Varvary: Breaking the image of 'barbaric' Russian food
Anatoly Komm, chef of Russia's first haute cuisine restaurant, Varvary, has turned Russian black bread -- that hard-as-cement staple -- into a dainty dollop of brown pudding.
Following a switch in career paths, Komm has been all about using his cooking to alter perceptions of Russian culture. He was a geophysicist and luxury fashion importer in a former life before becoming a chef of haute cuisine.
"When people think about Russia, they only think about vodka and caviar," said Komm. "We also have other amazing ingredients and I want to open people’s eyes to this so that they can better understand the Russian soul."
Komm is in Hong Kong this week at the pop-up Varvary at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, unleashing the Russian spirit onto the city's palates.
The original Varvary, located in Moscow, was included on the list of "World's 50 best restaurants" in 2011 -- the first Russian restaurant to make the cut. The word "varvary" is Russian for "barbarian." It's Komm's touch of confrontational irony.
Also on CNNGo: The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2012: Who made the cut?
Dishes are prepared using techniques from molecular gastronomy, which is Komm's direct attack on the stereotype of unrefined Russian culture.
"I employ molecular methods because it is very precise and you have to know exactly what happens at every step to ensure a perfect dish," said Komm.
"Haute cuisine is a combination of art and science and I hope to use it to break all the stereotypes people may have about Russian food."
It's classic Russian dishes, elevated by progressive cooking techniques. The menu includes spherified borscht with foie gras and thickened sour cream, dumplings with Kamchatka crab with liquid nitrogen sour cream, and sushi-roll-like "herring under a fur coat."
More than the scientific techniques, Komm's food stands out for staying true to Russian ingredients.
According to the chef, Russian food is heavily influenced by Nordic cuisine. It tends to use high-calorie ingredients such as potatoes due to the cold climate.
But his dishes are created to challenge what people imagine to be stodgy winter food.
"The stereotypical ingredients found in Russian food such as potatoes can be very light, low fat, tasty and good for health if you prepare it the right way. That is the magic and the art of cuisine," says Komm.
"Many people do not understand how many great Russian ingredients there are."
Komm cites a recent master class he held for chefs in which he demonstrated the virtues of beetroot.
"In the past, people did not think of the beetroot as an important ingredient but now it’s in vogue and used all over Europe."
Watch Anatoly Komm in action in these YouTube videos.
Getting there: Varvary's pop-up restaurant at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental is now sold out. www.mandarinoriental.com
Varvary restaurant, 107031, 8A, Strastnoy Boulevard, Moscow, +7 495 229 28 00, +7 495 694 32 57, www.anatolykomm.ru; advanced booking required: firstname.lastname@example.org