Suc­cess­ful London restaurateur, Tiko Tuskadze recre­ates flavours of her home­land

Friday - - Food -

Ifirst came across Tiko Tuskadze, and Ge­or­gian food, many years ago, thanks to Nigella Law­son, in her 2004 book in which she takes the reader around the world of cel­e­bra­tory meals – Christ­mas, Eid, Amer­i­can Thanksgiving. As with all of Nigella’s books, the recipes, and their ac­com­pa­ny­ing sto­ries, are as sooth­ing read in bed as they are pre­pared in a kitchen. One sec­tion stuck with me – her tale of dis­cov­er­ing Ge­or­gian feast­ing, called supra, in St Peters­burg, and her sub­se­quent quest to find a recipe for khacha­puri, or cheese bread. She even­tu­ally found it in a London restau­rant, watch­ing a lady called Nana pre­pare it from mem­ory, her hands deftly twist­ing and fill­ing dough. The owner of that restau­rant, which was so evoca­tive to both Nigella and me, is a woman called Tiko Tuskadze, and this year, she fi­nally tells her own tales of Ge­or­gian food, in a book called Supra.

The richly il­lus­trated book (the draw­ings are by Tiko’s sis­ter-in-law, who recre­ated Tiko’s mem­o­ries of pho­tos that she could no longer ac­cess) came out this sum­mer, and is as much a mem­oir of her boun­ti­ful fam­ily life in Soviet way we do food, be­cause ev­ery­body has their own sig­na­ture. Plus, for me it’s a very per­sonal sub­ject; I wanted to do it in a way that each dish has a life. A book where you can lie down in bed and read a story; not just a cook­book. Hope­fully I ac­com­plished what I wanted.’

In it, you’ll find half a dozen vari­a­tions on khacha­puri, in­clud­ing the Imeru­lian kind that so enchanted Nigella; and dishes redo­lent with the unique yet fa­mil­iar blend of flavours that de­fine Ge­or­gia: Dried marigold, wal­nuts (lots of wal­nuts), yo­gurt, chill­ies, aubergines and beans, dumplings and tar­ragon (lots of tar­ragon). Feast, T iko moved to the UK in the 1990s, not as a restaurateur, but as a stu­dent, and be­gan work­ing in Lit­tle Ge­or­gia, partly to make some money, partly to heal her home­sick­ness. It was fail­ing, and the owner asked her to take over and give it a go; she had no back­ground in run­ning a restau­rant, but bring­ing her ver­sion of her home­land to life in London was met with a prob­lem­atic kind of suc­cess.

‘I took over and changed ev­ery­thing there, ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing. It re­ally helped me to

‘Some­times peo­ple come [to the restau­rants] and they don’t want to leave they feel they are eating at some­body’s home’

recre­ate my fam­ily and cul­tural at­mos­phere, which was like ther­apy for be­ing home­sick. I brought my fam­ily here and I de­cided to in­tro­duce the way we were cook­ing at home.

‘Some­times peo­ple come [to the restau­rants] and they don’t want to leave be­cause they are very com­fort­able; they get a kind of feel­ing that they are eating at some­body’s home,’ Tiko says, in her still heav­ily ac­cented English. ‘That was my aim. This helped me sur­vive those years – ev­ery time I was in the Ge­or­gia as it is a guide to cook­ing up the dishes of the na­tion that is ge­o­graph­i­cally and cul­tur­ally perched be­tween Rus­sia and the Mid­dle East.

When she was ap­proached by a pub­lisher to write a book, ‘I ex­plained to them I can’t just do a Ge­or­gian cook­book,’ Tiko tells me from London, where she has two out­lets of her pop­u­lar restau­rant, Lit­tle Ge­or­gia. ‘I told them, if you want to do a Ge­or­gian cook­book, it’s very easy – you can Google and find ev­ery­thing you want. It has to be a Lit­tle Ge­or­gia cook­book, the restau­rant, I felt like I was a child again. And that each guest was my per­sonal guest.’

Nostal­gia is as preva­lent a sea­son­ing in Supra as the afore­men­tioned spices, and trav­el­ling back in time is a daily ac­tiv­ity for Tiko, as she re­lives her child­hood through the run­ning of her restau­rant. Nana – Tiko’s aunt – is fa­mous for her role in Feast; Tiko’s grand­mother, Tina, was fa­mous in her home­land for all her food, fre­quently called on by friends and neigh­bours to cook for their supras, a main­stay of the so­cial scene, when cel­e­bra­tions were done at home with end­less dishes, toast­ing and mu­sic.

Tina took cook­ing very se­ri­ously, ‘like her sec­ond job. She di­vided her daily life into parts, one where she was work­ing, and after 5pm, work­ing at home pre­sent­ing amaz­ing dishes. It was part of my life, watch­ing them cook­ing and en­ter­tain­ing peo­ple. If you grow up in a fam­ily like this, you in­herit cook­ing.’

When I ask about the must-try dishes from Supra, yes, we talk about khacha­puri (pro­nounced hatch-a-puri), but seen through the hands of a dozen women, knead­ing dough. ‘I re­alised yes­ter­day,’ says Tiko, ‘how much I love to watch peo­ple bak­ing. Watch­ing this lady’s hands when she is mak­ing the cheese bread took me back to my child­hood. The move­ment of their hands, re­minds me of peo­ple, how they were bak­ing, how they were play­ing with the flour. Yes­ter­day, I re­mem­bered dozens of women by [their] hands, the way they were mak­ing the cheese bread; it was great.’

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