Chef Sirouj and Sarah Kachatourian are creating handmade chocolate bonbons that look like pieces of art and can be delivered to people shut in at home. Chef Sirouj talks about his professional history, his free cooking classes, and how he is trusting God after his job disappeared in the pandemic.
Question: You are a Cordon Bleu-trained chef with a passion for pastry and chocolate. You and your wife have started selling chocolates online during this crisis. What are you selling? Who is buying?
Sirouj: During this lockdown, my wife and I had the opportunity to start up our business again. We produce Belgian-style bonbons at the moment but will expand to include Parisian macarons and chocolate bars as well.
Sarah: It was always Sirouj’s dream to open a confectionary shop. We first tried to start this business in 2017, when we were living in California and working long hours at other full-time jobs. But we both wanted to give people something they hadn’t seen before. We wanted to provide flavors that reminded us of places that we have traveled around the world, so flavor profiles can be introduced without the travel. Every chocolate shop we have been to is the same repetitiveness and style. We wanted to provide something that showcases the beautiful handcrafted intricate side of art with chocolate and a depth of flavors from distant locations.
Pistachio & Violet Petals
Sirouj: We started up our website www.KhacekConfections.com to promote our products and business and to bring people a visual representation of our work.
Now we are living in Idaho, and this seemed like the time to relaunch our site. Our audience is growing as we sample our chocolates out to people locally and let our previous customers in California know that we are back in business.
In California, we were featured in the Perfect Wedding Guide Bridal Show and had a lot of wedding customers.
Are you making everything at home? What about packaging? Are you able to make a profit?
Sirouj: All our products are made by my wife and I in our home. The packaging is ordered and assembled by us, and pieces of packaging made by us as well. The profit is good but the time to produce the products is lengthy due to the quality, process, and artwork we put into each individual delight.
Will you outgrow your home kitchen? Where are you shipping to?
Sarah: Since we have restarted the business, we have done home deliveries within our county. We have shipped mainly to California, where our previous customer base is, but also to Nevada, Texas, Arizona, and Missouri.
Now, however, we have had to stop shipping outside Idaho until we secure a commercial kitchen space. We have looked at a few locations but haven´t made any decisions yet. God willing, we will have the opportunity to expand our sales and reach more customers in the near future when we rent or purchase a commercial kitchen. Sirouj always says: “I leave it in God´s hands — He will provide.”
We always think of this verse in Proverbs 16:3: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”
What feedback have you received so far?
Sirouj: Thus far our products have been received very well locally as word has spread about our confections. Chefs of other restaurants in the area have spread the word and have brought customers to our site to order.
Chocolate Guava Vanilla Bean, Peppermint Cream, and Hazelnut & Merlot
Are you marketing?
What volume of sales are you hoping for?
Sirouj: Our goal is to produce and sell 300 boxes of chocolate per month. This figure will sustain us financially and allow the business to expand into something bigger than a cottage food business produced from our home. Eventually we would like a storefront that people can walk into and see an assortment of colorful bonbons and confections to choose from.
I understand you were just about to move to a new job when COVID-19 struck, and your job offer was rescinded. Can you tell us what happened?
Sirouj: We moved out to Idaho with an opportunity in a local restaurant that sounded promising. When it turned out not to be what we expected I was on the search for a new employment opportunity in the area.
I was offered a job in a local resort but just before I was due to start work, the COVID lockdown kicked in and all the restaurants shut down. Two weeks into the shutdown I received a call stating that the resort would not be able to hire me after all.
I left it in God's hands and prayed daily for guidance as I was very unsure how I was going to support my family.
That’s when we began the chocolate production again to help us get through the lockdown.
I was later offered a job in construction by John Hall in our local church, who is a wonderful man. Juli Miller, another church member of the Sun Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church, gave us amazing guidance on the advancement of our business. This church and its members are a huge blessing and have been so helpful, even though we are new to the congregation.
One of the last things you did before events were all cancelled was to host a free cooking demonstration and brunch at the Sun Valley Adventist church. You focused on chickpeas? Why? What do you want to share with people about cooking and food?
Sirouj: Food is a way of life for me. I’ve been in the food industry for 17 years and figured I would love to share my experience and knowledge with the local community as a way to give back. Being Adventist, I focused on foods with a health message that go hand-in-hand with the Blue Zone Diet.
I picked chickpeas because it is a versatile food with protein and good flavor. I taught the class how to make hummus toast and a spiced garbanzo dish I remember eating growing up. I wanted to share the concept that vegetarian food can be delicious.
Did you always want to be a chef? Where have you cooked professionally?
Sirouj: Since I was eight years old, I remember wanting to cook and bake food and pastries. I worked for Loma Linda University under Najwa Medina, the head of the food department at the time, in 2001. I worked for her for five years doing events and catering parties.
I went to La Sierra University to pursue respiratory therapy as my career but soon realized that was not what I wanted to do with my life. I went to Le Cordon Bleu Pasadena in 2010 and graduated with a degree in Patisserie and Baking.
I worked for a company in Los Angeles called True Life Foods in 2011 as a research development chef.
Following that I worked in Palm Desert, Lake Tahoe at the West Shore Café as the head pastry chef, then head chef of Benes Ristorante Italiano in Placerville, California. I moved to Las Vegas for two years and worked for the JW Marriot.
Coming back to California in 2017 I worked for Yolo Eats, Inc, which ran a steakhouse, coffee shop, wedding venue, Mexican restaurant, and soon-to-open Italian restaurant name Lou’s. I was their pastry chef for two years, then had the opportunity to work for The Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento as their executive pastry chef. Which is where I met a chef that offered to bring me with him to Idaho to relaunch a restaurant in Ketchum, Idaho.
That´s a really long and impressive CV! Why so much moving?
Sirouj: We have moved all over California as that is what is required to find a good fit and location to work in this industry. Relocation is key to get what you want when it comes to restaurants. Spending too much time in one place can lead to complacency and expectations with no advancement in pay. Sadly, that is the truth in the restaurant industry for 75% of locations I have experienced.
Once in a while you come across great employers such as Najwa Medina.
Most recently, I was offered a good opportunity here in Idaho and I took it. Also, Idaho offered a better quality of life for our newborn son Josiah Ray Khachatourian, born August 25, 2019.
Where is your family originally from?
Sirouj: My family is Armenian. During the Armenian genocide, my mother’s family ran to Lebanon and my father’s family ran to Iran. My parents met and got married at the Adventist Middle East University in Lebanon.
I was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1986 during the civil war. I died once and was brought back to life after a missile hit just outside one of the bomb shelters we were in and caused me to inhale milk and suffocate. I was rushed to the hospital by my father and had my lungs pumped and began breathing again.
My family came to this great country in 1988 with four suitcases and $2,000 dollars. We worked hard and kept our eye on God and living righteously.
Where did you meet each other?
Sarah: Sirouj and I met in Riverside, California through my cousins and brother. Sirouj used to ride motorcycles with my family. We had our court marriage in January 2017. I grew up Adventist too, and my whole family is Adventist.
Sirouj’s father is an Adventist pastor in southern California. His father studied ministry in the Middle East University in Lebanon.
When you can go back to work, what do you hope to do?
Sirouj: Since we now have a child and I need to financially support our family, I don’t see myself going back to the restaurant industry for employment unless absolutely necessary. I would like to focus my energy and passion for food into our own business. Working 80-115-hour weeks is not something I want to put my family through again. I would like to be able to build our business large enough to be completely self-sufficient with our work. This would give us time to be together and build something for our future that I wouldn’t be able to do working for someone else.
Until that happens as I mentioned, I will be working for a construction company with a local member of our church. I had forgotten what it meant to work 40-hour weeks, and enjoy my work and afterward have time for my family. This job offers that opportunity and I get to work with really great bosses.
Caramel Toasted Hemp
As so many of us are staying at home, we are spending a lot more time cooking. What are you making for your family? Do you have any recommendations? Do you have a favorite cocooning recipe you could share?
Sirouj: My wife’s favorite food is macaroni and cheese, so I have made that plus something different every day. My wife loves to cook as well, and she has been cooking up great dishes. Something I love to eat is stuffed peppers or other vegetables.
Since I have not been able to do more cooking classes at the church, we are now planning to film some classes and make them available to the church´s mailing list and anyone else who might be interested. We would like to give people something fun and tasty during these times.
My favorite food to munch on is hummus and pita. Sometimes I like to dice up some green Mediterranean olives for a tapenade with it as well.
Here is a hummus recipe for those looking to have a healthy snack to munch on during this lockdown:
2 cups garbanzo beans
¼ cup tahini
½ cup lemon juice
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cumin
½ cup olive oil
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
Photos courtesy of www.khacekconfections.com, used with permission.
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