American Chef Tries Traditional Russian Meals

PHOTO by Alena Vinogradova / Afisha.Daily
Chef Christopher Arianes, who moved to Moscow from New York to work in the Russian capital’s 15 Kitchen + Bar, tried meat aspic, sprats and wild garlic and told us what he thought

We bought a standard set of products and ready-to-eat food at ordinary grocery stores and delis. We also added vodka, another important national product, for the full experience.

Arianes graduated from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and worked in famed New York City establishments such as Per Se (run by American chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller) and the Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park. 15 Kitchen + Bar traditionally invites a new well-known foreign chef each season and they invited Arianes this time around.

Meat Aspic (Kholodets)

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It's frozen and it probably was put in the freezer to maintain its quality. I'm not sure why. The taste is more or less okay, and the only thing that confuses me is that it's too flat.

Cod Liver

Well, OK, that's interesting. What a strange, soft texture. In fact, if not for the texture, it would taste similar to tuna. I need vodka to go with it.

Pickled Apples

I've tried them already and I even use them at 15 Kitchen + Bar; I add them to mackerel and cabbage. This is a great product because the apples are tender, juicy and still have their natural flavour, unlike many pickles. They're really not bad!

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Poshekhonsky Cheese

I like it despite the fact that the texture is a bit strange. It reminds me of cheddar. Poshekhonsky has a lightly smoked flavour and the taste is definitely better than any other cheese that I’ve tried here. A great cheese, and it's great as a snack. I would use it in fondue or I would deep-fry it. Also, it could be added to any pasta with cream sauce.

Sprat with Borodinsky Bread

The taste is the same as sardines. I used to eat them often in my childhood. My grandmother made bread like this, although she added other spices and it was drier.

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Freshly Pickled Cucumbers, Pickled Garlic, Pickled Tomatoes and Leek

I love pickles and I can eat them all day long. These cucumbers preserve the natural flavour. Pickled garlic? I love it, but sprats are better with vodka, I think. I've never tried salted tomatoes before but I definitely like them. Oh, these green stalks of garlic — I obviously bit off too much of it. I like wild garlic, it's on my menu as well. We burn it a bit, then roast it and add it to beef tongue.

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Cranberry Kissel and Yessentuki

They’re cranberries but the taste is reminiscent of strawberries. Actually, it would look good as a cocktail if you add mint and ice there. It would be a Russian strawberry mojito. I like sparkling water — I drink it all day — but Yessentuki tastes like a medicine.

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Moskva Cake

Delicious. Are there candy bars with nougat, butter and chocolate in Russia? This cake is very similar to them. It's caramelised condensed milk, nuts and something like crispy sweet rice. In the United States, there is a similar cake but it's served with ice cream. No wonder people already recommended this cake to me.

Verdict

"Nothing inedible"

I liked the sprats but I would change the bread. Very delicious cake, and I liked the tomatoes best of all the pickled items. I’ve tried aspic before; this is generally a good dish, although this one wasn't good. In general, I was pleased with almost everything. I didn't see anything inedible here. Among other things that I’ve tried in Moscow, I liked persimmons. They have a very nice chocolate flavour.

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It's actually difficult to surprise me with food. I've tasted far more exotic things — monkey brain or the testicles of various animals. Russian cuisine is simple and that's why it reminds me of the food I ate as a child. I'm a redneck: I was born and raised in northern California on a farm on the edge of a forest before moving to New York City. We ate a lot of canned foods, pickles and fermented bread.

In the West, many consider the Russians potato-eaters because they always eat potatoes and meat, and cook only very simple dishes. Russians are also considered to be uneducated in terms of gastronomy.

The situation is gradually changing for the better: after all, you guys want more. You want more taste and variety. It's believed that you don't have a lot of fresh food but when you guys deal with these problems and start to cook well, it turns out great. Recently, by the way, I was at Food City — simply stunning.Russian cuisine has the capacity for development and it can become really popular. This is already happening: famous chefs go to Europe and they introduce their cuisine and products.

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Places with pretty good food start to pop up, such as White Rabbit, Twins, Fahrenheit, perhaps Duo in St. Petersburg. The popularisation of Russian cuisine and Russian chefs is already happening. It's quite a long process that will take some time because you have lots of laws, wars and other nonsense that restrain it.