By Margarita Martinez | Monday, April 22, 2013
It was only a matter of time before we visited Watertown for some Armenian culture. This neighborhood has so much Armenian culture to explore, including three Armenian churches and an Armenian school in such a small area! If you head a bit west from Coolidge Corner in Watertown, be sure to check out the Armenian Library and Museum of America. It is a gem of a museum that is privately funded and contains artifacts from Armenia, including textiles, metalwork, jewelry, books from hundreds of years ago, and a permanent exhibit on the Armenian genocide. I was also lucky enough to catch the current Yousef Karsh exhibit that includes gorgeous portraits of historical figures such as Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill, and Ernest Hemingway.
Almost immediately after the first Neighborhood Kitchens episode premiered, one of our viewers recommended we head over to Coolidge Square for Armenian cuisine. However, we had trouble finding an Armenian restaurant to feature. Then it dawned on us: why don't we explore one of Coolidge Square's wonderful Armenian markets? Thus, this episode of Neighborhood Kitchens is truly unique as it is the first time we are learning recipes and exploring the inner workings of a market instead of a restaurant.
Listen to Margarita talk about her visit to Watertown on Morning Edition
Sevan Bakery has the feeling of an Old World European neighborhood market. Inside there is always at least one member of the Chavushian family - mother Margrit, father Kaprel, and brothers Nuran and Murat. It makes sense as this is truly a labor of love for the Chavushians. The father purchased the market in 1985 after arriving in Massachusetts from Turkey in1979. Having little knowledge of running a food market, he compiled his family recipes and introduced them to the market. He still works at Sevan Bakery, but his sons have taken over the running of the business with their mother continuing to work several shifts behind the counter. "The big boss is my mother,” says Nuran with a smile.
People from all over the neighborhood come in looking for specialty items, spices, olives, nuts, and, of course, the wonderful prepared foods. Positioned right behind the cash register, Nuran can see who enters, who is browsing the aisles, and who needs assistance selecting from the delicious assortment of feta cheeses from around the world, baklava, and other spreads and baked good behind the glass display case. However, the most striking element of his vantage point is the large window behind the cash register, where Nuran, a man with boundless energy and a wicked sense of humor (essential traits when you have a family business that's open fort welve hours a day, six days a week), can look outside and see who's coming and going down Mt. Auburn Street. He's waving and smiling at people he knows and if he doesn't know you yet he's fairly confident he will meet you soon.
I learned so much about the different eats offered at Sevan Bakery. From Armenian string cheese to what makes a Bulgarian feta (a great choice to eat sliced with tomato, basil, and some balsamic vinegar) different than a French feta (a subtler flavor perfect for making boregs). It wasn't until I visited Nuran that I learned that theTurkish and Armenian dish imam bayildi literally means, “imam fainted.” Legend has it that the imam of the village tried this stuffed eggplant dish and passed out because it tasted so good. Or did you know that karniyarik, which we make on the show, means stomach? Because, well, you are again stuffing a “stomach-shaped” eggplant. Even the popular lahmejune, or Armenian pizza, means “meat with dough.” I felt like the more food I ate, the more I would be able to converse in Armenian!
Sevan Bakery is one of several different Armenian markets in Coolidge Square. It is such a treat to stop in to see what each one offers and get a taste of an old world European neighborhood market, especially with owners like the Chavushians happy to answer your questions and actively preserving the heritage of the cuisine.
Born in Central America to a Guatemalan father and an American mother, Chef Richard García discovered his passion for food at a young age while watching Julia Child on TV. García launched his career as a chef in downtown Boston before heading south to cook in some of Miami’s hippest kitchens.
His growing love for the restaurant industry compelled him to enlist in the Marines and enroll in the U.S. Army Food Service School at Fort Lee, Virginia. Here he received his formal education in culinary arts. After his deployment, Chef García served as a personal chef for high-ranking military officials in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other American bases.
Executive Chef Rich Garcia oversees all culinary operations at the Renaissance Hotel in South Boston. He is known for his commitment to spreading the word about ocean-friendly seafood, fishing and the state of the oceans. Chef Garcia was interviewed by series producer Patricia Alvarado Núñez. Below are excerpts from the interview.
NK: When did you discover your passion for cooking? RG: I discovered my passion for cooking I think as a kid. The first thing I ever made with my mom was a quiche. And I think I was six years old. And saw Julia Child making a quiche on TV and I said, 'Wow that's cool, I want to do that.' And I asked my mom to do it and she thought I was a little nuts but she let me do it. And I think just from a kid, I really enjoyed watching food--you know, I didn't watch too many cartoons, I guess. But the passion for cooking really didn't come in until a couple years after I had already been in the industry. When I saw the impact food could have on people and the experience you could create with a person through your food--that's really when food started to become a passion.
NK: You are known for your innovative cuisine and for being an advocate for ocean-friendly seafood. RG: We have so many challenges with our local fisheries that I wanted to essentially save the American fishery, so to speak. And I wanted to help you be able to understand what's going on with the fishermen and the fish that's in our waters. But also help you understand that we're not running out of fish.
There are many transportation options, but this time I decided to travel by water taxi to South Boston, which allowed me to see Boston from a completely different point of view.
It’s hard to imagine that South Boston was once a remote peninsula with only iron foundries, machine shops shipyards, and refineries…connected to nearby Dorchester by just a narrow stretch of land. Today this area is one of Boston's fastest growing neighborhoods…home to a $850 million 516,000 square foot Convention Center, award-winning Institute for Contemporary Art building, the World Trade Center, Bank of America Pavilion, several major hotels, parks and over 50 restaurants.
I met Executive Chef Rich García at the Renaissance Hotel, where he oversees all culinary operations. Chef García is known locally and nationally for being an advocate for ocean-friendly species. He travels the country talking and learning about overfishing, the importance of giving a break to some species as cod and haddock, and introducing what he calls “trash fish” or underutilized species of fish to menus.
I was excited to meet Chef García and learn about South Boston’s evolving history and how and why he sources locally harvest products. He took me across the street from the hotel to Boston’s historic Fish Pier, which opened in 1914 and is the oldest continuously operating fish pier in the country. He introduced me to Jared Auerbach, owner of Red’s Best, a local seafood distributor whose innovative logistics technology streamlines, tracks and accelerates seafood transactions, reducing costs and transport time between fishermen and consumers.
Inside Red’s Best warehouse I experienced all kind of fish and shellfish and learned about pollock and dogfish, two species of fish that are less utilized, but equally delicious. I also tasted ocean fresh raw scallops, and for the first time sea urchin. Sushi delicious!
Back at Chef García’s kitchen we prepared three fabulously tasty recipes: Taylor Bay scallops with ceviche sauce, local pollock with bacon & seaweed consommé, turnip puree and pickled mushrooms, and Chef García’s famous “trash fish” minestrone…all made with ocean-friendly seafood choices.
Working on this episode intrigued and excited me to cook at home using locally caught sustainable seafood species. Hope you find inspiration on Chef García’s recipes too!
About Neighborhood Kitchens
Building on a 35-year history of producing Latino and multicultural programming, WGBH’s award winning La Plaza team has a new offering — Neighborhood Kitchens, a series about the exploration of culture through food. Every week the show offers a unique window into immigrant communities in New England.
Saturdays at 4pm on WGBH 2
Fridays at 7:30pm on WGBH 44
About the Author
Margarita Martinez Margarita Martinez grew up in the Bronx, NY and Ossining, NY with a Puerto Rican father and a Franco-American mother. She now calls New England home. Margarita has always had an insatiable appetite for travel and food. She made her first empanada as a teenager visiting Argentina, satisfied her sweet tooth with poffertjes and stroopwafels while studying in Holland, engorged herself on Thai street food for a month in Bangkok, and continues to search for authentic international cuisines in the Northeast. Margarita loves to discover new ingredients, flavors, and cooking approaches that she can bring to her own home kitchen.
On the Go
In each episode, host Margarita Martínez visits a different ethnic restaurant and learns three delicious recipes from the chef. She also explores the restaurant’s neighborhood, discovering hidden gems along the way. Join her as she learns about new ingredients, new cultures, and new neighborhoods. ¡Hasta pronto!