Acting Up With Taste

LavkaLavka chef Vladimir Chistyakov on Arctic cuisine in Teriberka

Teriberka, an abandoned rural village on the Barents Sea coast, came to public attention following Andrey Zvyagintsev’s blockbuster movie “Leviathan.” It has been frequented by tourists ever since and restored. To prop up growth, a group of enthusiasts launched the “Teriberka. New Life” festival. The first took place last year and was a huge success, with the next planned for August. On the eve of the festival, Lenta.ru interviewed one participants, Vladimir Chistyakov, head chef at LavkaLavka on Petrovka Street, Moscow.

Lenta.ru: Last year you took part in Teriberka festival’s gastronomic programme. Was that a new endeavor for you?

Chistyakov: My first encounter with northern cuisine came before the festival. A year ago, LavkaLavka launched an Arctic menu to support Teriberka project. Back then you’d have called me a stranger to the Russian North, but owing to my Siberian origin, I knew a few things about northern tastes, so I started to experiment and gather regional ingredients like berries, venison, mushrooms and herbs. I wanted to create dishes with the taste of the woods. I also picked a typical regional flour, rye and hackberry, which bore the birth of rye flour pasta with venison and cowberry.

I still experimented with venison. I’ve tried stewing it for days on end to get the most tender texture. In addition to pasta, the Arctic menu included reindeer heart with parsnips, rosemary crumbs and cranberry sorbet, as well as Murmansk cod with scallops tartar and a creamy rye sauce, raw halibut and cranberry shanga, a flat cake.

Many remember you as a father of a rather exotic dish: Murmansk-style shawarma, made from Mexican peppers, Uzbek tomatoes and the northern grilled fish...

Yes, it was a joke amongst friends. We wanted to have fun, create a bit of trouble with taste and at the same time show the locals that food doesn’t have to follow stiff rules, that it can break boundaries but at the same time be delicious.

Honestly, I didn’t know where I was going. I’d heard Murmansk had decent seafood, but Teriberka, what was that? Scrolling through photos I couldn’t understand what kind of produce was grown there. Desolate land, abandoned houses, ship skeletons. It was a ghost town.

But either way I was keen to cook. I’ve promoted original cuisine, which is nonetheless based on strict use of regional and seasonal ingredients. We focused on fish and seafood, which is absolutely fantastic there. Haddock, cod, scallops with a beautifully crystal clear taste. I hadn’t seen such quality in Russian restaurants.

How were you received by the locals?

At first they were a little standoffish. A local gang came up in a tuned Lada car to find out about our business there, but when they came and tried our cooking, they sort of warmed to it. They saw how we worked hard and they respected us for it. That’s the Northern essence.

What surprises do you have in store this time?

I’m going to start from scratch. For me it’s a true challenge. At least now I have an idea where I’m heading and what to look for. I want to explore some of the local produce, the scallops, the mussels, which are huge in Teriberka, and delicious sea urchin caviar.

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Murmansk urchin is one of major gastronomic discoveries of the Arctic festival in Teriberka

This year I’ll set out earlier with the hope of uncovering something unusual. We’ll have a local guide to explore the tundra, search for herbs, berries, roots. The earth is alive there, you look under the moss and discern the whole universe under your feet. Teriberka residents say that the northern steppe flora is 90% edible. There’s only one way to find out.

As far as technology goes, everything will be simple: no sous vide, no PacoJets, etc. No special equipment for cooking. Just an open fire, marinating, and smoking, using local shrubs. It’d be awesome to use water from the Barents Sea in our cooking, too. I plan to have five or six servings, taking full advantage of what grows, swims and runs in the Teriberka area.

Including the king crab?

Unfortunately, no. The Murmansk region has imposed a ban on crab fishing despite its abundance there. I heard you get a year in prison for every kilo of crab. I don’t care to find it out.

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The festival was also visited by actors, musicians, travelers and environmentalist

How well do you know the Murmansk restaurants that will take part in this year’s festival?

Frankly, I’m not familiar with any of them. Last year I had no chance to visit either the Royal Hunt or Tundra. But I hope to try their cuisine in Teriberka and Murmansk. As for the other northern restaurants, the whole situation is dire. The region provides a rich variety of local products with fantastic cooking possibilities, but on the menu you see battered fish with mayonnaise and potato garnish. It’s sad.

Do you plan to have a taster session in Moscow of what you’ll cook at the festival?

I’ve been nurturing the concept of original gastronomic offering for a while now, the so-called “chef’s table.” It entails preparing dishes for a small group of people on a weekly basis and exchanging ideas. I hope that my Teriberka tour will help me accomplish this dream. Perhaps I’ll bring entire festival ideas to Moscow. We’ll see. Like I said, I don’t know what will come of it.

I have no desire to prove anything to anyone. I don’t want to impress others, but be amazed myself. I’m going to the festival to discover and reflect on things, experiment, be inspired. Teriberka suits the purpose nicely. Its energy is incredible: waterfall, cliffs, chilling wind, whales swimming nearby.

More so, the festival is changing its look. Last year there was only room for fast food, but now it will accommodate restaurants with a full lunch and dinner. Jointly, I hope we will create self-styled contemporary northern, or perhaps Arctic or Russian cuisine, that will draw attention to unique products and showcase their culinary potential.

I can totally picture an acclaimed gourmet restaurant in Teriberka in several years that will be visited not only by Russians but also people from around the globe, the same who like traveling to the distant Swedish Fäviken Magasinet, which is 600 km from Stockholm, where you still have to book a table beforehand. I think we can do the same. It’s time to act.