Moscow restau­rants em­brace Rus­sian cui­sine

The China Post - - LIFE - BY GER­MAIN MOYON

Gin­ger pickles, soup with cab­bage and porcini, and rein­deer tartare: as eco­nomic trou­bles take a bite out of im­ported food, Rus­sian restau­rants are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to lo­cal del­i­ca­cies.

Gone is the era when Ital­ian and French cui­sine dom­i­nated Moscow’s high-class eater­ies. The eco­nomic cri­sis and im­port em­bargo keeps foie gras and Parme­san out of Rus­sian kitchens, so new venues like Poyekhali (Let’s Go) are aim­ing to “tell their own story” through Rus­sian food.

As casseroles siz­zle in the kitchen of the restau­rant, opened in Oc­to­ber, manager Ye­lena Chekalova says the time has come to “use lo­cal prod­ucts that are familiar to us, but to pre­pare them with tech­niques in­vented else­where.”

This fu­sion ap­proach cre­ates “Rus­sian nou­velle cui­sine,” the jour­nal­ist-turned-restau­ra­teur told AFP, and el­e­vates in­gre­di­ents of­ten thought to be hum­drum to new heights.

The culi­nary trend had a hes­i­tant start a cou­ple of years ago but is now bur­geon­ing in the at­mos­phere of overt pa­tri­o­tism and the scarcity of many Euro­pean foods due to the agri­cul­tural em­bargo Moscow im­posed last year fol­low­ing West­ern sanc­tions over Ukraine.

It re­cently won of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion when the pres­ti­gious list “The World’s 50 Best Restau­rants” gave 23rd place to the Moscow eatery of star chef Vladimir Mukhin, White Rab­bit. It praised him for “reimag­in­ing” Rus­sian sta­ples like beet­root soup, fried carp and buck­wheat por­ridge, say­ing “chef Vladimir Mukhin claims to have borscht run­ning in his veins.”

Many restau­rants that re­lied on meat, cheese and fish im­ported from the West were forced to close while those that strived to source their in­gre­di­ents from Rus­sian re­gions are now more com­pet­i­tive de­spite the eco­nomic melt­down.

Lo­cal­ize to Sur­vive

“We suf­fered less than oth­ers be­cause the idea of our project was to work with pro­duce that is 90 per­cent Rus­sian,” Chekalova said. “But we’ve also suf­fered. Clearly when fewer prod­ucts are sup­plied to the mar­ket, ev­ery­thing be­comes more ex­pen­sive.”

Poyekhali had to raise its prices by 10 per­cent, she said, and shed some popular dishes, such as the scal­lop risotto, which has be­come too ex­pen­sive to pre­pare and was re­placed by a dish of pearl bar­ley with win­kles.

As prices grew for both food and im­ported restau­rant ap­pli­ances fol­low­ing the crash of the ru­ble late last year, the sec­tor has also suf­fered from the fall­ing pur­chas­ing power of Rus­sians who are opt­ing to eat at home more of­ten.

Rus­sia’s Restau­ra­teur and Hote­lier Fed­er­a­tion es­ti­mates that 1,000 cafes went out of busi­ness in the past few months, some of which were able to re­open af­ter re­brand­ing and chang­ing their menus.

“The peak of the cri­sis has passed,” be­lieves Igor Bukharov, the head of the fed­er­a­tion. “Since then, the ru­ble has re­bounded and many restau­rants re­viewed their menus, op­ti­mized costs and staff and launched new projects that work bet­ter.”

Soviet Clas­sics Re­turn

“Those who had dishes made of ex­pen­sive and high-qual­ity in­gre­di­ents saw prices on their menu be­come in­ac­ces­si­ble and suf­fered the most,” said Alexei Zimin, edi­tor in chief of Afisha Food gas­tron­omy mag­a­zine.

“Those who used lo­cal pro­duce from the be­gin­ning didn’t need to change sup­pli­ers,” he said.

Pierre Gag­naire, a Miche­lin­starred French chef had to close his Moscow restau­rant in a luxury ho­tel.

He said the clo­sure was not due to the em­bargo on West­ern foods, but told the French pa­per Le Fi­garo that he needed to “think of a new con­cept that would cor­re­spond to the de­sires of Moscow’s peo­ple.”

As the taste for fancy Euro­pean food sub­sides, count­less places are open­ing that of­fer Cen­tral Asian cui­sine and sta­ples from else­where in the for­mer Soviet Union.

“Be­cause of, or de­spite, the cri­sis peo­ple are fi­nally turn­ing away from com­pli­cated con­cepts and seek­ing new forms of sim­plic­ity,” in­flu­en­tial Moscow chef Uil­liam Lam­berti wrote in Time Out.

Even the luxury Ho­tel Na­tional next to the Krem­lin chose a theme that is close to home for its new restau­rant, nam­ing it Doc­tor Zhivago af­ter the novel by Boris Paster­nak.

The menu is com­prised of Soviet clas­sics, from the may­on­naise­dressed Olivier win­ter salad to her­ring and pel­meni, a kind of Siberian dumpling.

Spar­tak Be­mov, the direc­tor of Sery­ozha, an­other new restau­rant that of­fers clas­sic Soviet dishes con­firmed that Rus­sians are turn­ing back to familiar com­fort foods.

“Peo­ple are look­ing more and more for sim­ple venues with familiar dishes and prices that are not pro­hib­i­tive.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.