To understand Karen Torosyan you need to understand his love affair with the pâté en croûte. In 2015, he became the World Champion of Pâté en Croûte and there has been no looking back since then. In many ways it has defined who he is but it also explains the philosophy of this talented chef who pushed Gault & Millau to create a category of Artisan of the Year to acknowledge his talents and skills.
Today foodies who visit Brussels or Belgium on a food trip are known to head to Bozar Restaurant for a taste of his world famous ‘pâté en croûte’.
He is the pie and pastry king par excellence. On a recent visit to Brussels, Andrea Petrini of GELINAZ! fame among others, is known to have waited one and a half hours to have a millefeuille prepared for him from scratch. It is prepared on order and Andrea had not ordered it in advance.
Karen Torosyan is today master of his own destiny having bought the restaurant that is housed in the Horta designed Palais des Beaux Arts (Centre of Fine Arts) earlier this year. It was he who helped create it seven years ago with David Martin, known in Brussels for his excellent restaurant La Paix as well as his entrepreneurial capabilities.
The Armenian chef who was born in Georgia has not changed the style and while the name of the restaurant has changed from Bozar Brasserie to Bozar Restaurant the ‘artisanal’ approach remains and this is the foundation of all that the 38-year-old chef does.
“To win the championship was surreal. Pâté en Croûte represents something that I have been doing at Bozar. It is a popular dish but it is also comfort food. It is a dish that is easily understood and is accessible to everyone. You know what it is and it does not require explanation when served at table,” Karen Torosyan told Food and Wine Gazette.
He has been able to perfect the dish, to delve into detail and to question why it was made the way it was and how it could be changed.
Karen explains that his Pâté en Croûte is 25 per cent fat and 75% lean meat when the original recipe calls for a ratio of 50:50. “If you go to a butcher, they will tell you that this is impossible because it will be too dry. I had to push hard to come to a solution where I could find the right balance so that both the filling and the pastry are perfect.”
That boils down to studying and experimenting. “When you have 50 per cent fat and 50 per cent lean meat it takes 10 days for the flavours to develop from the fat and have the necessary finesse. But the crust does not remain the same after 10 days. It is no longer a good crust. I had to think what to do. Do I develop a crust that is no longer a crust or a filling that has not developed its flavour.”
He tells me that with a lot of trial and error but also reflection he came to the conclusion that the fat was needed in the past because there were no fridges so it was used to preserve the food. By understanding this he was able to create something that had a perfect crust but also the flavour of a filling that could have rested for 10 days.
Karen has been in Belgium for 20 years. He said he loves Brussels and believes he has become the most Belgian of Armenians in Belgium. “I now realise that I have probably also become the most French of Belgian chefs in terms of his artisanal approach,” he said. “In France, people who work with their hands (the artisans) are respected more than in other countries like the Nordics or even Belgium. I learned a lot from my father who was a workman. He is my idol, the man of my dreams. My daughter does not see me much because I work a lot. This is something that I have taken from my father.”
“When I started off as a jeweller at 13, I realised that it was respectable to be an artisan and to be able to practice what you do and transmit your knowledge to someone else. This is what an artisan does,” he said.
He said that he sees this in French kitchens were the artisan approach is preferred to the ‘artist’ approach. People are working in the kitchen and mastering their art. “The kitchen is the closest thing to the military when it comes to hierarchy. In France this is cultural,” Karen said. “Today, programmes like Top Chef have given a certain allure to chefs and cooking but in the past people who did not finish school would go and learn to become a baker or a butcher or an other artisanal craft by working and training with a specialist. The Pâté en Croûte therefore really intrigued me.”
A clear example of innovation in tradition.
This is an extract from our interview with Karen Torosyan (which to use a metaphor is just being baked as we speak) Don’t miss it in the coming days.