Victor Belyaev: "Cookery should unite nations, not divide them"
The World Congress of Islamic Cooking, organized by the World Platform of Islamic Countries Culinary Societies (WICS), the Azerbaijan State Tourism Agency, the National Culinary Association and the National Culinary Center, is being held in Baku for the first time. Participants from 25 countries show their skills in team and individual competitions. President of the Russian Culinary Association Victor Belyaev told Vestnik Kavkaza about the congress and Islamic cookery.
- What is the significance of this Baku congress?
- It is a great pleasure for me to visit Baku. Tensions continue around the world now: extremists are trying to divide nations, going for easy popularity. And what Azerbaijan is doing today by holding a culinary congress of Islamic countries here is a great thing.
People of different nationalities, different religious affiliations live in Russia. I think that it is very important to be united now. When I was eight years old, my grandfather, a World War II veteran, told me: "Follow the broom rule." I did not understand it right away. Then the grandfather said: "Break the broom! .. No? Then untie the rope, and you can break it one stick by one."
We, Russian culinary specialists, fully support this event. Azerbaijan invited more than two dozen presidents of culinary associations of Islamic states. This was a really good decision, because we must unite and explain what Islam is. Many people associate Islam with the war in Afghanistan, with terrorism. Few people know Islam and Islamic cuisine.
- For now Islamic cookery lags behind European - it's not very popular in the world. What are its prospects?
- It doesn't lag behind. Have you seen a lot of Russian restaurants in Europe? Few! Because Russian cuisine is complicated - it's not just shrimp baked with onions. It takes two hours to make soup. Which of the lazy Europeans will make soup? The same thing happens with Caucasian cuisine. Because cooking Dalma is an art. Here we need science, culinary knowledge, skills and experience.
But times are changing. I was in Vienna and saw an Azerbaijani restaurant in the center of the city where my wife and I spent time with great pleasure. In Moscow, me and my friends go to the Baku Yard, because we know that they have good meat, good vegetables, people are nice and smiley there. We feel at home there.
[The president of the National Culinary Association, head of the National Culinary Center] Tahir Amiraslanov was right when he said: "Why should I eat some European cuisine if my grandmother taught me to eat my national cuisine?" The same thing for any other country. It is necessary to promote Islamic cuisine, because it is interesting. I was in Lebanon. Lebanese cuisine is just crazy! They cook amazing meat, eggplants with carrots! But in Europe, Lebanese chefs can be counted on one hand. Now everyone rushes to eat Japanese or Italian - it's trendy. If we unite, declare ourselves, the Islamic cuisine would soon be on the tables of many people.
- What Azerbaijani dishes do you cook?
- Dalma, also I make pita bread with great pleasure, because it is the most good and healthy bread. Uzbek plov. My practice is great, I worked in the Kremlin, and not only serving Russian and Soviet leaders, we cooked for the leaders of many other countries, including Arab ones: the emir of Abu Dhabi, Yasser Arafat .. Personal chefs came with them. As a result, I have learned Islamic cuisine since the 1970s. It's not just about not eating pork, there are many nuances. If I have proper products, I always make these dishes.
- When Islamic leaders come to Moscow, did they serve them national dishes or Russian ones?
- The Arab world basically eats national dishes. And for example Indira Gandhi loved our chicken noodles. Fidel Castro loved chicken tapaka. Helmut Kohl loved our sausages with green peas. Someone loved borscht, someone loved solyanka. I made solyanka for the Arabs, but without ham, without pork - they enjoyed solyanka with veal.
- What do you think about modern Russian cuisine? Is it changing, complementing, are traditions changing?
- Thank God that for 10 years we managed to change the opinion of our young chefs with their super-love for European cuisine. When the 'iron curtain' was lifted, the country collapsed, the whole substitute of foreign cuisine came to us. In the 1990s, chefs from all over the world came to us, they were paid a lot of money, but try to name at least one restaurant that has remained since the 1990s. Those cooks made money and left. But stereotypes remained for a long time: some cook knows how to cook Japanese, but cannot cook our cheese pancakes.
Now the situation is leveling off. Profession is like knowing a language. Study your native language first, and then you will study any language in the world. The same can be said with respect to our profession. If you are a Russian cook, then you should know your national cuisine, and only then study international cuisine. The same applies to any other cook of any country.
- Today, some countries challenge each other's national dishes ...
- Cuisines have changed over time, people shared recipes with each other. Six years ago we were at a festival in Amsterdam where the Chinese, Italians and representatives of several other countries were arguing about dumplings. The Chinese argued that dumplings, like gunpowder, silk and paper, came from them, the Italians talked about their ravioli ... They wanted to involve us in this dispute, but I refused, because it is a common kitchen. Literally six months later, excavations were carried out near Pskov, a male monastery was excavated there, and they found a well-preserved monastery cookbook. A friend sent me a photo of its paper with the inscription "Russian bread ears" in Old Russian and a a picture of a dumpling. This is the end of the 18th century. There are dishes that originated somewhere, and then changed. We do not dispute any Russian dish, the main thing is to make delicious food.
- Ukrainian experts are vocal about borscht ...
- This is a manifestation of nationalism in politics. Dirty politicians use cooking, among other things. Ukrainians are great in making borscht, it's beyond my capacity. But there is Russian borscht, which they will not cook, because, for example, in Siberia they make borscht with beans. Therefore, one cannot dispute it. But the fact that cooking should unite, not divide, is our one hundred-per-cent credo.
- Are you satisfied with the number of Russian restaurants in big Russian cities?
- I wish we have more of them. When my foreign friends came here, they are faced with a choice where to dine. Tourism is a mainly gastronomic thing. Man comes not only to see the sights. You walk for like two hours and want to eat. If the Germans come to the restaurant, where they are given a bad German beer and a bad knuckle, then, of course, this is not gastronomic tourism. They want soup with a pie, Leningrad rassolnik, monastery style sturgeon, country fried steak, potatoes, oven-fried potatoes, our baked stuffed buns. Therefore, I believe that there should be more Russian restaurants. The national cuisine is intensively developing in such cities as Rostov, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and others, precisely with its geographic products. This is great because Altai has good pastries, good bread. Go to Perm - I have never seen such porridge, which they cook. They have 75 types of cereals. Can you imagine it? Thank God that all this is being revived. I think that the Baku Congress is an example of this, because it is necessary to raise the food culture, and the national cuisine, then everything will be fine.
- Many culinary specialists in Moscow try to use Baku tomatoes and other Azerbaijani vegetables ...
- That's right, because no one wants Chinese ones, which are everywhere in Moscow. I go to the market and always go to the Azerbaijanis, they know me, and I buy their tomatoes, good-smelling greens and cucumbers. I also buy their lamb. Why not. People choose the best, the most delicious.