From Fermentation to Gastrobotany

Igor Gubernsky ponders on Russia’s contemporary dining culture

By Federal Agency for Tourism

Igor Gubernsky (21st Century) by Igor GubernskyFederal Agency for Tourism

Restaurant critic Igor Gubernsky is the founder and president of the Moscow Gastronomic Festival and Moscow Restaurant Week, two major events that pick Moscow’s best dishes and restaurants. 

Igor is also the person behind the Silver Triangle competition for young chefs excelling in contemporary Russian cuisine, and the Laurel Leaf Award for the best personalities in restaurant business. Igor talks here about what is contemporary Russian food culture and what has made it unique.

Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (c. 1885) by Henry Ossawa TannerThe White House

Flavour Fusion

Russian cuisine has always been the cuisine of the peoples that made Russia their home. From Poland and Romania, through Ukraine, Georgia and Central Asia to the Far East, every Russian restaurant offers dishes inspired by a fusion of these cuisines. Fusion is one of key features of Russian-style cooking. 

Mixing flavors (21st Century) by BirchFederal Agency for Tourism

In terms of its dining scene, Russia is a vast land stretching across several natural zones. Its cuisine suffered a drastic change in the 20th century when its agriculture was destroyed and stayed altered for 80 years leading to a dramatic loss of knowledge and skill necessary  to make or grow first-class foods. 

Food was rationed. 
This was the birth conditions of the Soviet cuisine, a cuisine in name only, which laid the foundation of contemporary Russian cuisine, itself a fusion geographically, historically and culturally.

Sour soup with mushrooms by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Primutka with dry mushrooms by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

One dish to try is the Valaam Monastery porcini mushroom soup that has been known for 500 years.  

Dishes of modern times (21st Century) by photo by Aleksander AverinFederal Agency for Tourism

New Age Cuisine

In the 21st century, new Russian enthusiasts began bridging the gap between Old Russia and modernity. We are actually witnessing the creation of a contemporary Russian cuisine based on natural foods and driven by a desire to found the world's best restaurants.

Chefs continually learn from prominent professionals, while designers and restaurateurs are constantly travelling and creating interiors inspired by what they see both in Russia and abroad. 

Morozko (21st Century) by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

For example, the Gorynych restaurant design is a modern take on Russian fairy tales by artist Ivan Bilibin and architect Natalia Belonogova.

Red caviar (21st Century) by Alexander AverinFederal Agency for Tourism

Individual Style

A search for the staples of this new cuisine will lead to seafood that includes Kamchatka crab, Far Eastern scallops, squid, Murmansk cod, Black Sea flounder, mussels and, of course, caviar, the queen of the Russian table.

A chef's technique and vision will turn these into unique French, Mediterranean, Asian dishes.

Seafood platter (21st Century) by photo by Aleksander AverinFederal Agency for Tourism

The best chefs will find a way for their creativity. A key feature signalling out renowned Moscow and St. Petersburg chefs is that they disregard conventions in favour of good taste.  

This style is common among the best of the best, and popular with the public that can't stand a bland offer lacking diversity. The explanation here is simple. 

Chef (21st Century) by photo by Aleksander AverinFederal Agency for Tourism

Russia is in a completely different place with restaurant-goers mostly living nearby and quickly becoming bored if the menu doesn't change every month or two.

Burger by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

This forces Russian restaurants to make regular updates and think of breathtaking culinary stories based on other ethnic cuisines. As a result, the Russian cooking style is intimately familiar with that from France, Italy and Japan. 

Herring under a fur coat (21st Century) by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Take dressed herring, the first Russian choice for a holiday meal. Anatoly Komm, the first Russian chef to lead its restaurant into the world's top 50, made dressed herring into rolls. 

Vladimir Mukhin by Alexander AverinFederal Agency for Tourism

White Rabbit's chef Vladimir Mukhin whisked together a Napoleon cake out of rye bread, cured pork and black caviar. Cured pork, incidentally, contained cocoa.

Black caviar on bread by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Buckwheat porridge with parmesan (21st Century)Federal Agency for Tourism

Severyane's calling card of buckwheat porridge with parmesan is contemporary Russian cuisine at its finest: a fusion of Russian and international flavours. The art of transforming simple and delicious foods into a story and a riddle that your customer will want to solve is what cooking is about.

Lamb stew with spelled porridge by Mark i LevFederal Agency for Tourism

From Fermentation to Gastrobotany

Today, any chef worth their salt has their farmer connections that supply him or her with the best products from vegetables and root vegetables to cheese and butter, the staples of a good modern restaurant. 

Russian stove by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

The chef may expand on them with fermentation familiar to any Russian grandmother or the "slow cook" technique that involves stewing in a Russian stove.

Pizza (21st Century) by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Dishes like that are on the menu at the Beluga, BURO. TSUM, and Twins Garden restaurants, the latter also serving morels, penny buns and birth boletuses with wine from the same mushroom species. 

Trying it all together is a good way to savour fermented flavours and aromas in the full palette of mushroom tastes.

Grouse (21st Century) by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

There are a great number of berries, mushrooms and herbs that accentuate original culinary takes. Russia has already seen the emergence of its own gastrobotanists with chefs moonlighting as hunters and going on expeditions to bring back wildlife products. A visit to Chestnaya Kukhnya, Blush and Expedition is an opportunity to check out this type of cooking.

Clay kitchenware by Leonid EremeychukFederal Agency for Tourism

Cafe Pushkin best serves the smart variation of Russian cuisine heavily influenced by French, while the most iconic features of Soviet cuisine are to be found at Dr. Zhivago and Voskhod. 

Russian restaurants and chefs are already in the world's top rankings. But there is also the traditional Russian cuisine, well on display at Matryoshka whose enthusiastic chef Vlad Piskunov is reviving Russia's cooking traditions based on old recipes.

COCOCOUTURE Petersburg cafe restaurantFederal Agency for Tourism

This diversity is what Russian cuisine represents today with its roots in tradition, yet reimagined and rebuilt to fit the standards of the 21st century. One of the less appreciated cuisines in the world, it is evolving by leaps and bounds.

Credits: Story

Сhief Сonsultant — Ekaterina Drozdova, restaurateur, gastronomic entrepreneur, food and social activist, Contributors — Igor Gubernsky, Proximity Russia, Denis Yershov, Alexander Averin

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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