BOSTON, Mass.—Nathan Kibarian grew up watching his mother and grandmother bake exquisite Armenian pastries. Now, people are watching him.
Nathan is the type of pastry chef you would want in your kitchen the night of a VIP house party. Just leave the phyllo dough and other ingredients to him.
After spending a few years tempting palates with the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C., Nathan has returned home, turning heads at the Bastille Kitchen in Boston, which offers an eclectic approach to modern Parisian dining.
And many of the recipes he learned from generations past are being employed in his new environment.
“I’m a first-generation American,” he says. “My grandparents lived next door and there were always family dinners. Everything was home-made, especially the desserts. Armenian flavors are natural and home-spun with lots of fresh ingredients. I don’t want people to be completely confused about what they are eating.”
Nathan is a local guy, born in Boston and raised in Chelsea before moving to Lynnfield at age 11. He has a presence in Haverhill as member of the Armenian Church at Hye Pointe and manages to give demos whenever the invitations come.
“When we were new to the church community, they accepted my family with open arms,” Nathan said. “It was a real blessing for us.”
To say he is inspired by his Armenian-American upbringing is an understatement. Lots of reading, research, and constant learning. Last May, he gained raves at the chef’s party sponsored by Armenian Heritage Park. Callers gravitated to his table like a magnet.
“Running a pastry kitchen was always my goal since the fourth grade,” he recalls. “I baked a lot in my free time and offered to make desserts for parties. It allowed me to practice and turn my hobby into an eventual career. Some of my harshest critics were Armenians.”
Nathan graduated summa cum laude from Johnson & Wales, a prominent culinary arts institute in Rhode Island. From there, his career simply took off following a 3-month apprenticeship in France.
They gather in lots to see him perform his dexterity behind a table. It gets even more delightful come sampling time. No doubt, Nathan, 23, is a master chef who tends to prefer a low profile in the kitchen until diners compliment his concoctions.
“Who baked that?” they may ask.
The chocolate demo he did last Christmas in Haverhill proved the talk of the Armenian community. He’s planning another gig this Christmas to showcase other dessert techniques.
When it comes to his own favorites, there’s both good and bad tastes. He likes a good New England clam chowder and he loves cheese. Mild, sharp, tangy, melted, or cold. It’s all delicious. A piece of baguette and some dried fruits and he’s completely taken.
There’s the junk food junkie side and gulp! Anything salty. That means sunflower seeds and roasted nuts, or tortilla chips. A favorite dessert is the popular Middle-Eastern delicacy baklava, particularly his mom’s.
A cocktail now and then settles the stomach as well as the nerves. Serve him up a “sidecar” with cognac, triple sec, and lemon juice with plenty of ice.
Nathan is not a big fan of molecular gastronomy and all of these trends. He prefers traditional dishes presented with a modern flare and believes diners prefer a straight-forward approach to dessert.
A couple classics: a raspberry napoleon with sea-salted cocoa biscuits sandwiching a dark, chocolate cream, set on a swipe of raspberry marmalade; an apple tart made with a whole bourbon-poached apple and caramelized puff pastry.
Armenians are partial toward his “Mount Ararat, a bonbon made with pomegranate juice, a dark chocolate truffle flavored with Armenian cognac.
Nathan tends to be a perfectionist who pays attention to small details. Motivation comes in the items he chooses to bake.
He samples his own products and wouldn’t serve up anything he doesn’t like. As for weight control, it’s as difficult sometimes as a good exercise regimen. When you’re on your feet 10-12 hours a day with an average of 11,000 steps, no coaching is necessary.
So what would he serve if the president of the United States came calling? Nathan wouldn’t bore him with anything he could have at a state dinner prepared by a White House executive chef.
Instead, he would present a table with fresh and dried fruits, nuts, Armenian coffee and tea option, baklava, and his napoleon. He calls this a dessert table fit for any dignitary, allowing for a pleasant finish to a satisfying meal.
“All these items on the buffet would allow you to linger on your beverage and fulfill your sweet tooth,” he confirms. “An after-dinner brandy would be the topper.”
Nathan gardens his own vegetables. One day he wants to buy a farm or vineyard. It’s a pipe-dream, he admits, but an aspiration nonetheless.
And what would he order for dessert at a restaurant, given the choice?
“Sometimes a small bowl of ice cream or sorbet is a perfectly refreshing end to a good meal,” he says. “If it’s on the menu, then tiramisu. But I rarely dine outside.”