Fantasies of white swans gliding through space, dazzling emeralds, and Baroque artworks worthy of Versailles, often dominate her “escape from reality”—her plunging into an alternative universe of creativity. Burdened by the shadows looming over her distant homeland, this artisan finds immeasurable relief in her Zurich, Switzerland atelier—a cozy studio that invariably replenishes her “positive energy.” Here, amid cans of organic flour, gobs of butter, and tattered books crammed with decades of family recipes, Lilith Arutchyan can summon her passion for music, dance and other pleasures to fashion unique, fanciful surprises seemingly defying gravity and enchanting patrons.
“It’s like I’m painting, singing, performing– my baking cakes and cupcakes is my stage, a different world , that allows me to create joy,” insists Arutchyan, a native of war-torn Armenia who settled in Zurich 13 years ago. The vicious ethnic war that has splintered Armenia since the 1990s clearly makes her worry about her mother Nara, sister and other relatives still living in the Yerevan capital. It’s no ordinary mother-daughter relationship. Their strength is legacy, bonds energized by cakes lathered in honey, brandy and gorgeous Dream of Roses cupcakes.
A music and dance aficionado, invariably found in the kitchen concocting Gata and Drunken Cherry cakes, Nara influenced Lilith to “create postive moments, to adore art, and to unite people” by sharing illumination with them. That deeply-felt impulse to foster “humanity” is honored in the atelier’s Armenian name, Miasin, meaning “togetherness.” It’s as much about family values as the passion invested in the recipes Nara passed on to her daughter. “My mother taught me the ingredients must be touched very softly, that I had to become one with them, that my hands had to be very supple, like I was playing the piano,” says Arutchyan, hovering over a work table, her apron sprinkled with flour, preparing to style her “Drunken Cherries” extravaganza.
“This is a very remarkable cake. I must soak the dark chocolate biscuit with cherry syrup and brandy…There is dark chocolate ganache with cherries on top…these very special cherries have been soaking in brandy for three months until they get drunk. I make all this like a cocktail, adding wonderful Kirsch. All this is pure happiness.” Another Piece des Resistance worthy of the same accolades bestowed on such Parisian patisseries as Pierre Herme, Stohrer, and Le Cafe Pouchkine is her Emerald Cake. A tribute to her grandfather, a famous Armenian geologist who opened a Yerevan museum devoted to minerals, and showed her the “magic” of colored precious stones, the newest addition to the Emerald Collection flaunts “sunrise themes” with a medley of dark chocolate and edible gold decorations in rainbow-colored seductions. Along with showing a reverence for treasured Armenian recipe, and her family’s devotion to their country’s rich cultural traditions, Arutchyan possesses a delicacy, even a romantic sort of purity that is decidedly rare today. Unlike many of the marquee-named Parisian patissiers who frequently opt for commercialization, opening numerous branches to profit from their eclairs and tasty tarts, she contentedly avoids any mass marketing, and any hint of betraying her artisanal impulses.
“I am not baking to become famous, to make great profits. I have no interest in industrial-style baking. No, that is not my consciousness.
“What I hope to create are cakes with a special personality, cakes that are an artistic challenge. Those that bring pleasure. My Galaxy Cake for example is essentially a new geometry, globes, squares, gold and chocolate decorations all giving this Galaxy a lovely glow!”
Such meticulously-choreographed concept cakes clearly demand a passion for the time-honored craft of patisserie. Blending vaunted Armenian recipes along with remarkable intuition, is also a prerequisite for designing elaborately-frosted, layered Gata cakes. “Gatas are the Number One delicacy in Armenia, so beloved—a recipe revived by my grandmother,” beams Arutchyan, a certain tenderness etched on her face. “It’s a golden cake that brings good luck, a celebratory sweet made with flour, lots of sugar, raisins, cinnamon powder, whole egg plus egg whites, nutmeg powder…It’s a relatively simple recipe, but still very delicate, a cake associated with warmth in the house, good luck.”
The Gatas and other gems found at Miasin are more than sugary, intensely-flavorful constellations. They are engineering triumphs. Whether it’s the Caramel Popcorn cupcake, the Swan (an ode to Swan Lake), or the 4-layer Jaconda with walnuts and soft cream with brandy, radiating its own smile, these are “architectural” feats. Performance artistry.
“My great hope is to create desserts with unique nuances, those that mirror my love for cultural traditions,” explains Arutchyan, who is studying philosophy, psychology, Chinese, jazz, and is intent on further mastering her dancing abilities. “At Miasin I am on a stage, on a mission to connect myself to people with my desserts, to entertain them, bring them surprises and happiness. A cake like a Napoleon or Galaxy might be a geometric adventure, a new adventure, my modest attempt to picture a different world. Yet my real goal is to capture light and color, revive recipes, and to honor my mission. That’s my passion. To share postive energy, light, illumination through my creations.
“It’s a lot like music. To find the right music that I can share with the world. Music that brings joy, or recipes for humanity, like UNESCO values—harmony, peace, a harmony that brings people back together. I dance when I bake. I want to promote such music and love.”
Story by Edward Kiersh