By Tom Vartabedian
BOSTON — Nathan Kibarian grew up watching his mother and grandmother bake exquisite Armenian pastries.
Now, people are watching him.
Kibarian 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 working at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, DC, Kibarian has returned home, creating new fans 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.”
Kibarian was 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 demonstrations whenever invited.
“When we were new to the church community, they accepted my family with open arms,” Kibarian said. “It was a real blessing for us.”
Last May, he gained raves at the Chefs Party for Our Park sponsored by Armenian Heritage Park. Visitors 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.”
At 23, his future seemed clear. He graduated summa cum laude from Johnson & Wales, a prominent culinary arts institute in Rhode Island. From there, his career simply exploded following a three-month apprenticeship in France.
His baking demonstrations always thrill the watchers, who wait to become samplers.
The chocolate demo he did last Christmas in Haverhill became the talk of the Armenian community. He’s planning another gig this Christmas showcasing other dessert techniques.
When it comes to his own favorites, he said 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 is happy.
Being immersed in sweet tastes all day, he likes salty snacks such as sunflower seeds, roasted nuts and tortilla chips. A favorite dessert is the popular Middle-Eastern baklava, particularly his mom’s.
The kitchen is his domain, however. Kibarian said he is not a big fan of molecular gastronomy and all such trends. He prefers traditional dishes presented with a modern flare and believes diners prefer a straightforward approach to dessert.
A couple of his classics are a raspberry napoleon with sea-salted cocoa biscuits sandwiching a dark, chocolate cream, set on a swipe of raspberry marmalade and 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 and a dark chocolate truffle flavored with Armenian brandy.
Kibarian tends to be a perfectionist who pays attention to small details. Motivation comes in the items he chooses to bake. Even shopping for groceries and paying bills turns him on.
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 gym 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.
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 a 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.”