My name is Florian Pinel. For those of you who might wonder, although I’m originally from France, I am not the professional skier. I work as a computer science researcher during the week, and cook during my spare time. I moved to New York City in the late-90’s, and I now live here with my family. I graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in 2005 and worked part-time in high-end restaurants for several years. I am now focusing on composing and testing my own recipes. I’ve been traveling to the Eastern Bloc regularly since my early teens, when it was still called the Eastern Bloc. If you wish to contact me, you can use the form at the bottom of this page.
The Food Perestroika Manifesto
The word perestroika may be forever associated with Mikhail Gorbachev’s reformation movement in the late eighties, but in Russian, it simply means reconstruction. To understand what it is that needs to be rebuilt, I suggest we start with a brief look at culinary history in the former Eastern Bloc.
In discussing classic Russian cuisine, one must first look to France. After the French Revolution (1789–1799), many chefs once employed by the aristocracy and the clergy opened their own restaurants, catering to the soaring bourgeoisie. Haute cuisine is rooted in this first wave of establishments that made nobility’s culinary luxury accessible to anyone able to pay the price of a meal. From there, French gastronomy kept on renewing itself, with milestones such as Escoffier’s Guide culinaire in 1903, and the Nouvelle Cuisine movement in the 1960’s.
From the late 18th century until the October Revolution of 1917, Russian food followed a similar course. In fact, many chefs working for Russian aristocratic families were from France. Through them, Russia made some significant contributions to gastronomy at the time. It suffices to open Guide Culinaire to find recipes for pellmènes, varénikis, coulibiac, piroguis, sauce smitane, côtelettes Pojarski, pudding Nesselrode, vatrouskis, and other preparations à la Russe. Service à la russe, a manner of dining that involves courses being brought to the table sequentially, was brought to France in the early 19th century, and still serves as the basis for modern food service.
Russian cuisine’s development stopped abruptly with the Revolution. For most of the 20th century, it remained stuck in cuisine classique. Worse even: the existing dishes were systematically bastardized to circumvent ingredient scarcity and shortages. This is, for example, how Salad Olivier turned from a decadent high-end appetizer to an unappetizing pile of factory-produced foods drowning in mayo.
Meanwhile, the other Soviet Republics — most of which featured very rustic culinary traditions — saw their cultures “harmonized” (read: repressed). Russian became the common language, socialist classicism the architectural norm, and national peculiarities were watered down. It is said that even the menus of the Tbilisi restaurants were dictated from Moscow. At best, bastardized versions of the most famous national dishes were adopted across the Empire for a touch of exoticism.
After World War II, the Iron Curtain further spread the culinary stagnation to Central and Eastern Europe as more countries became part of the Communist Bloc. The story differs slightly for each country, but the results ended up being similar: products were scarce, quality was poor, variety non-existent. In Hungary, for example, the fine wines and superior ingredients produced for centuries were almost completely forsaken, and Károly Gundel‘s eponymous restaurant, which enjoyed a fine international reputation before the war, was nationalized in 1949 and sunk into mediocrity. And in Berlin, if you visit DDR-Restaurant Domklause, an East German restaurant re-established in its original location at the former Palasthotel, you can taste for yourself original recipes dictated by product availability (or rather, lack thereof); they are unlikely to impress you.
The collapse of the Eastern Bloc (1989-1991) brought once-in-a-lifetime opportunities in almost all aspects of society. While gastronomy was no exception, the impact has been smaller than one might think. One reason is certainly that the majority of the population had more important issues to worry about in the 1990’s than fine dining, and those who had money to burn often preferred flashy surroundings or foreign travel to sophisticated local cuisine. Says chef Wojciech Amaro, of Atelier Amaro in Warsaw and recipient of Michelin’s first Rising Star award in Poland: “Did you know that Poland is famous for its edible flowers, herbs, wild game and mushrooms and most Poles don’t even know it?” As of 2012, there were 2 Michelin-starred restaurants in Hungary (Onyx and Costes), 2 in Czech Republic (La Dégustation Bohême Bourgeoise and The Alcron), and slightly over 20 in former East Germany. Compare this to 590 establishments in France, 249 in the whole reunified Germany, or 128 in the U.S. (you can find an up-to-date list here).
Eastern Bloc restaurants in the West didn’t fare much better. In New York, despite the multiple waves of immigrants throughout the 20th century, your options rarely depart from family restaurants on one hand, or big floor show establishments on the other. Many seem happy to serve straight-from-the-can eggplant caviar and shoe-sole-tough Beef Stroganoff without ever wondering if they could do better — just read my reviews. Of course the customers are to blame, too. Half of them want to throw vodka shots over their backs and eat caviar by the ladle as if the October Revolution never happened, and the other half turned their grandmothers’ frugal, substitute-filled stews into their own personal Proustian madeleines. Few people pass the doorstep asking for modern Eastern European cuisine.
Okay, maybe I’m dramatizing a little bit. I won’t deny that the food situation has considerably improved. Quality local products are readily available; you can have a delicious modern meal in Prague, Budapest, or Moscow. Sophisticated winemaking has made a triumphant return in Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia; there are lavish cookbooks filled with traditional recipes from the Caucasus and Central Asia. I’ve even seen Stalik Khankishiev using a thermometer to check meat doneness! The Soviet Union also popularized some notable dishes, such as the chicken Kiev. My point is that the food culture in those countries is making a very slow recovery and still rarely challenges traditions. Despite History’s opportunities, the gastronomy of the Eastern Bloc is still light-years away from what you see in France — or Italy, Spain, Germany, Scandinavia, Japan…
My goal with Food Perestroika is to rebuild culinary traditions from the former Eastern Bloc, and try to re-imagine and elevate them to haute cuisine. The word perestroika means reconstruction, but I am not interested in replication so much as I am interested in innovation inspired by what came before, and in making the most of the ingredients and flavors that can be found in that part of the world. Most of the various topics I discuss can be pieced together to work towards this objective:
- Travel stories investigate the ingredients, preparations, and principles that define each country (with many digressions, I admit)
- Restaurant reviews report the state of things on my side of the pond, and occasionally elsewhere
- Finally, the recipes, which are the cornerstones of my reconstruction, and fall under several categories:
- Some of them reinterpret traditional dishes, as I think it is impossible to innovate if you don’t master the classics. I’m not interested in publishing another passable 30-minute recipe with a pretty picture for instant gratification on foodgawker. I really try to come up with the best recipes possible, fine-tuning over and over until the results are worth publishing.
- Another group of recipes tries to build on top of this base to create more modern, novel, and elaborate dishes. Many people would discard them as not representative of the Eastern Bloc at all. I, on the other hand, make the argument that if a dish uses ingredients and methods found in a given country, no matter how obscure, then it’s as reflective of that country as it gets. To deny this argument is as ludicrous as complaining that such-and-such Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris doesn’t serve French cuisine because they don’t feature cassoulet, camembert, or frogs’ legs on their menu.
- Still other posts have me making my building blocks from scratch — cheese, preserves, bread — simply because reconstruction often starts at the atomic level, so to speak. This is also how I became interested in hunting and fishing. I am far from being a textbook hipster type, but I do agree with some locavore ideas about knowing where your meat comes from.
I may not follow any rigorous order in my posts, instead going back and forth between countries, post categories, and recipe complexity. It all depends on my inspiration of the moment. But hopefully, after a few years of writing, the big picture will start to make sense.
Hi Florian. You have a fantastic blog! Keep it up!
Fabulous site! Love it.
Easter holidays me and my family will spend in New York City.
Which georgian food restaurant you can recommend?
Salut to you and your family!
Hi George, there are very few Georgian restaurants in New York, and none that I would really recommend. You’d probably have a better time at Baku Palace, which serves American / Azeri cuisine. There is, however, a good Georgian bakery that makes fresh khachapuri, at 265 Neptune Ave in Brooklyn. Enjoy your stay!
Super Blog Florian!! Je vais peut-être enfin apprendre quelques petits trucs pour nourrir mon monde…
i’m enjoying reading your blog, keep it up, can say your new fan from Malaysia.
quite pleased to have found your blog (whilst looking for a Soviet recipe of ‘toshnotiki’, pies with liver…). I also write about Russian and soviet food on http://www.GastronomicalMe.com . Look forward to reading your blog!
Thanks Katrina! I’m glad you found me. By the way I’ve tried to add your blog to my Google Reader, but you don’t seem to have a working RSS feed…
Thank you for writing about Georgian cuisine. I was born in georgia but immigrated when I was 7, so although I grew up with my mothers cooking it’s nice to have a written description in english of the recipes. I’m going to try to make my own churchkhela. Wish me luck 🙂
Hi Maria, glad you found my blog, and good luck with the churchkhela!
I must do an article on you and add you to the links!
Prosperous New Year to U!
Thanks Crewmantle! Happy New Year to you and all my readers!
I’m glad I found your blog. <3 We have topics in common 😀
I like your blog, found it when searching for some food tips for St Petersburg. Although you have a mistake there – Czech Republic isn’t in eastern Europe.
Czech Republic is in Central Europe indeed, but it (or Czechoslovakia, rather) was certainly part of the Eastern Bloc.
Hello, My name is Magdalena and I write a food blog in English about Polish cuisine: tastycolours.blogpost and the second one dozartadegustuje.wordpress.com (the last one is in Polish). And you know, I believe that Poland is in Central Europe although it is true that it was a part of the Eastern Bloc. I will be coming back to you blog, as the Eastern (Central ) European cuisine ii my passion. I invite you to subscribe to me blog in feedburner at tastycolours.blogspot.com. Stray tuned.
Magdalena, I already follow your blog in Google Reader.
Love this! Thanks for this contribution. I lived in Moscow and Kiev in 1998-1999 and so love revisiting these recipes!! My roommate and I took some Georgian language classes just because we loved the food and wine so much.
Georgian language classes, how brave of you! That’s something I’d like to do someday, but so far I’ve only learnt the alphabet before going there (and of course I forgot it as soon as I got home).
A while back you visited Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden for our Czech and Slovak festival. I just wanted to let you know that coming up in Feb. we have our annual “Porkfest”. Here is the info on the event in case you would be interested.
– authentic, traditional Czech & Slovak porkfest menu in an intimate and cozy restaurant setting with the live sounds of Eastern European folk music (Saturday 6pm) where the fiddles are fast and dancing comes easy.
Date: Friday, Feb 8th …. 5-11 pm
Saturday, Feb. 9th … noon-10 pm
Sunday, Feb. 10 …. Noon-10 pm
Location: Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden
29-19 24th ave, Astoria, ny 11102
For additional info please visit our website
Sounds exciting! I’ll definitely try to be there.
I was wondering if you could help, I want to make a georgian dish for my russian class; but I don’t know how to cook very well. (cookies from the tube, instant mashed potatoes in my shephard’s pie. various other culinary crimes.)
Are there any simple recipes on your site that you can recommend? ones that keep well at room temp or can be served cold?
Tough question… if it wasn’t winter, I would recommend you make some preserves. Why don’t you try these Walnut-Stuffed Eggplant Rolls?
Will do, thanks for the help!
I have a question…I was watching a television program about native culture in which they served a salmon egg jelly. It was made with sugar so I am thinking it was a bit sweet, but not sure how sweet. It was just beautiful and simply spread on a piece of bread. I have searched for a recipe and have been unsuccessful. Have you ever come across anything like this and would you know how to prepare it? I am blessed to live in the Pacific Northwest and have a husband who loves to fish. We try not to waste any part of them, making fish stock, smoking, canning…you name it, but I am itching to try something unique and new.
I have to say I’ve never heard of this… I could imagine passing salmon roe though a sieve, and mixing the resulting liquid with a warm syrup made with water, sugar and agar agar.
Thank you so much for your suggestion. I am anxious to try it…wish me luck!
I just went out with a few friends last night (one from Ukraine, the other from Moldova) and had a smattering of cuisine from Eastern Europe. As a result, I was looking for some good blogs today and stumbled upon yours! It is really exciting to read, you are clearly very passionate and knowledgeable about food. Thanks for all of the work on the blog, I’m certainly going to be reading and trying out some of your recipes. If you ever have time, might I suggest you index your recipes by title. The format know requires me to go through all of your posts-which is fine-but might become more tedious as you keep writing. Just a thought, cheers!
Hi there. I really enjoy your site. I’ve just nominated Food Perestroika for the Liebster award on my blog, here: https://roodonfood.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/liebster-award/
Why, thank you! I’ll pass on the award to more nominees as soon as I can.
You’re quite welcome! I really enjoy your site – I actually became a fan of Eastern European food only over the last few years – I’ve written a little bit about some of my visits on the Food Adventures tab of my site. Harcho soup is one of my all time favorite foods. Cheers and keep up the good work.
I just found your blog and I LOVE it!!! I married a Russian and have been trying to replicate his Soviet “madeleines” for nearly 20 years now. I have come up with many of my own interpretations, some more successful than others. You have hit the nail on the head here.
Awesome blog. Love your name.
Hi Florian, I’m from California, though my dad was German and grew up in Prague…I stumbled onto your truly spectacular blog somehow via David Lebovitz. You’re not only putting out pictures with recipes, you actually give historical insight which make for a great read. Keep up the good work!!!
Hi, Florian. I stumbled on your awesome and informative blog. I really enjoyed every post I’ve read today. Keep up the good work! You are an interesting individual. What languages do you speak? You have a Romanian name, you understand Perestroika and Russian cuisine, then France 🙂 I speak Russian and Romanian and I miss Eastern European food A LOT! ON a recent trip to Prague and my birth country I gained 10 lbs, ouch! Great blog!
Hi seasonsmom7, glad you like the blog. I speak French, English, and Russian. I’ve studied a bunch of other languages too, but I wouldn’t claim I speak them.
Hi Florian. I stumbled upon your blog… you obviously have passion for cooking. Great!
Please proceed with caution when you speak on culture and cuisine of others. I am originally from Ukraine. You must not know people who cook real food at home, or you would not be using terms like bastardized and what have you… Restaurants rarely do justice to a culture’s unique cuisine and soul. Sincerely, home cook.
Thanks for your comment! I agree that anywhere in the world, food cooked at home can differ from restaurant food. I have eaten at people’s homes regularly during my trips to former-Soviet countries in the past 25 years, and I imagine they cooked “real food”. Regardless, I still claim that in most large cities (and that includes Moscow and Kiev), some restaurants are the best examples of a culture’s cuisine. I hope you’ll agree: the best restaurants of the world are the ones that offer either innovation, or exemplary versions of traditional food. As for the word “bastardized”, if you look again at my post, I don’t apply it to home cooking, but to the policies of a regime that obviously placed food very low in its list of priorities.
I was so happy to come across your blog. I recently moved to Krakow, Poland and am discovering the unique flavors, dishes, and ingredients used in Eastern Bloc cuisine. I like the way you celebrate an often-not celebrated branch of cuisine. I was pleased to see that you mentioned Atelier Amaro in your intro. My husband and I recently ate there and it remains one of the best meals we’ve ever had. My blog is not nearly as professional as your’s, but I did write about this experience here (http://jedidiah-arlene.tumblr.com/post/77707359512/the-best-meal-i-ever-had-i-exaggerate-a-lot-when). I look forward to reading more about your food adventures. If you ever swing through Krakow – we’ll show you what is best to eat around here.
Hello, Florian 🙂
I’ve just randomly came across to your blog and I am already fascinated by its content and your knowledge! I drew up in one of Soviet Bloc’s country but I wish to know about Russian food history as much as you know! I look forward to getting to know you better!
Have you written about gozinaki? (I did a quick search, but might have missed it)
*quick. That’s what I get for trying to type fast.
Love this food blog! I work at company called Tivamo and something like this would be great. Check out tivamo.com- let’s get in touch!
This is really an amazing blog! You have a great straight forward approach to your topic without missing a single piece of humour. As I am travelling from time to time in Central Europe I can see that there is still quite some room for improvement on the culinary side. Making what they do right now just better will not be sufficient enough.
I appreciate that you travel to countries off the beaten track and share your experiences. I believe I might never visit them but they are an incentive to travel at least the deep country side in Central Europe, especially Romania.
What I am wondering about is the quality of the vegetables and fruit in the Eastern European countries you visited. Do they still have a “real” taste. I am still dreaming of the apples I had 20 years ago in the Tarsus mountains in Turkey. Never ate anything as good again. Is this similar in Armenia, Georgia etc.?
Anyway, merci beaucoup et bonne chance avec vos grands efforts.
Hi Askan, glad you like the blog! As for the taste of fresh produce in the countries I visited, as everywhere else, it depends where you get them from. From what I recall, most of the fruits and vegetables I ate in the Caucasus tasted delicious, but then I remember stopping once to buy some from a roadside vendor, and the plums and peaches were disappointing.
Another software guru who wants computers to cook for me. Are you and my software/physics geek husband ganging up on me? At one dinner when he opined that a robot could do what I do in the kitchen, a guest asked if that was true of the bedroom. He’s let that go, though he does want cars to drive themselves. Here’s to an interesting blog (thanks for checking out mine) from a fellow ICE grad, pre-ICE.
Hello Florian I am a travel guide for Tibet and I follow many travel blogs but your is one of my favorites keep up!
I just wanted to thank you for the Tarkhun recipe. It’s been a highlight lockdown since I’m away from decent Georgian food and drink. I’ve also shared the recipe with friends many times and gifted people with the syrup. I look forward to reading about your further adventures in the cuisine of what was once the East Block. I will disagree with you about the state of the quality of Hungarian wine. When Hungary was part of the East Block, itwas decent and affordable from Egri Bikaver to 5 pottonos Tokaij. Since the red banner was hoisted down the Egri Bikaver is undrinkable and the prices of the tokaji have skyrocketed. I’m not saying that State Socislism shd have continued but the wines were better then.
Hi Keith, I’m glad you enjoy my tarkhun recipe! As for the Hungarian wines, until the time machine is invented there’s no way to have a side-by-side comparison, so we’ll just have to agree to disagree 🙂
I came to your blog looking for a good plov recipe. I have been somewhat obsessed by biryanis for the past year and anyone who wants to understand biryani needs to understand plov. I had my first in Buhkara last year and the best version at a roadside place on the way back to Tashkent. I was told it was in the Tashkent style.
So I came here and then I got lost in the posts. I was in Croatia and Bosnia a few years ago and I’ll have to take slight detour to cevapi before plov.
I’ve been here but a day but I see many months and years and dancing in the footprints left by posts. So much wonderful food to make!
Флориан, добрый день!
Я живу в Москве.
Искала рецепт таджикского супа шурпа и попала на Ваш сайт.
Сайт – великолепен. Очень качественный подбор рецептов.
Моё хобби кулинария. Много рецептов перевожу с английского на русский язык (.
Очень интересные с оригинальным подходом у Вас рецепты бывшего СССР и стран Варшавского договора. Интересно Ваше видение наших рецептов, очень интересно.
Будут вопросы – пишите!
У меня огромная подборка рецептов.
Я Ваш сайт поставила в ЗАКЛАДКИ.
Спасибо за сайт и рецепты. Вы – талантливый человек!
Путин В.В. – у нас аскет. Он не пьёт, всего лишь бокал держит, а у Вас он всегда с бокалом. Может ложное создаться впечатление о России.
УДАЧИ и УСПЕХОВ во всех Ваших делах!
Привет из России
Putin’s favorite song “I missed you so much…”
I’m trying to make “Honey Cake Gagra with Mandarin and Black Tea” and the orange gel is not jelling. I used “Sure-Jell” which is what the store had; but the first ingredient listed is not pectin, so I am realizing that “Sure-Jell” is inappropriate. The link to “Rousseau” pectin is broken, and the Internet doesn’t seem to know it. Do you know of any resource to find out how much actual pectin is in products called “pectin”; and how much pectin your pâte de fruit requires in terms of grams of actual pectin per 100g of juice? Thanks.
Hi Ray, I’ve updated the pectin link, thanks for letting me know. You can also buy apple pectin on Amazon. The recipe says you’ll need about 10 g apple pectin for 200 g of juice, but it’s possible that different brands require different ratios. Citrus pectin would call for a smaller amount.
I was unable to message you above, so “Meanwhile, the other Soviet Republics — most of which featured very rustic culinary traditions — saw their cultures ‘harmonized’ (read: repressed) … national peculiarities were watered down. It is said that even the menus of the Tbilisi restaurants were dictated from Moscow. At best, bastardized versions of the most famous national dishes were adopted across the Empire for a touch of exoticism” All the people I know and more from the former Soviet republics never claimed anything like that happened. That’s why so many people in the former republics saw more harm in the breakup over the years. https://news.gallup.com/poll/166538/former-soviet-countries-harm-breakup.aspx Never mind the results of the 1991 Soviet Referendum that line up with the polls in the following decades, note how many of the republics that were not Russia voted to preserve the union a lot more than Russia did. https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-45446494
Perhaps all the people you know from the former Soviet Union are Russian? I’m also not sure how your poll (which by the way skips 4 former Soviet republics) relates to my statement about cultural harmonization.
That is a ridiculous suggestion, I know Armenians, Georgians, Ukrainians, Russians, Azeris, Lithuanians, Latvians, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Moldovans, Belarussians, etc. and they told me about all of this. The poll directly relates to your statement about “cultural harmonization”. That is a DC-based Gallup poll and I never worked for Gallup so that is not my poll. I’m not sure what the significance of those 4 former Soviet republics are to you, but DC think tank Pew Research did some polls in Lithuania back in 2011 and of course Pew Research has the spin with their questions, “Soviet” means council but for some reason we were not taught that in the West, and the local soviets are what the higher up soviets relied on, independent candidates won elections and even votes against the candidates were tallied, there was more democracy in the Soviet days than after. Even Cambridge economist Pat Sloan as a non-citizen worker in the Soviet Union said non-citizens including him were allowed to participate in their elections, per his 1937 book Soviet Democracy. Regardless of that spin Pew Research has, Lithuanians said they were unhappy with what they were given after 1991. https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2011/12/05/confidence-in-democracy-and-capitalism-wanes-in-former-soviet-union/
As I said before “Never mind the results of the 1991 Soviet Referendum that line up with the polls in the following decades, note how many of the republics that were not Russia voted to preserve the union a lot more than Russia did.” and the 2013 Gallup poll was very telling that there was no cultural repression like that, overwhelmingly they said the undemocratic dissolution of the Soviet Union did more harm than good for their former Soviet republics.
your blog is very nice. Last comment from PK is worrying. Looks like your freedom of speech is not welcomed. We know know what Russian political system is like. They revealed their true nature in front of the eyes of the whole world.
Wishing you all the best.
Bonjour Monsieur PINEL,
Je m’appelle Ostaș Piotr et je viens du Moldavie, du petite village Congazcik, 10 km de Comrat, en cette moment je travaille en France et par hazard j’ai vu votre livre L’archipel du Goulache, où j’ai trouvé ma région la Gagaouzie, j’aimerais bien de vous raconter même si ça va être en visio et discuter de ma région parceque vu que elle est peut connu en France. J’ai animé une atelier en Anglais en France, et votre témoignage sur mon pays et ma région, pourrait être intéressant pour les personnes qui ont jamais attendu de cette région. Merci pour votre travail et l’intérêt pour l’Est