Lifestyle & Culture

Expat Chef Elena Kalmykova: Will the arrival of the Michelin Guide in Moscow mark a new day for Russian gastronomy?

The view from White Rabbit

In January 2021 some of my colleagues in Moscow told me that the famous red Michelin guide was to come in Russia … this year! Rumours have been circulating about this for a while, but it wasn’t till June this year that we realised that it was true, since inspectors were reportedly in town.

As a chef who was born and bred in France, Michelin is almost a religion on its own in the French temple of gastronomy. Professionals take it very personally when stars are lost or when they are gained every year when the ceremony of the guide takes place. Although there are not many surprises and revelations, seeing what the guide highlights means more attention towards certain concepts and chefs behind them.

Moscow’s waiting game for Michelin recognition

For Russia, this has been a long waiting game of about five years when the first restaurants were hoping to get noticed by European or globally renowned institutions and this is around the time when Gault & Millau, a prestigious French guide but a bit less known than Michelin, came to Moscow. They didn’t stay for long though and the thirst for worldwide recognition was still there. Michelin managed to negotiate its arrival with the Moscow authorities only this year – seems like the three parties, the guide itself, the government and the restaurants were just preparing to set mutually acceptable conditions for the guide to arrive.

One can only speculate as of who will be the accomplished recipients for this years’ nominations. Circulating in professional circles has helped me form a vision of what the range of nominations could be and who could be the celebrated restaurateurs to be recognised as worthy of a star or two. To me it seems like the first year will be a test when only single (and not double or triple) stars is likely to be delivered. The Michelin Bib Gourmand that highlights decent restaurants not worthy yet of a star or the Green star won’t be in Moscow this year but might be awarded in 2022.

Eco-responsibility in Russian gastronomy today is not as well developed as it is in France, for example. However even a year may be enough for at least top-notch places to follow the European restaurants’ footsteps with more attention to seasonal, local and plant-based alternatives.

St. Petersburg rivals Moscow

It was quite surprising to hear that it would be Moscow and not St.Petersburg that would be receiving the first stars. The latter is often considered to be the country’s gastronomic capital with more European-style chefs and spots. I don’t consider this an error – naturally, the question of money is a prime consideration here and thus I wouldn’t be surprised that after Moscow gets more recognition thanks to the guide, Michelin will be keen to make amendments and develop the guide in other cities with bustling gastronomic life.

To conclude, I feel that Michelin may indeed boost the flow of foreign tourists who may regard Russia not only as a cultural, but as a gastronomic destination. Only five years ago, just as I was to leave to study in France, I was sure it would have taken us at least 10 years to get somewhere close to the great restaurants we tend to see in Europe and that foodies dream about when they go on vacation.

Today I am glad to say there are many initiatives being launched on a regional level as well as chefs who are willing to rediscover age-old recipes and bring a modern touch to them. Pastry wise, this year the Russian team is going to the Pastry World Cup in Lyon which hasn’t happened in the past 10 years. One may say that there is a lot of politics even in the sweet world. However this news along with the bustling activity in gastronomy despite COVID-19 gives hope and brings joy to see the industry flourish back home!

Editor’s note: While we can’t in good faith predict which restaurants will receive the first Michelin stars, there are a surprising number of celebrated eateries in Moscow. We curated the most renown from Discovery and other foodie resources as well as from the author’s experiences:

AQ Kitchen – Speaking of Michelin stars, Adrián Quetglas – a native of Argentina – earned a Michelin star at his restaurant in Palma. He also has AQ Kitchen in Moscow.

Café Pushkin – This is the restaurant that Chef Andrei Makhov has built into a legend since it opened in 1999. It just looks like a place where at king, czar or kaiser would dine.

Twins Garden – The twins are tech-savvy Ivan and Sergey Berezutsky, who are among the first farm-to-table chefs, and who source from their own gardens.

White Rabbit – Chef Vladimir Mukhin gets lots of global pub for using real Russian ingredients to build dishes around swan liver paté and of of course caviar. The ambiance high above the city also gets raves. There are multiple White Rabbit spin offs including Sakhalin.

Krasota – Given Russia’s endless stage triumphs and playwrights, this had to happen … Krasota is “gastrotheater,” an immersive experience that includes visual art from Anton Nenashev’s studio, gastronomy from Che Vladimir Mukhin, interior design from Natalia Belonogova and a general concept from Boris Zarkov. Wow … just wow.

Selfie – One of the first Moscow restaurants to focus on sustainability. Discovery writes that Selfie “is a doozy for its harmonious marriage of Russian classics and contemporary Asian and Nordic undertones.”

Piccolino – The rare cozy restaurant in a city where glitz and trendiness seem to dominate, Piccolino is famous for its hearty Italian menu.

Turandot– Turandot Chef Dmitry Eremeev wins accolades for his creativity in his French take on pan-Asian recipes.

About the author:

Elena Kalmykova is a pastry chef, gastronomic guide, arts lover and passionate traveller. She’s originally from Moscow, Russia. It was her love for pastry that led Elena to study and then work in a Parisian pastry shop, a 3-star Michelin restaurant and now in a 5-star hotel.

She loves to discover new technologies as well as the latest trends in food, great spots to eat or drink and share her knowledge.

You can follow her on Instagram at elena_kalmykova.

See all of Elena’s Dispatches posts here.

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