Vladimir Mukhin, Russian chef of White Rabbit, the Moscow restaurant that has taken the gastronomic world by storm over the past years is on a mission to make Russian tastes known globally.
Born to a family of chefs, he jokes that he was born in the kitchen. Both his mother and father were chefs and so was his grandmother. His grandfather was a teacher in a culinary school and the Russian chef recalls how he started to cook with his grandfather from 5pm to 7pm after school.
Mukhin is on a mission to showcase the best of Russian traditions. “The national culture for chefs is the future of gastronomy. We will be going towards what I call glocalisation,” he says. “The cooking techniques may be global but we need to find the best recipes and the best tastes of Russia and share it,” he says.
That is not easy for a young chef born in 1983. “The taste of the Soviet Union in the 1980s was mayonnaise. The people of the Soviet Union only remember this one taste and it killed Russian taste and flavour. What I am trying to do is to find the best stories of what came before but to do that we need to go to the past,” Vladimir Mukhin told Food and Wine Gazette in Zwolle, the Netherlands during this year’s Chef’s Revolution.
Russia is a huge territory and that makes it difficult to research old recipes. “To go from one place to another sometimes I need to take a 12 hour plane journey. It’s like going to Bangkok. At the same time, it makes the research very interesting and gives me a lot of energy,” Vladimir said.
“For me this is not a job, its my life. With my team we travel around Russia trying to find fish, mushrooms in the forest, berries etc. We have a school at White Rabbit,” he said.
Vladimir has obviously been impacted by the embargo which has meant that he did not have access to certain Western produce. At the same time, this has meant that he has had to look for Russian produce. “We have had farmers who have started to grow lots of different ingredients. Sometimes it can take a long time to adapt. Sometimes, the food we get can come from 2,000 kilometres away, you can call it Russian slowfood.”
He is strictly of the view that people should eat local when they visit a country. “When you go to Italy you should eat pasta but if you come to Moscow you should not except to eat pasta or to go to Italian restaurants which serve pasta. You should look for porridge because that is our taste and our food.”
Vladimir is working to showcase Russian produce such as meat, game, fish or wheat. He is also using fermentation techniques which have been popular in Russia to ferment everything from lemon to watermelon to mushrooms.
Could Russia be the next place to be discovered by foodies, I ask? “I hope so,” he says. “We have a lot of interesting tastes and flavours. I urge people to travel to our country and savour our food,” he says.
During the presentation at Chefs Revolution, Vladimir spoke about how innovation for him meant searching for the national identity when it came to food. “Globally, there was a point where we started to use the same techniques, the same products and now is the moment to work to reflect the chef’s personality and traditions.”
At his restaurant White Rabbit he is recreating the tastes from the past. He makes watermelon beer which used to be served in the 19th century. He serves it with smoked cheese from the mountains, bread, chantarelles and fermented and salted trout.
During his presentation he also showcased an onion dish with sea urchin and white chocolate and a concentrate of mushroom stock.