Good, Clean, Fair Food in Ukraine: From Homegrown to Wild

The rapid development of a conscious restaurant business in Ukraine has strengthened the position of local farming and increased interest in the local product. Igor Mezentsev, a member of the Slow Food Alliance of Chefs, shared his experience of working with local products.

Despite the fact that the development of a restaurant menu largely depends on the availability of local products and the culture of the city where it is located, Igor tries in every possible way, to adhere to the Slow Food principle: “Good, clean and fair.” He supports local farmers by using their products to design and compose menus. Today he is working on the creation of almond crumble with local plums, and tomorrow he is experimenting with common Veselka mushrooms. His project “Make Chanterelles Great Again” grew into the idea of ​​regularly choosing one local product and developing different menu items based on it.

He boldly declares that Ukrainian manufacturers are no worse than foreign ones and, in some cases, their goods can be 100% interchangeable. For example, a small and unremarkable Ukrainian peach will taste like a mango, so much so that it will not be possible to distinguish one from the other. Ukrainian tomatoes with their own taste; multi-colored carrots, which amaze with their palette: from orange to purple; rhubarb, which Igor himself used during the preparation of all kinds of dishes, and even in alcoholic cocktails; parsnips – they are all ready to surprise with their taste and open up in a new way in the dishes of establishments.

Despite the unique and rich assortment of local products, there are still a number of difficulties in Ukraine. For example, there is a huge gap and a lack of communication between restaurateurs and farmers, which in turn significantly hinders the development and establishment of high-quality local production. On the other hand, if the product is unusual or the chef presents it in an unusual manner, there is still a risk of rejection and a low level of public awareness. “There are still visitors who are ready to evaluate the institution only for the Caesar salad,” says Igor.

Nevertheless, difficulties do not stop Igor from coming up with and implementing new ideas. So, in October 2019, Igor Mezentsev and the team presented a project called TOPOT, the purpose of which is to test the strength of chefs in the wild. The members of the expedition spent five days in the extreme conditions of the wild nature of Transcarpathia. The group moved on a planned route and prepared meals without professional equipment using ingredients they found along the way. Fish, game, mushrooms, herbs fell into the chefs’ kettle. Instead of stove and plates, they used stones, wood, and moss. One of the expedition members built an oven from scrap materials to bake bread right in the forest.

The first expedition resulted in a recipe book and a film about chefs’ trials in the wild. In the film, the chefs share their impressions and admit that the project made a strong impression on them. For most, this was a challenge and a new experience outside the “comfort zone” of modern kitchens. The book written after the expedition describes the history of the trip, the dishes prepared by the chefs, and unusual methods of cooking in extreme conditions.

In 2020, the TOPOT project is submerged to discover the world of fish, algae, and seafood. Thanks to the online format, anyone can virtually join and observe the expedition of the chiefs, receiving their advice. Photos: Dima Bakhta and TOPOT project.

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