SAVEUR - - Contents - By Anya von Bremzen

A pair of twins pioneer a lo­ca­vore move­ment with the daz­zling and di­verse bounty of Rus­sia

What­ever the geopol­i­tics of the day, we’re into folks cook­ing the food of their babushkas. Twin chefs Ivan and Sergey Berezutskiy—and their full­time herbal­ist-heal­er­ma­gi­cian—cel­e­brate their culi­nary her­itage and bring a new loka­vorizm to the Moscow din­ing scene

chefs Sergey (left) and Ivan (right) Berezutskiy throw a din­ner party at Twins, their co­zily ap­pointed Moscow res­tau­rant.

It’s a chilly early sum­mer’s day near Grib­anovo, a vil­lage some 30 miles out­side Moscow. A group of young Rus­sians, plus one émi­gré jour­nal­ist (me), are am­bling through a lyri­cal meadow fit to in­spire Naboko­vian rever­ies. Drag­on­flies hover and flit. The bells of an onion-domed con­vent ring in the dis­tance. Fickle north­ern clouds turn a men­ac­ing char­coal and loosen a few fat rain­drops, then de­cide to spare us na­ture lovers on a brief es­cape from the pres­sures of Putin’s Moscow. Our Ka­tia, Anna, and Sasha do what Slavic girls have done since pa­gan times when con­fronted with a blaze of pop­pies and dan­de­lions: They make head wreaths while hum­ming a song. I, the misty-eyed ex­ile, pause on a tree stump to fill my lungs with the long-for­got­ten scent of fresh aspen leaves and make a check­list of the things I’ve missed about the slow, fit­ful on­set of the short Rus­sian sum­mer. Ker­chiefed babushkas hawk­ing the first scal­lions and dill at the side of the road. The switch from bor­ing hot borscht to Slavic sum­mer soups alive with the crunch and vi­tal­ity of diced cu­cum­bers and radishes. The sea­son-open­ing hunt for lisichki (chanterelles), and the lay­er­ing of glass jars with fra­grant cur­rants and oak leaves for the start of the sum­mer­long pick­ling marathon.

The only ones in our group do­ing any­thing re­motely pur­pose­ful are Ivan and Sergey Berezutskiy—a pair of iden­ti­cal twins in grassstained sneak­ers. The 31-year-olds are the chefs of the aptly named Twins, a wildly pop­u­lar Moscow res­tau­rant. They’re gath­er­ing herbs for an in­for­mal din­ner they are throw­ing to­mor­row for friends at the res­tau­rant. In­side a bas­ket im­pro­vised from a huge bur­dock leaf—“its roots make awe­some pick­les,” notes Ivan—lie ten­der-leaf sor­rel, manzhetka (lady’s man­tle), and an ob­scure herb called sver­biga—“pep­pery, kind of like horse­rad­ish,” sug­gests Sergey. “Let’s Google sver­biga,” Ivan says, “in English.” “Warty cab­bage,” says Google English. How do they even know north­ern sver­biga, these young chefs who grew up amid lush, warmweather flora in Kuban, a fer­tile Cos­sack re­gion a thou­sand miles south of Moscow? “Well, we ac­tu­ally em­ploy a full-time travnik at Twins,”

con­fides Ivan, the chat­tier one. Mean­ing, a folk­loric herbal­ist-healer-ma­gi­cian. “A 17th-cen­tury job, back in fash­ion!” says Ivan. “And our dude’s real. He whis­pers funny dit­ties to the flow­ers.”

Loka­vorizm, it needs to be noted, is still a pretty new con­cept for Rus­sians. A few years ago, av­er­age Rus­sian res­tau­rant-go­ers were for­sak­ing her­ring for sushi and com­par­ing the mer­its of var­i­ous French Camem­berts, while Moscow’s best chefs were too busy chas­ing ek­sklu­siv foie gras and Iberico hams to even no­tice the sor­rel ev­ery­where. But then oil prices sank and the ru­ble’s value shrank al­most by half. In 2014, he who rules from the Krem­lin de­clared an em­bargo on most for­eign food im­ports, leav­ing Rus­sians pin­ing for the Nor­we­gian salmon and Spanish peaches they’d be­come ac­cus­tomed to. The em­bargo sparked a gold rush to dis­cover Rus­sia’s own edi­ble trea­sures. There was a lot to dis­cover. “Our coun­try! Gi­gan­tic, end­lessly fas­ci­nat-

ing!” ex­claims Sergey, the first Rus­sian to stage at Alinea. He sweeps an arm at the meadow in­di­cat­ing how his coun­try spans from the Rus­sian Far East to Fin­land, from sub­trop­i­cal pineap­ple guava to sub­arc­tic sea buck­thorn.

“I was an ex­pert in Parmi­giano and lan­goustines,” testifies Ivan, the first Rus­sian to stage at El Bulli, “be­fore I got my brains blown by our eco­log­i­cally pure muk­sun, a Siberian white­fish that tastes like del­i­cate salmon, and the giant, suc­cu­lent king crab of Kam­chatka.”

From their four an­nual sourc­ing and for­ag­ing ex­pe­di­tions across Rus­sia’s 11 time zones, the twins bring back ex­ot­ica like whelks that “smell like porcini”; goose air-cured “just like jamón” by an old Tatar babushka; and from the Cau­ca­sus Moun­tains, Adighei cheese, “creamier than any bur­rata.”

The pre­vi­ous night, I’d dined at Twins, where I’d sam­pled bread fla­vored with kelp from three dif­fer­ent Rus­sian seas. I’d swooned over the Tatar granny’s cured goose as it melted so se­duc­tively atop warm ramps pirozhki, and sa­vored the pris­tine muk­sun fish, frozen-shaved Siberian style and ac­cented by an an­chovy sauce. It was all No­maesque in a cos­mopoli­tan fash­ion, yet ex­tremely Rus­sian in a fresh, non-clichéd way—sum­ming up, per­haps, the taste of a city that’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly na­tion­al­is­tic, while tak­ing its cul­tural cues from London and Brook­lyn. The same was true of the res­tau­rant’s vibe; the gnarly chan­de­liers dan­gling over cushy ban­quettes and logs piled up on the pa­tio evoked Car­roll Gardens but also felt some­how grounded here, in this his­tor­i­cally res­o­nant (and chichi) Old Moscow quar­ter.

he Berezutskiy boys—heart­throb-adorable and burst­ing with an earnest en­thu­si­asm so rare in cyn­i­cal Moscow—be­came an in­stant suc­cess af­ter open­ing Twins in 2014. And not just as shtick. My ar­rival was greeted by the loud pop­ping of corks (Rus­sian bub­bly). The rea­son? Twins had just come in at No. 75 on the 2016 long list of the World’s 50 Best Restau­rants.

“Fi­nally the world rec­og­nizes Rus­sia as more than blini and vodka!” Sergey hollered.

“And it’s not like we have a 24-karat gold toi­let,” whooped Ivan. “We’re just a mod­est place with cheapo twig-and-paper dé­cor.” He pointed to the cheeky birch tree dec­o­ra­tions, puns on the broth­ers’ last name, which stems from beréza, or birch.

Once calmed down, the twins co-ex­pli­cated their cur­rent phi­los­o­phy while I tasted their most In­sta­grammed dish: bar­ley kasha slow-roasted in­side a whole charred cel­ery root with a puck­ery coun­ter­point of shaved, mar­i­nated celeriac.

“We’re into bi­na­ries—show­ing the in­gre­di­ents in two it­er­a­tions.” (Sergey)

“’Cause—duh!—we’re twins. But with very


dif­fer­ent tastes.” (Ivan)

“He likes veg­eta­bles. I’m a choco­late guy.” (Sergey)

“He likes big Jeeps. I’m okay with the metro.” (Ivan)

“He com­pli­cates plates. While I’m into el­e­gant, or­ganic sim­plic­ity.” (Sergey) “Bull­shit!” (Ivan) When the twins fight, they di­vide the kitchen into “Sergey and Ivan zones.” But no dish makes it to the menu with­out both broth­ers’ approval.

It was over more sparkling wine from the south­ern Rus­sian Krasnodar re­gion and the “creamier than any bur­rata” cheese from the Cau­ca­sus—foamed into a sweet­ened cloud to ac­com­pany dessert grape-leaf dol­mas filled with sor­bet—that the pair de­cided, spon­ta­neously, to es­cape to the mead­ows the fol­low­ing day and then throw a din­ner to cel­e­brate their 50 Best lau­rels, and the ar­rival of sum­mer, too.

fter we fin­ish pick­ing herbs, we head to the fam­ily dacha (coun­try house) of the twins’ friend Ka­tia, for a lunch pre­pared by her mother and grand­mother.

We ar­rive to find the long dacha table al­ready mo­saicked with plates of her­ring, boiled


pota­toes with pick­les, gar­licky kholodets (that’s jig­gly jel­lied cows’ feet), and bowls of rich, meaty shchi, a Slavic cab­bage soup. It’s the kind of spread that makes every Rus­sian go weak at the knees and in­stantly lift a shot of chilled vodka. Babushka’s dan­de­lion honey recipe (“wash and dry 400 dan­de­lion buds…”) sparks the eter­nal dacha con­ver­sa­tion about pre­serv­ing and pick­ling. “Cracks me up,” says Sergey, “how Scan­di­na­vian col­leagues get all worked up about the big word fer­men­ta­tion.” “’Cause Rus­sian chefs learn pick­ling on their babushka’s lap,” adds Ivan. The twins now wax sen­ti­men­tal about their babushka’s brined water­melon rind and adzhika, a spicy toma­toand-pep­per condi­ment put up by the gal­lons in their na­tive Kuban, a re­gion where ev­ery­thing grows in amaz­ing pro­fu­sion and the cui­sine min­gles Slavic, Ukrainian, and North­ern Cau­casian in­flu­ences. “Hap­pi­ness for me was the crunch of Babushka’s meat grinder,” sighs Ivan, “as she cranked through ki­los of toma­toes, chiles, pur­ple basil, and juicy red pep­pers.” “My­self,” says Sergey, “I only helped with adzhika to get a dessert treat.”

he next morn­ing finds us at Moscow’s Danilovsky Mar­ket, a loka­vor Eden com­pris­ing a food hall and farm­ers’ stalls over­flow­ing with red cur­rants and goose­ber­ries. Over tea and baba au rhum from Ba­ton, their fa­vorite bak­ery, the broth­ers ex­plain how, af­ter work­ing at trendy restau­rants in Moscow (Ivan) and St. Petersburg (Sergey), they opened Twins on a kind of dare: They’d launch a joint project if Sergey won the 2014 S. Pel­le­grino Young Chef award—which he did. Years prior, back in their pro­vin­cial hometown of Ar­mavir, Sergey had ap­plied to culi­nary school, and Ivan for an engi­neer­ing de­gree, be­fore de­cid­ing to fol­low his twin. “Sergey was the only dude in a class full of beau­ti­ful girls,” says Ivan, re­call­ing the logic of the last-minute ca­reer shift. While on hon­ey­moon in Chicago in 2011, al­most on a lark, Sergey walked into Alinea and asked to stage. On this crazy ad­ven­ture, he blew all his wed­ding-gift money and en­dured Alinea’s rounds of elim­i­na­tions. “But my re­ward,” he tells me, “was in­sider knowl­edge of how three-star kitchens are run.” Ivan mean­while lucked into the El Bulli ap­pren­tice­ship and was amazed not just by the spher­i­fied olives but by his col­leagues’ “al­most in­hu­man ded­i­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline—some­thing no laid­back Rus­sian could imag­ine.” Then he adds with a gulp, al­most spilling his tea, “There I was, won­der­ing if I was hal­lu­ci­nat­ing when Fer­ran—fer­ran Adria!—asked me for a blini recipe!”

We stroll through the mar­ket, past cafes hawk­ing Uzbek pi­lafs and Cau­casian dump-

Tlings, past stalls with home­grown sausage and smoked stur­geon, and the menu for tonight’s din­ner be­gins to take shape. “Cold borscht with the herbs we picked yes­ter­day?” pro­poses Sergey. “Nyet,” coun­ters Ivan, “okroshka”— an­other classic cold soup. From kroshit, “to crum­ble,” it’s a salad in­side a soup: loads of herbs and diced cu­cum­ber and radishes afloat in a re­fresh­ing liq­uid. “North­ern­ers fa­vor kvass for okroshka,” Sergei an­no­tates, re­fer­ring to the old Slavic fer­mented bev­er­age, “while we south­ern­ers pre­fer ke­fir or whey.” Now a rack of grass-fed spring lamb at a butcher stall sug­gests to Ivan a roast, in a thick crust of adzhika.

Whereas yes­ter­day’s Prous­tian dacha adzhika

mem­o­ries in­spire in Sergey a yen for a dish of scal­lops from the Rus­sian Far East (“so lively they bite you when you dive for them”) in a clear tomato liq­uid sim­i­lar to the juice that drains from adzhika.

That evening, I bun­dle up against the sud­den cold spell and head over to Twins. The guests

are al­ready here, some girls in sum­mer dresses, oth­ers in woolly cardi­gans. The hosts are fuss­ing to­gether over an egg­plant dish. I take a bite. The roasted egg­plant and oozy cheese salad tastes vaguely Mediter­ranean—ex­cept for “that ex­tra Rus­sian umami,” says Sergey, courtesy of the egg­plant’s kvass glaze. The nutty dress­ing con­tains kono­plya (hemp), an­other sta­ple straight out of a fairy tale; the cheese is pro­duced by a very Rus­sian farm near St. Petersburg and tastes just like France’s Sainte-maure.

Tak­ing an­other bite, I won­der if it’s fi­nally time to re­solve the de­bate be­tween Slavophiles and West­ern­iz­ers that has in­flu­enced Rus­sian food mores—and Rus­sian iden­tity—since the mid 19th cen­tury. Here in mod­ern Moscow, which is both Putin’s pa­tri­otic fortress and a pro­foundly hip Euro­pean me­trop­o­lis, the oys­ters, for ex­am­ple, are local while the ur-rus­sian kasha might be in­spired by some new global grain trend. Here too a gen­er­a­tion of post-soviet chefs, un­bur­dened by Rus­sia’s tragic 20th-cen­tury his­tory—and now ac­tu­ally in­spired by sanc­tions and short­ages—is bor­row­ing what they’ve learned from the West while de­light­ing in Rus­sia’s new pride in home­grown in­gre­di­ents.

My mus­ings are drowned out by toasts with a do­mes­tic garage-style viog­nier from a Swis­s­rus­sian cou­ple. The wine goes sur­pris­ingly well with the chicken liver pashtet (or should I say pâté?) slathered on yeasted blini. The twins have thrown off their chef’s jack­ets and joined us at the table, load­ing their plates with pick­les and scal­lops and pink lamb in adzhika crust. The guests raise a glass to the suc­cess of their res­tau­rant—rus­sia’s suc­cess—as Johnny Cash calls out from the sound sys­tem.

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