“I’m a chef who wants to cook for guests, not for myself,” he continued. “And Mark has that same philosophy about the guest experience.”
An Uncluttered Life
“Cancer unclutters your life,” said Paula, who has added “caregiver” to her resumé. “You focus on what’s most important – activities, events, people.”
“I take a whole day off now – I never did that before,” Anoosh said. “And when I work, it’s eight hours instead of 12-15 hours.”
Having Ford take over will help get him out of the restaurant, but not to lie down. Paula and Anoosh both laugh at the idea that someone with cancer ought to take it easy and get off his feet.
“Bad advice!” said Paula. “The new research says, keeping your blood flowing is the most important thing, and keeping your energy up is a must. Exercise is important, but smart exercise – it helps your body heal itself.”
It’s better than medicine, Anoosh insisted. “When people get sick, they stop taking care of themselves because they think medicine will take care of them,” he said. “I think it’s what you eat, how you exercise and how you think.”
Sure, there are days when the chemo messes with his stamina – and also with his palate. “But,” he said, “I cook with my eyes and nose. My nose is stronger than my palate.”
He will continue to do his charitable catering, though now he understandably has a special place in his heart for the American Cancer Society and for Gilda’s Club, the organization that supports those living with cancer and their caregivers.
“I’m not dying of cancer, I’m living with cancer,” he asserted. “Living with cancer, to me, is like living with a heart problem, or just living – period! All the ups and downs we all have.”
“The perception is (that) life has ended,” said Paula. “It hasn’t! Anoosh has an awesome attitude. Now, if he’d been in a plane crash – yes, that would have been a life-ending diagnosis.”
“Cancer is funny,” said Anoosh. “Everybody shrinks from it, they whisper it, they’re afraid of it. It’s not contagious – it’s just cancer.” VT
Anoosh Bistro will donate a portion of proceeds from their new menu launch June 25 to 30 to Gilda’s Club of Louisville.