“When we walk into a kitchen, we are not alone. We bring with us the memories of our mothers and grandmothers and the food served at their tables. For Armenians, preparing and serving food has always been a demonstration of love for our families and respect for our guests.” This is part of the introduction to the Armenian Cuisine, Preserving Our Heritage Cookbook, published by the Women’s Guild of St. John Armenian Church in Southfield, Mich. in 2019 (Fourth Printing). This Armenian pakhlava recipe from Yeretzgin Roberta Kochakian is featured in the cookbook, which is a comprehensive collection of Armenian recipes from the Detroit metropolitan area made current for the 21st century. Yeretzgin Roberta, a long-time member of the Women’s Guild, has devoted much of her life to chronicling and documenting traditional Armenian recipes, culinary history, and cooking techniques, and teaches the importance of carrying on the heritage of Armenian cuisine.
Her husband, Rev. Fr. Garabed Kochakian, was the pastor at St John Armenian Church for 17 years, and he retired in 2015. Following his final badarak, an exceptional banquet was held in his honor. The banquet, titled “Celebrating a Life of Service,” provided an opportunity for members of the parish community to come together and honor their longtime pastor and his wife, Yeretzgin Roberta, as they embarked on their retirement. Throughout the afternoon, tributes to Rev. Fr. Garabed and Yeretzgin Roberta had as common themes the couple’s devotion and commitment to the community, and how their contagious devotion to faith has enriched countless individual lives.
Over 700 people attended the retirement event at St. John’s Cultural Hall. Diocesan Vicar the Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian read a tribute which included: “Today marks the beginning of a new path not only for Der Garabed, but also for his dear wife, Yeretzgin Roberta, who has been the true partner and support of his ministry throughout their life together. With grace and charity, Yeretzgin has been a model of Christian faith to people throughout our Diocese — not the least of these being the wives of other priests, who regard her as a mentor and friend. She has been a blessing in our community life, and we convey to her our warm congratulations and gratitude.”
For many years, Yeretzgin Roberta has been cooking, teaching, baking, and documenting Armenian cooking techniques and recipes for the Women’s Guild as it prepared and planned for its annual bazaars, luncheons, dinners, and other church events that draw huge crowds from the local Southfield community. Attendees at these events spare no time in enjoying and purchasing the amazing variety of Armenian food specialties and baked desserts and breads lovingly prepared by the Women’s Guild over a period of many months. Along the way, Yeretzgin Roberta has continued to play a major role in the Women’s Guild’s success and accomplishments at St. John Armenian Church.
As author and journalist Liana Aghajanian wrote in her Food & Wine story (January 28, 2021) about Yeretzgin Roberta, “Descended from a family of Armenian Genocide survivors, Yeretzgin Roberta was born in Detroit. It was there that her grandparents found refuge, after leaving their homeland in present-day Turkey, and where they established a tiny restaurant that helped fill the bellies of hungry factory workers coming off their shifts during Detroit’s car-manufacturing heyday. While one set of grandparents was serving food to the masses, she would sit in her paternal grandmother’s kitchen and watch her cook all day, learning the essentials of Armenian cookery.”