He cooks. He hugs. AND he dances!
Paris Nabavi is renowned on Maui, not only as a chef who owns Sangrita Grill + Cantina and Pizza Paradiso in Lāhainā, but also as a host, who invites private groups into his home to experience his legendary Middle Eastern food.
As a proud Persian, Nabavi aims to share the culture’s tradition of incredible cuisine and a truly warm welcome any time of day, calling hospitality and guests “the most important part of life.”
“When the guest comes into our home at breakfast, lunch or dinner time, we all stop; we offer our place to the guest,” he explains. “That needs to stay! That’s a great culture, there is no reason to lose that.”
Nabavi and his wife Donna welcome more than 20 guests into their home for a unique Persian dining experience every few months. Tickets cost around $150 per person, all to benefit Grow Some Good , a local nonprofit that helps students establish their own school gardens to inspire better nutrition and connections to food sources.
“They’re learning the gardening, they’re learning about preservation of the land and soil and how important it is to conserve resources. Everything’s recycled in our gardens, composted,” says Malia Bohlin, development director for Grow Some Good.
Students then get to harvest, prepare and taste the fresh food they grow. The organization started at Kīhei Elementary in 2008 and has since grown to 12 schools across Maui.
In addition to the ticket sales, Chef Nabavi donates all the food and supplies for the dinners, which include a lavish spread of Persian and Middle Eastern options. A recent menu looked like this:
Roasted Eggplants, Whey, Caramelized Onion, Garlic, Mint
Persian Cucumber, Tomato, Red Onion, Parsley, Mint, Lemon Juice, Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Herbs, Goat Cheese, French Feta Cheese and Flat Bread
Dolma – Rice and Herbs
Roasted Garlic Preserved
Persian Dill Pickles
Torshi – 10 Years Old Mixed Vegetable Pickles
Spicy Mixed Olives and Roasted Garlic
Yogurt and Persian Wild Shallot Dip
KHORESHT-E QORMEH SABZI WITH LAMB
Stew of Fresh Parsley, Scallions, Coriander, Fenugreek, Dried Persian Lemon, Kidney Beans served with Saffron Basmati Rice
Saffron Ice Cream with Rosewater, Pistachio
Joseph Pluta, one of the dedicated regulars at Nabavi’s private dinners, says the chef always puts a unique twist on the food, which is consistently spectacular.
“You can’t beat it,” he says. “What an opportunity to make a contribution to such a worthwhile venture, and at the same time you get this incredible Persian feast!”
They also get top-notch wine, quality entertainment and lots of laughter paired with the food. Nabavi had his guests cracking up as he crafted a song and dance to teach them the name of a roasted eggplant dish known as Kashk-o-Bademjoon.
That entrée, complete with homemade whey, had fellow chef and restauranteur Cody Christopher “blown away” by the flavor.
“I could do some damage to that with some tortilla chips and goat cheese,” jokes Christopher, who had never tried Persian food before and says he’s been inspired to make his own cheese. “I would devour that. I wanna take it home with me!”
Christopher co-owns Three’s Bar & Grill in Kīhei, along with chefs Jaron Blosser and Travis Morrin. After the Nabavi dinner, Three’s chose Grow Some Good as the recipient of its Kama’āina Giveback Program for the month of September .
The three chefs share the non-profit’s vision of boosting agricultural awareness on Maui, says co-owner Travis Morrin.
“When I was in school, gardening was the last thing that you were going to learn,” he explains. “I have a passion for it now, and I think so many kids should experience that and have that connection with food and where it comes from.”
That mission has materialized with the chefs’ newest venture, a locally-sourced eatery called Fork & Salad . It opened July 13 in Kīhei with a range of Maui greens, gluten-free dressings and 50 fresh ingredients for salads and sandwiches. See our video and article on Fork & Salad here .
“We’re doing everything we can to support all the local farms,” Morrin explains. “It’s exciting to be part of this movement and I feel like everybody on the island is really starting to be aware that it’s something we can really do together.”
Together with students, Grow Some Good has also made an impact. One example? Bohlin points to a harvest party at Kamali’i Elementary, where students could put their freshly-grown produce atop homemade pizzas. She says three years ago, students just wanted plain cheese pizzas and shunned the vegetables. This year? They used all the vegetable toppings, and the most popular creation was “Beet-za,” using thinly-sliced beets with pesto.
“That was in three years. Imagine in 10 years, and if those kids are able to progress through the grades to junior high and high school and still have access to school gardens,” Bohlin says. “We’re changing communities at that point.”
Chef Nabavi is helping to change communities beyond this event. He also supports Grow Some Good and seven other local non-profits through his Nabavi Legacy Fund, which promotes a biannual dining promotion called Maui RSVP .
Nabavi aims to have community donations supporting his fund and helping local groups long after he’s gone.
“I’m doing my best to do my share, and I hope I can instill that in my daughter. The best gift you can receive is to give,” says Nabavi, whose father was a philanthropist, along with his brother.
“It adds and up and it adds up, and that’s what my legacy is about. Do something right.”
And while you’re doing something right, if Nabavi has anything to do with it, you may as well eat great food, hug some new friends, and dance to the Persian tune of “Kashk-o-Bademjoon.”