Culture from the Kitchen: BGCC Brings Top British Chef to Inspire Young Georgians

The British-Georgian Chamber of Commerce (BGCC), as part of its vision to create professional educational exchanges between the two countries, has invited one of Britain’s greatest chefs to get a taste of Georgia and give an inspiring masterclass at the Georgian Culinary Academy.

Of Latvian descent, the blond haired, walrus-moustached Baltic giant, Martin Blunos, warms the room with his energy and humor. He grew up near Bristol (a city in south-west UK which twinned with Tbilisi in 1988) where he has been based since his parents moved to England just after World War Two.

Boasting two Michelin stars, which he has held for nearly twenty years, Martin has appeared in the Channel 4 series ‘Iron Chef UK,’ the ITV series ‘Daily Cooks’ and Australia’s most popular show ‘Master Chef Australia.’

He appears regularly on television and radio and was chosen to cook for Her Majesty the Queen during her Jubilee year.

It can truly be said that Martin is a culinary representative of his nation, having taken part in the ITV series ‘Taste the Nation’ and demonstrating his craft at major annual food festivals throughout the UK and around the world.

GEORGIA TODAY met Martin Blunos over a sumptuous coffee at the Terrace Hotel restaurant; the view over the city and the post-shower rainbow a positive start to a stimulating EXCLUSIVE interview.

Cooking is NOT my life

“I’ve tried a bit of everything in my cooking career- restaurants, hotels, even a privately-owned family yacht in Greece,” Martin said. “What I’ve enjoyed most is restaurant work. It’s like a twice-daily performance. You have bad days and good days but the lesson to learn is that you have to offer a seamless show- regardless of how you feel. The audience has paid and it expects a good show! Youngsters I meet say: ‘cooking is my life,’ and I tell them, it can’t be because without the influence of family and friends, if you have nothing but food, you have nothing to draw from.” A sentiment proven when he closed his own restaurant ‘Lettonie’ in 2001 following the birth of his daughter.

No coulda woulda shoulda

“Inspiration,” Martin says when I ask what he plans to teach the Georgian Culinary students. “You can’t give experience in an hour, but you can inspire. If they have that small flame in their hearts, you can turn it into a raging fire…if you do that, you can steer them. I’ll tell them to go abroad. When I was 20, I left the UK for a year. I came back stronger, more streetwise, with life skills I wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed at home. Life is about living. Work for two reasons, money and pleasure. Aim for both.”

The kitchen ethos

“I’m looking forward to seeing the kitchen ethos of the students,” Martin enthuses. “I want to see how they view the great journey they’re on. Go into any kitchen, you can see their heart by what they do or don’t do; how they react to and appreciate even the simplest ingredients; how they question. I’ll show them that even a mundane job, if done well and done fast, can be the first step to something higher and better.”

Hearty, honest: the real khinkali

“My mom was Latvian. So while my English friends were eating baked beans on toast, I was being cooked pig’s tail soup- wholesome healthy food you tuck in to with chunks of bread and sour cream. My upbringing was Latvian but my culinary education was French classical. My signature dish is a Borsch Taurine- borsch soup with that shin of beef used for stock included, milk-bread dough, sour cream… an otherwise Eastern European dish in a classic French style. I’m already discovering new tastes here in Georgia, learning about the regional variations, tasting the real deal which you can’t get in Georgian restaurants abroad because they just don’t have the right ingredients. Georgian cuisine is inspiring in its simplicity and honesty- it lets all flavors sing.

Real food for real people

The perception of food is changing. What was once considered ‘peasant’s food’ (like Martin’s mom’s soup) is now becoming something of a fashion. The obscure and over-priced Nouveaux Cuisine failed for being unrealistic (chicken with kiwi, was the example Martin gave). “Now we’re seeing what I like- a resurgence of real food for real people,” Martin said. “All food is fine dining. If it tastes good, it’s ‘fine.’ The world’s getting smaller. We (Brits) can go out, find ingredients, take them back and make new combinations.”

With plenty of ideas for future collaboration with the BGCC, Martin Blunos will surely be taking regular goody bags of Georgian ingredients and Georgian experiences back to share with the UK.

Mako Abashidze, BGCC Founder: “This initiative of ours to bring top chefs and wine connoisseurs to Georgia is a very natural and very successful one for promoting the country- they come, taste the real Georgian flavors, and then go away and give honest, open reactions to all that they have seen and tried, reactions which are shared on social media. What’s more, in this instance, Iveria TV under Omega Group, founder members of BGCC, will be making a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary of Martin’s visit and the gala masterclass to spread the word among Georgian viewers.”

The BGCC has a vested interest in encouraging bilateral relations between Britain and Georgia, including in investment, trade, and cultural awareness-raising between the two countries through conferences, trade missions and exhibitions. Its current focus is on food and wine and it is preparing in particular for the Global Wine Forum to be launched in Kakheti, Georgia, this autumn. The BGCC was founded in London by Lord Cromwell and Mako Abashidze in March 2007.

Katie Ruth Davies

18 February 2016 21:26