From Iran to Le Cordon Bleu, This Atlanta Chef Brings Her Passion Project to Buckhead
Chef Forough Vakili to open Le Bon Nosh this spring.
Growing up on her family farm in Iran, chef Forough Vakili didn’t realize there was any other way to eat besides using what’s around you. Her fondest food memories revolve around picking saffron flowers with her parents at dawn and celebrating Iranian festivals and holidays, like Nowruz (or Persian New Year) when her mother made exquisite gingersnap cookies in the tandoor oven.
“You or your next door neighbors grew things for your own consumption,” says Vakili, who came to the United States at 16. “My whole perception of food was that you ate within a 100-mile radius, and I didn’t realize what an amazing thing that was until I moved here.”
With a fierce dedication to offering locally sourced food as her guiding principle, Vakili is set to debut Le Bon Nosh (“the good bite”), a café and market in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood in May. The vast 6,300-square-foot space—delayed from originally opening last summer due to the pandemic—will encompass a bakery and barista station, natural wine bar, dining room, and open-display kitchen at its center.
Yet her journey to becoming a culinary entrepreneur was hardly linear. To respect her family’s expectations of higher education, Vakili earned a chemical engineering degree from Georgia Tech. After two unsatisfying years in the field, it was a chance perusal of the Le Cordon Bleu website that led her to consider a career in food. With encouragement from her husband, Vakili set off to Paris for a year.
“It wasn’t until I was in Paris that I was able to reconnect with myself again,” she recalls. “Coming from Iran to America, it’s such a big difference culturally and then going to Paris, and that slower pace of life, that true appreciation for food, it awakened that part of me again.”
Every Sunday, she would head to Marché Raspail, a nearby organic farmers’ market to buy fresh ingredients for a weekend breakfast. “I would come home and make myself this spread, just take it all in, and kind of daydream about what’s to come. Now looking back, that was genuinely the start of Le Bon Nosh,” says Vakili, who created the business plan as far back as 2013.
After graduating that same year, she completed an internship at a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Brittany, France and then returned to Atlanta, where she threw a series of pop-up dinners featuring ambitious nine-course meals with wine pairings. Her food and style charmed executives at Porsche who attended one of the events, and they asked her to be their culinary consultant for the soon-to-open North American headquarters.
Five years passed, and she decided it was time to focus on her own endeavors. She started finalizing her business plans for Le Bon Nosh, choosing to partner with Los Angeles-based firm Commune to transform her vision into reality. The restaurant will be infused with design touches reflective of Vakili’s heritage: saffron-dyed velvet curtains, a light constellation of star signs in tribute to her two children, and teal and pale blue tones representing the French coast.
“I want you to come in, and genuinely feel like you’re eating at my dining table,” Vakili says. “And that’s what we’ve been able to do with the design, it feels very residential. It doesn’t feel like a commercial space.”
In fact, Vakili chose the Buckhead neighborhood because its food offerings are proliferated by national chains (think California Pizza Kitchen and Shake Shack) and lacking spaces that involve the community. The affluent neighborhood, in many ways, feels disconnected from the rest of the city and state, and Le Bon Nosh’s mission is to bridge that local gap.
Vakili’s primary rule when it came to the food is that it had to be local. To that end, the menu will feature nourishing comforts like bone-broth based porridge, tartines with green salads, confit and tapenade sandwiches—sourced from places like Conley-based Decimal Place Farm, seventh-generation Hickory Hill, and family-owned Riverview Farms.
“Besides having our farmers in the limelight, I wanted our food to be similar to what I experienced growing up,” says Vakili. “We ate what was in season, what was local, and we thrived.”
Later this year, Vakili plans to launch programming to address food insecurity in the greater Atlanta area. She says she’d like to build a brand in order to advance good causes in our society, with a clear focus on uplifting children.
“Especially after having kids, I felt that it was completely unacceptable for us to have children that go hungry in our world,” says Vakili, who has a seven-year-old daughter and seven-month-old son. “Hopefully, we’ll expand and have 10 of these locations, but my dream is to create a brand that is a for-profit company that stands for non-profit work. And to really showcase that you can be both.”