BOYNTON BEACH, Fla.—What’s cooking in the Armenian Kitchen these days?
Chief cooks Doug and Robyn Kalajian happen to be celebrating an
auspicious occasion with another delectable meal and perhaps a bottle of
They’re toasting a happy marriage as well as a happy website that has caught the attention of its one millionth page viewer.
“Raise the glasses and bring out the special tableware for this
occasion,” bubbles Robyn. “What a milestone! You could knock us over
with a feather.”
The big day arrived May 27 when the website registered 547 hits, a
tad less than the previous day, which received 931. Over May, the site
registered 27,580 views, and passed the million mark by 331.
It has anything and everything you wanted to know about Armenian food a million times over and still counting.
Among the latest queries was from Mark Gavoor with his oud in hand. He represents the voice of Chicago with an appetite to match, especially when it comes to such delectables as perper salata, Kharpert kufteh and topig. Just like medzmama’s cooking!
He has this to say about the Kalajians:
“Their Armenian Kitchen blog is an Armenian-American treasure. Their
passion for the preservation and dialogue of our culinary roots is
nonpareil. I wish I were more of a cook than simply an avid fan of
results of Armenian cooking pros like Doug and Robyn. If I were, I’d
certainly take advantage of their wonderful and voluminous collection of
recipes. Maybe one day.”
Whether it’s their concoctions, a friend’s, or from another’s cookbook, it’s all up there for people to enjoy, says Gavoor.
“The Kalajians provide great stories and give ample credit to wherever the recipes may originate from,” he adds.
everything you want to know about Armenian food one recipe and story at
a time, whether it’s Aunt Arpie’s deviled eggs or Gavoor’s amazing
cheese puff/bourag called “penerli.”
Put on an apron, wash your hands, and join the Kalajians on their epicurean journey.
“Armenian recipes are as varied as their regions and dialects,” agrees Robyn. “No two choreg
recipes are alike. Food connects us across all boundaries. We like to
think we’re preserving our heritage one recipe at a time.”
We caught up with the Kalajians in the comfort of their kitchen. No
doubt, it’s their favorite room. And with the electronic era, they share
it with the world.
Doug, too, is absolutely dumbstruck by the overall popularity of his
nutmeg. As he understands it, the stats mean his website has been
clicked on over a million times by almost 300,000 different readers.
“It tells us that people keep coming back,” he says. “We know this
because Google tracks visits automatically and tells us what stories
they read and where they may live, right down to the village in China,
Africa, or the Middle East. It’s been an amazing journey over these past
Other remote areas include Mongolia, Laos, Iceland, Uzbekistan, and
United Arab Emirates. A man from Australia was so desperate for the
taste of basterma, he sought the recipe. A woman from Canada sent along an easy method of making madzoon in a microwave. Others are hoping to find lost family recipes.
Doug worked as an editor, reporter, and feature writer for over 16
years with the Palm Beach Post before retiring in 2008 from what he
calls “a sadly shrinking newspaper industry.”
Along the way, he wrote a non-fiction book called Snow Blind about a crusading public defender caught up in Florida’s cocaine insanity of the 1980’s.
Robyn, a retired culinary arts teacher, remains the chief cook with
this production duet; her husband calls himself a sous chef. Dining with
them in an elaborate Florida restaurant is quite the appetizer.
“I’m absolutely dumbstruck by the overall popularity of YouTube,
which has displaced traditional TV for so many people,” Doug points out.
Most popular so far is how to make shish kebab with more than 65,000
views. More so than the website, the videos seem to draw a diverse
audience that includes many non-Armenians. The reaction has been
powerful and sometimes overwhelming.
“Our cooking videos have been watched more than 230,000 times by
viewers from around the world.” Doug notes that some videos have also
become a lightning rod.
“There’s a furious international food fight being carried out among
various groups claiming the identity and origin of dishes from
throughout the Near and Middle East,” he confirms. “Armenian cuisine is
under heavy fire, particularly from Azerbaijan and Turkey. The comments
get downright nasty sometimes, but I rarely feel the need to reply
because Armenian viewers jump in quickly with their own response.”
The Kalajians remain content to leave questions about the food
industry to the experts while they try to satisfy a clear desire among
Armenians to share their recipes and the traditions they represent.
One lesson that’s been driven home is that the Armenian menu is
incredibly varied because it reflects the far-reaching experiences and
travels of the Armenian people over centuries.
“Our cuisine is still evolving as Armenians adapt to the changing
world,” he agrees. “Ask Armenians from Yerevan and Lebanon to describe a
typical meal and you may get very different answers. But you might find
the same divergence between two Armenians from New Jersey if one family
came from Dikranagerd and the other from Van.”
After starting the website in March 2009 with nothing more than the
thought of sharing recipes with an unknown global audience, it’s become
an evolving turnstile.
“We always wanted to work on something together,” they said. “Robyn’s
knowledge of food and cooking with my writing skills was an obvious
The Kalajians are based in Boynton Beach, where they cook and write.
Both are involved with St. David’s Armenian Church and piped into the
Armenian community. They’ve connected people with recipes, specific
ingredients, and other curiosity-seekers. Through their website, they
found a cousin named Maro Nalabandian, a noted pastry chef.
“I’d heard about her family over the years but we’d never met until
this past April,” said Robyn. “The passion for food must be in our
Baking the distinctive cheese bread recipe that Robyn learned from
her grandmother not only brings back memories, it gives the Kalajians a
small taste of the little village in the shadow of Musa Dagh, which her
ancestors left nearly a century ago.
A plea for assistance came from Tigran Shahverdyan, a scientist from
Moscow participating in the International Space University’s studies
program at Florida Institute of Technology.
He didn’t have a car and needed to know where the nearest Middle Eastern store was located. He wished to buy lavash
for a cultural project to which he was committed. Being the only
Armenian in the group, he wanted to do an Armenian-style barbeque.
Using her computer, Robyn located a store near his school that sold
lavash and passed on the information diligently, much to the delight of
the faculty and students.
“We’ve posted recipes related to certain Armenian traditions,
celebrations, and holidays,” she brought out. “Our main purpose
continues to find and preserve Armenian family-style recipes. Sometimes,
it’s a challenge with regional dialect and recipe name/spelling
differences, but we’re always up for that. At times, we turn to readers
for help and someone usually comes to the rescue.”
The Kalajians would love to publish their own cookbook but the idea
always seems to find “the back burner.” Yet, it’s not out of the
question. A calendar has been suggested and that’s another possibility.
It’s just a matter of time and timing.
As for television, that’s highly unlikely. They’ll stick to their
YouTube videos for now. In the meantime, they’ll focus on being an
interactive site that reaches far beyond their wildest dreams.