I love Kamchatka — a declaration in the form of a menu
Elena Khalaycheva, director of the Italian restaurant, Da Vinci, tells us why her establishment has been cooking more for tourists in 2018
Initially, about eight years ago, Da Vinci was opened as an Italian restaurant. The dishes were designed by the well-known chef, Remo Mazzucato, who at the time was working for Mario Restaurant in Rublevka and now has numerous other well-known projects. But while in Moscow there are millions of people and a hundreds of restaurants per square kilometre, and you can enjoy a variety of cuisines by simply going from one establishment to the next, Kamchatka is a little different: very few people live here but they too desire variety. Therefore, we worked with our current chef and in response to guests' requests have been gradually creating new dishes; we also have seasonal and special dishes, Lent, summer and New Year's menus. This year we introduced the I Love Kamchatka menu for the first time as the tourist traffic has increased. However, it was difficult to pick dishes prepared from local products from our wide selection. These dishes cannot be considered fully native to Kamchatka. For example, as a rule prawns served in Kamchatka restaurants usually come from Magadan, scallops — from Sakhalin, crabs, caviar and fish (halibut, flounder, salmon, etc.) — from Kamchatka.
I believe that authentic local dishes are too extreme for a conventional restaurant. Fish — fried, baked, etc. — comes as no surprise, and variations of these dishes are consumed throughout Russia. Where ethnic dishes are concerned, Kamchatka has Khololo and Alkhalalalay festivals where the process of cooking can be seen and the end result tasted. However, I am convinced these dishes cannot be the backbone of gastronomic tours. It is a fad to be tried once and crossed off the bucket list but not eaten on a daily basis. In fact, no one has gone into the ethnic cuisine niche so far. Where you can go to a café or restaurant and be served in the particular manner of our national customs. The establishment could be small with an exclusive price tag. There are no such places in Kamchatka even though they would be of interest to tourists.
We serve the classics, all of our dishes will be broadly liked by those with traditional tastes. It is a given that we do not cook anything overly hot or sour. When it comes to plating up, we have some unique serving styles for certain dishes. For example, we serve the beautiful and delicious crab Thermidor in its shell. It is a French dish. According to the recipe, the crab meat is mixed with cream, spices, and Parmesan, and then baked in its shell in a combi steamer. Everyone loves this dish; sometimes there are eight guests at the table and every one of them orders it. Lobsters and other seafood can be cooked in the same manner. Also, we have halibut baked with vegetables in aluminium foil, polenta — sweet corn porridge from Mediterranean cuisine — served with Kamchatka calamari in an Italian arrabbiata sauce, as well as several varieties of pasta that we prepare fresh in our kitchen. The seafood, scallops, prawns, calamari and octopus fried with garlic and rosemary are very good. We serve crab in several ways: in salads, hot dishes, and cold and hot appetisers. We are constantly tweaking our dishes and offering new variations: it's a creative process that never stops. We always keep our most popular dishes on the menu but add something new from time to time to find out what our guests like best and then keep it on the menu.
The Internet is now a useful tool tourists have at their disposal and they find us themselves, generally using Tripadvisor. Foreign tourists comprise about 15% of our clients and they only come during the tourist season. Tourist traffic has been growing but the main inflow took place in 2017 when there were a lot of Russian visitors. This year, in contrast, saw a lot of foreign tourists. I do not know why that was the case.
The more establishments a region has, the more motivated the proprietors are to become better. There is no full-scale competition in Kamchatka and, while there are good restaurants I could recommend as an alternative, they have a different interior, service, and cuisine. The entire catering system of the peninsula faces the same problem — logistics. We cannot deliver tasty fruit and vegetables here. Apart from the meat sold by just one Russian company and sourced from Kamchatka farmers at the local market, we cannot offer anything else. Where would we buy a good quail, for example? This is truly a huge problem: we're trying cooking top dishes from mediocre ingredients. When the raw materials are delicious, the dish benefits immediately. Steaks made from fresh marbled beef need to be brought in by air. Transportation costs reach RUB 350 per kilo at times. It is cheaper to deliver by rail but the delivery takes 40 days and you can only bring in frozen foods. This is unsuitable for many products. I am talking about fresh greens, arugula… It is not enough to just have Kamchatka develop as free economy since this leads to speculation because we are located in a remote corner and have no choice but to accept the quoted price. And we do, because there is nothing else we can do. There must be control measures in all of Russia's remote locations. The cost of air and sea deliveries to Kamchatka must be regulated.