Chefs love to travel — for inspiration, to experience the cuisines of other cultures or just to get away from the heat of their own kitchens. When they return, we hit them with some questions — where'd they stay, what'd they do and WHAT DID THEY EAT?
We last found New York City chef and all-around nice guy Corwin Kave working as Executive Chef at cultish Southeast Asian barbecue-plus-boîte Fatty 'Cue, where he had teamed with Zakary Pelaccio until leaving the restaurant in September to pursue other projects. One of these projects was a consulting job that took him to Moscow in the dead of winter to help open a restaurant and speakeasy style cocktail lounge called Far Rockaway — a collaboration between the chef and the folks behind East Village bar Death & Co. Here he tells us about his time in the land of vodka and, as it turns out, really good coffee.
Where are you just back from? How long were you there?
Moscow, Russia. I was there for five weeks from January-end of February.
Business or pleasure?
Main purpose of your trip?
Menu and recipe development, training, execution and materials.
What was the highlight?
The staff. I loved working with the Russian kitchen, bar and floor staff. They were always so eager to learn new techniques and experience new flavors. Also, everything about the Red Square/Kremlin area. The Armory is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life. It's a palace converted into a museum with room after room of thrones, carriages, scepter, crowns, silver, ivory, jewels, jewels and more jewels. The Armory is a reason in itself to visit Moscow. There are also some excellent cocktail bars on the rise. Bek Narzi, who is on the forefront of this movement, took us out a couple times and showed us what’s up. Also, Belka Bar, City Space and Chateau Fantomas.
Do the Russians have a particular American dish that they really dig?
Not really. They tend gravitate away from true "Americana" as a culture but they love Italian, French, German and are very receptive to American twists applied to those styles of cuisine.
Do you respect Russian cuisine more now? What were your favorite things to eat there?
I never really ate a lot of Russian food before going to Moscow. I've eaten Serbian and Uzbekistan but never true Russian cuisine. My favorite Russian meals were at Cafe Pushkin (featuring pelmeni, borscht, caviar and pancakes) and at Far Rockaway before we opened. The chef and I ate pickled herring with pork fat, brown bread, onions and a lot of chilled vodka. I also ate some wonderful pastry from bakery Volkonsky. Croissants filled with jams, gougere and something similar to a cannele but studded with dried fruit. There is also a very serious coffee culture going on there. Really excellent espresso drinks and a big cafe culture on the rise. Just expect to pay $15 US for your latte. It really comes down to the quality of the milk in Russia. The milk is all unpasteurized and you taste the difference in your coffee.
Unfortunately I've never felt more unwelcome anywhere I've previously traveled. The working class is full of energy and creativity — especially in the bar/restaurant scene — but I encountered a lot of hostility outside of the hospitality industry when trying to ask simple questions in broken Russian. The meteor that exploded over Russia was a pretty low moment for everyone. Over 1,100 people injured, not cool.
What airline did you fly and how was it?
Delta business class, so it was fine once you’re on the plane. But I am not a big fan of Delta. They have terrible customer service.
Where'd you stay, and what's your mini-review of the place?
Sretenka Hotel. It was clean and basic with a nice enough staff. I was living there for five weeks, so we all got used to each other eventually. They have a sauna and cold pool in the basement which was very nice and the breakfast in the morning was pretty decent. They normally served some cottage cheese pancakes and fried eggs, which put the commodity U.S. eggs to shame. Unfortunately, accommodations are extremely expensive and even my basic hotel will set you back $400 US per night.
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