I received an e-mail from reader Lynn Nakashian. Our families go way back. My mom and her father, John, grew up together and remained friends until his recent passing.
Lynn asked if I knew who built her dad’s shish kebab machine. It’s a square metal box with gears and hand-crafted skewers that uniformly turn, allowing the meat to cook evenly over perfectly hot coals.
Of course I knew the answer: My father built it!
My dad, Andrew Dabbakian, was an amazingly talented man. That's him in the photo with a kebab machine that he built for our family.
He was a metal worker at Bendix Aviation in Teterboro, NJ., who later became a high school metal shop teacher. He was able to build or fix anything. If something didn’t fit properly, he’d examine it, think about it, then conjure up a new part.
He got to thinking about a better way to make kebab while helping out at our church picnics back at St. Leon Armenian Church in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Hungry crowds had to wait in line while the men turned dozens of skewers by hand.
Dad knew there had to be a better way, so he fiddled around in the basement until he came up with the Shish Kebarbecue. The model he built for the church was an instant success.
Surrounding Armenian churches heard about this machine and wanted one for their own picnics. Dad was commissioned to build more. Some of the men wanted in on this, too, so dad built a few home versions of the machine.
Here's how Lynn remembered her father's:
"The machine had a motor with gears and chains with slots for perhaps a dozen shishes. The shishes themselves had gears, and fit on the machine -- a rotisserie with a dozen skewers, so to speak.
A few special times during the year while growing up, my Mom would get out the shishes, order legs of lamb from George's Market, and make pounds of chunk kebab. Mom would grind the smaller pieces and make lula kebab -- my favorite at the time.
She would marinate (in a wonderful concoction with onions that we would later fight over) and put them on the shishes, along with onions, peppers, "pataljahn," and tomatoes.
Mom would chop the onions and parsley, and wet the lavash crackers so we could make our kebab "wraps."
As Dad cooked, Carol, John and I, along with assorted cousins, would gather around Dad, hoping he'd slip us a piece of meat as it came piping hot off the shish. Grandma Nakashian would make her pilaf with so much butter it would practically run down to our elbows (in the days before cholesterol). Yum!
It is a special art to make kebab -- one that unfortunately has been lost on this generation of Nakashians! But, we certainly have wonderful memories."