Many restaurant and catering businesses start the same way. Someone with a talent in the kitchen is encouraged by friends and family members to start their own gig.
That’s precisely what happened to Butte resident Azhar Bougary, who recently launched Saffron Catering, a new catering endeavor that specializes in international cuisine — food from the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Far East, more precisely.
Got a hankering for handmade Baklava or Lemon Lavender Cookies? Bougary has you covered. Would you like to try something new, such as Chicken Satay? Check. Do you love samosas or maybe naan bread served with curry made from rich, velvety coconut milk? Then step on down to Saffron Catering.
Like the food she serves at Saffron, life for Bougary is an international affair.
A pharmacist, Bougary came to Butte three years ago to do rotations at St. James Healthcare. She grew up both in the U.S. and her dad’s hometown of Mecca, and she hopes to one day establish her own pharmacies in Saudi Arabia. For the time being, however, Bougary plans to keep serving international dishes to the community of Butte.
Bougary is self-taught in the culinary arts and learned to cook from reading books and practicing, but she learned many of her chops in the kitchen from her grandmothers.
During her childhood in Saudi Arabia, Bougary spent Thursdays in her grandmother’s kitchen, where her grandmother would cook lunch for the whole family.
Today some of those same recipes continue to be Bougary’s favorites.
Dishes like Russian dumplings — steamed dough stuffed with meat, herbs and onions, which are often dipped in diluted black vinegar — and Indian biryani rice are her first-stop shop when it comes to comfort food.
Hailing from Moroccan and Turkish backgrounds, Bougary’s grandmother was a witty, intelligent woman who was capable of handling just about anything that came her way, Bougary says. She was both mentally and physically strong, and according to family lore, she once killed a python when it wandered into the family home.
Bougary’s parents met in Boulder, Colorado during a Halloween party after the two were set up by their roommates. Originally from Chicago, Bougary’s mother came dressed up as a German, lederhosen included, and her dad, showing his characteristic sense of humor, was dressed as a “backwards Arab,” wearing a button-up shirt backward, a tie on his head sideways and a traditional Yemeni men’s skirt backward.
Some might say Bougary’s parents were an unlikely couple, but the Butte resident says it was a match made in heaven.
They ended up falling in love, and her mother moved to Saudi Arabia to marry her father.
Bougary’s parents wanted their daughter to experience both American and Saudi cultures, so the family split their time between the two countries. To outsiders, Mecca is a legendary city, but for Bougary it was simply the place she grew up.
“It was home,” she said of the international city.
Bougary sometimes felt out of place as a kid with one foot in America and the other in the Middle East. To Americans she was the weird foreigner, and to Saudi Arabians she was an American cowboy.
Looking back, however, she says she’s proud of her international childhood. She’s comfortable in just about any setting, has traveled all over the world, and learned three languages along the way.
“In a way, I’m grateful,” said Bougary, looking back on her upbringing.
Bougary said she started Saffron Catering at the urging of friends who longed for world cuisines.
“So, I figured, why don’t I provide that?” she said.
Her first gig was in March, and, among other events, she recently held a showcase at Slainte Butte America Pub in Uptown Butte, preparing Greek food for the event from the Silver Bow Developmental Disability Council’s kitchen on Mercury Street.
In addition to Greek food, Bougary offers a variety of menus, including those based on Arabian, Indian, Southeast Asian and Moroccan cuisines. She has ambitions to find a food truck for the business and host private cooking classes in customers’ homes, and she says she does her best to source her ingredients from local vendors.
Her daughter Zahrah Bougary, who recently moved to Butte, has been helping Bougary with the business, most recently helping Bougary prepare for the Slainte event.
When asked what she likes about cooking, Bougary said she finds it relaxing and enjoys making her customer’s happy.
“I enjoy seeing people smile and enjoy what they’re eating,” she said. “I enjoy seeing the delight once they’ve tried something new.”
She added that she sees food as a form of cultural exchange — something that sparks curiosity and creates conversations.
“It brings people together,” Bougary said.