Chef Alissa Asmarian, owner of upscale Armenian restaurant Heritage Eatery in L.A., teaches Chef Marcus Samuelsson how to prepare ghaparma. (Wonho Frank Lee)

LOS ANGELES (LA Weekly) — No Passport Required with Marcus Samuelsson, which explores the food and communities of America’s immigrant neighborhoods, kicks off season 2 on PBS January 20 with the premiere episode featuring L.A.’s Armenian community and cuisine.

The Ethiopian-born chef raised in Sweden journeys from East Hollywood to Glendale, visiting Phoenicia Restaurant, Mideast Tacos, Papillon International Bakery, Sahag’s Basturma among others meeting Armenians from Russia, Lebanon, Syria, Ethiopia and Egypt. From lule kabob to ghapama (pumpkin stuffed with apricots, rice and Aleppo peppers,) Samuelsson explores the rich Armenian history passed down from generations in L.A.’s foothills in the series co-produced with Eater.

“I discovered how extremely diverse the community is, whether it’s Persian Armenian or Turkish Armenian,” the New York-based Samuelsson tells L.A. Weekly. “It has so many geographically different entry points – which also means bringing a lot of different traditions together and says a lot about the strength of the community and their commitment to holding on to these traditions. I had some of the most delicious food and best conversations and saw how deeply proud these people are to be both Angelenos and Armenian.”

The premiere highlights the combination of younger chefs born in Los Angeles, blending new ingredients and techniques with traditional Armenian rituals passed down to them by their grandparents.

“You have the young caterer who is walking a walk between traditional Armenian food and ingredients you might find in French restaurants, balancing between rituals and spices and traditions,” says Samuelsson. “Some are using foie gras in their sausage, for example. Then you see things like how pumpkin is used, yogurt and different dairy products combined with spice blends that have been used for hundreds of years. There’s a fine line between holding on to your rituals which started as cab driver food and create new versions of that for the Smorgasburg crowd.

An immigrant himself, Samuelsson’s inspiration for the series came from Jonathan Gold opening our eyes and our minds to immigrant communities. Los Angeles offers what his adopted hometown of New York doesn’t — it is vast and big and it’s not one thing.

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