British Iron Chef Proves his Mettle in Tbilisi

The British Georgian Chamber of Commerce (BGCC) gave Georgians and a number of ex-pats a real culinary treat when they invited Martin Blunos to Tbilisi to cook a five-course meal with head chef of the Terrace Restaurant, Tamta Kikaleishvili. The reason? Another great initiative by the BGCC to build bridges between two great cultures and educate the Georgian side through introduction to a British professional.

“Before we start, I just want to say thank you for coming,” Blunos told his guests in greeting as they sat at the tables in the classy but cozy Terrace Restaurant in high anticipation. “What I’m about to show you is a flavor of what I absorbed in the short time I’ve been here and to give you a sense of that on the plate. But this evening is not about me- it’s about that great young team working their socks off in the kitchen.”

What followed was a delight of British-Georgian fusion, a real discovery of taste - old tastes (for the Georgians present) with a fabulous new twist.

The first course was a pressed beetroot terrine complemented by a glass of Château Mukhrani, Tavkveri, Rose 2012.

It was followed by delicate vodka cured sea bream with a potato coleslaw salad and a white wine by Besini, Tsinandali 2014.

A juicy strip of belly pork cooked in birch sap and cider, with melt-in-the-mouth puree, was served next, delivered with a glass of the famous Lagvinari, Saperavi 2011. Wines by Lagvinari are already very well known in London- they can be found in various top end restaurants and Hedonism wine shop.

Then we had the very English ‘cheese and biscuits’- if one can give what appeared before us such a mundane name. In fact, it was a soft goat’s curd drizzled in honey flavored with local Georgian truffles and accompanied by a thin and crunchy salty tone bread wedge.

Then came my favourite of the evening, something that transported me straight back to my childhood- egg and soldiers, Martin’s signature dessert! Brown egg shells had been hollowed out and cleaned and filled with sweet cream, topped with a yellow peach jelly. The soldiers- shortbread honey toasts to dip. Pure heaven! And for those among us who knew the routine, when we flipped over the empty shell to give it the obligatory childish smashing, we found a sneaky gift of extra cream in the bottom of the egg cup.

It was a three-hour taste bonanza and earned the Chef and his team a huge round of applause when done.

“It’s been great fun,” Martin said. “But the team did all the work. They’ve been so enthusiastic. They want to learn and it’s been a pleasure. Tamta [Kikaleishvili] – Head Chef of the Terrace Restaurant is the first woman chef I’ve met not more aggressive than me!”

As a token of his esteem, Martin gifted Tamta, Chef to Chef, a book from his own collection- an original Royal Cookbook dated 1880.

“He’s an amazing person, quite tough, but with a great sense of humor,” Tamta told GEORGIA TODAY. “There was no aggression, but we were under pressure to prove we could do more and do better. The best part was watching him make sauces, and his ability to answer every question and justify why he was adding (or not adding) this or that ingredient. He’s one of the best chefs I’ve ever seen.”

We asked Tamta what had inspired her most in working with Martin. “His balancing of tastes and textures. Soft, juicy meat with crunchy garnish. And those great sauces!”

As for what Tamta will be taking away from the experience and passing on to young cooks: “Martin works in a rush. Working in a restaurant, we are used to it, but he introduced us to a different policy of making food which is not in Georgia yet. I think all young cooks should try to go abroad and get grab the opportunity to work with foreign chefs. In the kitchen, without experience, you are nothing.”

We asked Martin about how the Georgian kitchen team had dealt with the ‘rush’ Tamta mentioned.

“Well, I had to get angry a little bit. They're a young and not-so-experienced team but they really wanted to learn. I pushed Tamta to push them. It’s good to learn to work hard under pressure- then, if the food doesn’t get out there on time and people complain, you can justify it with how hard you worked to make the dish perfect.”

Martin’s visit was mostly enveloped in a fog- both real in terms of the dismal weather, and in a sense of lack of time to really explore due to the masterclasses he gave and his preparations for the gala dinner. But he did, I believe, catch the most important and memorable aspects of the taste of Georgia: food, music and hospitality.

“Well, I discovered that ChaCha is not only a dance,” Martin says, laughing. “But also those juicy golden thin-skinned lemons, and what I thought were ‘pickled weeds’- jonjoli –simple, nothing to the locals, just pick them and pickle. We went to Vinotel- beautiful place – and there were four guys sitting together and then suddenly one started to sing a Georgian song, another grabbed a guitar…it would be unheard of back home- people would complain. Here, everyone joined in.”

Will he be back? “I’ll be back for the Global Wine Tourism Forum in September. This has been a real bridge-building visit.”

Present at the dinner was the future Georgian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, ex Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tamar Beruchashvili with her daughter, and a number of other well-known faces, including BP Georgia’s Country Manager Chris Schlueter and his wife, and Maia Datunashvili, presenter and producer at Iberia TV who had spent the past four days documenting Martin’s visit. All praised the Iron Chef highly for his winning humor and winning creations in the Georgian kitchen.

The masterclasses and dinner were hosted by the Terrace Hotel and Expo-Georgia and were sponsored by Lagvinari Winery.

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 Tourism 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

Photos of the event

Martin Blunos welcoming guests with BGCC founder Mako Abashidze at his side

Martin Blunos explaining the intricacies of preparing the perfect pork cooked in birch sap and cider to one of the Georgian cooks

Happy guests at the Terrace Restaurant, EXPO Georgia

21 February 2016 15:59