President of “Slow Food”
With announcing its republic nobody’s territorial integrity has been breached, and the fullness and healthiness of many stomachs have been maintained.
Eat Slowly and Get Old Slowly
Martins Ritins is the number one chef of Latvia. In this business neither the competition is arranged nor the positions are divided but his restaurant is one of the best sightseeing of Riga. And the start of the restaurant is its founder and its Chef Ritins.
Everybody can agree that food is very important part of the national culture. Martins Ritins continues this idea logically – If it is so, then why the Ministry of Culture does not bear responsibilities over national cuisine? It would be difficult to prove, for example, that Mtsvadi (roast meat) is a Georgian meal. And, more difficult is to imagine that at the Ministry of Culture is established the Table Department and it will include the Sections of roasted and fried dishes, boiled and stewed dishes, salads, “zakuska”, and hangover departments. But, it is obvious this business should be taken care of both in Georgia and Latvia.
Ritins does not want to be a minister, he is already the president, the president of “Slow Food” of Latvia. This movement started in Rome, Italy, 23 years ago, when near the famous Spanish Steps was opened McDonalds Restaurant. “I don’t understand why McDonalds is called a restaurant,” – Ritins can’t hide his excitement. Even those, who considered that profaning Spanish Steps globally meant the end of the civilization, even they did not understand it. It was just then when the heartbroken people established movement “Slow Food” against “Fast Food”.
T.G.: Does your “Slow Food” mean cooking the food slowly, or eating the food slowly?
M.R.: Neither of them.
T.G.: And, what does “Slow Food” mean then?
M.R.: It means local, seasonal, traditional food from farmhouse.
Ritins hates the word “globalization”, while, he himself was born in England and has spent the first third part of his life there, second third part – in Canada, and the third part – in his motherland, Latvia (his family escaped from the soviet regime).
“Imagine, how awful it is when you open several tinned food, mix them and get the food of one and the same taste in Riga, Hong-Kong and New York”, – says Chef Ritins. – “I know for sure what the animals and poultry eat which I buy from the farmers and cook in my restaurant. If they give them the gene-modified food, I won’t buy the food at all and won’t deceive my customers”.
“You just think a little: whatever the pig and chicken eat get in our body. I believe that the animals and poultry should run around, dig the earth and find earthworms there. When there is the case that a chicken is completely grown within 36 days how can a man eat it? The pig does not see mud; it is born and grows on a cement floor. When similar animals are grown on similar kind of food this affects our body like nicotine. It causes getting accustomed to it and provokes a number of diseases.”
The Obedient Slave of Culinary
T.G.: Why was your restaurant called “Vincent”?
M.R.: In honor to Van Gogh.
T.G.: But, why Van Gogh? Nothing here reminds me him.
M.R.: It does not remind you him now but if you have seen it 20 years ago when it was established everything here were painted in Van Gogh’s colors and all the walls were decorated with his paintings. We have paid the tribute of respect to the great painter in this way. The only fact is different that I have not cut off my ear. Now, the design has been changed but the name as the formula of success has remained the same.
Go Ahead, towards the Star Disease!
The restaurant “Vincents” is located in the basement, in the center of Riga known as the District of Embassies. A number of diners somewhere in Kobuleti or Ureki, equipped with plastic tables and waiters wearing slippers on their feet, have more defiant plaque at the entrance and “higher watt” neon illumination. But “Vincents” has a special character – the high level.
T.G.: What is a good restaurant?
M.R.: If you mean to have a good dinner you can’t find many such restaurants in Riga. For me a good restaurant isn’t the one which you just pass-by on your way and enter there because you are hungry, but the one, where you come specially to have your dinner. Such is a restaurant which “Michelin” chooses for its stars.
– You yourself have mentioned “Michelin”. Why don’t you have a star?
– “Michelin” is not interested in Baltic countries. I have an official letter informing that in the nearest future this region will not be included in the sphere of their interest. These stars represent only a usual advertising business, and in Lavtia, Lithuania and Estonia do not go such a big number of tourists in order “Michelin” to start this business here. And, if I need a star, it’s only for my team to appraise their labor.
– Isn’t your professional reputation harmed with not being the holder of a star?
– I don’t think so. It is always crowded here. Though, the practice shows that the first star increases business at 30%.
The talk with Martins Ritins reveals that he is also well aware of the advertisement kitchen. He himself is the member of “World Top 50” jury which is published every year by British “Restaurant Magazine”. Though, due to the smallness of Latvia “Vincents” is not included in this list either.
When Chef Ritins leaves, the Main Sommelier of the restaurant Raimonds Tomsons reveals that they themselves and their permanent guests also think of it: “Many of them have told that they have written to “Michelin” asking to award “Vincents” the star. They have no answers. But there are many restaurants holding the stars which will disappoint you. So, we don’t care much of it.”
All the Stars in one Basement
You can’t pass-by these walls without looking at them. Just, in the entrance are displayed tens of photos reflecting the people standing together with Ritins, who you can’t see in the streets so easily. Though, all the people in all the streets of all the countries know them well. Ritins and the President, Ritins and the Queen, Ritins and the Chancellor, Ritins and the Champion, Ritins and the General Secretary… None of the Latvian officials have ever met so many famous guests as the Chef of “Vincents” has met for over 20 years.
- G.: – Is it difficult to work with the stars?
M.R.: – No, it’s more difficult to work with rising stars because they have more pretensions. The great stars are usual people.
– Who is such a usual star?
– As I remember, it was only Elton John, who asked to decorate his dining room and all other rooms with white flowers. That was all. All others are usual people like us. Some of them like this, and others that. Some are vegetarians; some have the digestive problems, and some – acidity.
– Do they have the so called “mushroom men” who taste the food in advance?
– It was just before the visit of President Bush; his chef arrived earlier and checked everything. Actually, he lived with us for three days. Though, he has not tasted any meal in advance. Neither the Queen Elisabeth’s accompanying people have done it. I have hosted her twice. All of them trust us. The only person – if I am not mistaken, the President of Pakistan, who arrived here twice, ordered dinner both times at our restaurant and his portion was tasted in advance by his special representative.
The Underground Secrets of “Vincents’ ”
If Martins Ritins gets accustomed to someone, he may show his saint places – the basement kitchen with many gastronomic discoveries.
“Do you know what is it?” – He asks me. I don’t know. “It’s eggplant!” – “But what kind of an eggplant it is when it is round and white?!”
It appeared that it was really eggplant with the egg shape, and the green plant was carrot. “Before the Dutch people decided that orange color carrot would be sold better, initially the carrot was this color,” the Chef explains. The long pieces of meat are the tongues of chicken and duck – one of the delicacies of Ritins and “Vincents”. When he served it to the President of Poland everybody was excited except the President himself. “The meat is awkwardly long and nobody has seen it, so everybody thinks it is some different part of chicken or duck,” – the host laughs loudly. “But it is very tasty”. The same taste has the duck’s claws, roasted in a special manner. I can’t say that it is especially good to view but it is greatly demanded.
The Chef’s Categorical Imperative
Ritins has many strange dishes. But he never breaks the tradition in one detail. His menu is made in French. The culinary language is French and the names of dishes are not translated.
And, one more detail – if someone decides to be skilled in this business you need to bring up him/her very strictly:
“I hated my first Chef. I wanted to go to some other person but in that small town there was no other Chef. He taught me both the discipline and the nutrition philosophy. Now I guess – my destiny gave me the best Chef and teacher.”
In his underground space Ritins does not seem to be a dictator. The young people –he calls all of them the students – only kiss and hug him. And, continuously, they call him to come and see this or that dish. It’s strange to see it – Ritins does not taste the dish, he only looks at it and gives the advices.
But his menu is often a brainteaser for the sommeliers, but it makes the work for Raimonds Tomsons more interesting:
“Very often our dishes have so many ingredients that if you don’t taste the ready dish you can’t match to it the suitable wine. You think that you can select something classic to the main ingredient, for example, to meat, but some other even the smallest additional ingredient takes the dish to different direction; then you should try the second, the third option, before you match to it the best ‘partner’ wine.”
The Highest Measure of Punishment
When you order some kind of poultry at the restaurant, you never think of how this bird has finished its life. As a rule, they cut the head of the bird – all of us have seen in the villages how they kill chicken. “Vincents” considers it as a barbaric behavior. Their hearts break not because of the fate of the chickens, ducks, turkeys, quails, doves, pheasants, or some other birds, but because of the care of the mouth taste of their customers. So, if the dish needs it, here the birds are choked!
“I don’t see any difference between choking a bird and cutting the head of a duck. The end is the same. But if you choke it and the blood is left in the bird’s body, it gives to it quite a different taste, different texture and color. The French people were not stupid to invent this, don’t you agree?!” The truth of what said by Ritins and the high level of French cuisine will be proved with his dishes –if you can’t see difference of color because of the species in the dish, the taste will hint you that it was better to choke the bird.
Georgia – Orange Wine Country
Almost everybody agrees that Georgia is the navel of the earth and as stomach is somewhere close to navel, we consider our cuisine is the best throughout the word. Nobody can dare to say that it is not true. Ritins has been in Georgia twice and is aware of our self-conceit in respect with culinary. Or, maybe, he actually liked whatever he tasted.
“You say what’s special in your cuisine? It is done by mother! Yes, it is done just how only the mother does. I like it best of all. It is family-like traditional, like Italian. In Italy I won’t go to the “Michelin” Star restaurant, I’ll go to the Family Cuisine”.
“I liked Georgian bread very much. And, most of all, I liked the walnut oil. They sold it on the road in coca-cola used bottle. I have never tasted anything so tasty like this. Now I ask everybody who arrives here to bring it for me but I think the season is only in September. Of course, I have also tasted the wine but I don’t like to express my opinion about wine. It is not my business; it’s better the professionals to evaluate it. We have had Chacha after wine, and I don’t’ remember anything after it”.
Ok, let’s ask the opinion to the person who Ritins trusts. The Main Sommelier of “Vincents” Raimonds Tomsons, supplies his storage with a single Georgian product – Chacha manufactured by “Marani”, but not the wine.
“Georgian wine, which would have been selected by such a restaurant as it is, does not exist on the market. There are good wines for everyday consumption but they are sold in any supermarkets. We don’t offer the consumers such product which they can buy in the shops. When you pay for your dinner 150EURO you need to get for it something special”, – the words said by the sommelier should make the Georgian wine distributor in Latvia and its manufacturer in Georgia think a little of this issue.
The fact that in Latvia and in all other former soviet republics people think that Georgian wine is mostly either sweet or semi-sweet also needs to be considered. Sommeliers of “Vincents” do not remember any case when the guests requested our wine.
R.T.: – We conducted several testing of Georgian orange wine but we could not select it for our restaurant.
T.G.: Orange wine?
– Yes, the one which you call white wine, make it in qvevri (pitcher) and leave it on Chacha too long. Others call it orange wine. By the way, I’ll make you happy telling you that the Georgian way of making wine is used now by others as well – they have started making wine in qvevri in Slovenia and Toscana. But the problem of people is that you can’t drink much of such wine…
- But, you can drink it!
- Yes, you can drink it, I believe it. But others can’t. It’s something specific.
The Herring Ice-cream and Raimonds Pauls
It is already 20 years that Martins Ritins leads his own culinary program in Latvian Public Broadcasting Channel. Each Saturday he prepares some meals that later is spread under his name. Today the whole Latvia watches this program but initially it was necessary to make special advertisement for this purpose.
“I have made “herring ice-cream” in my first show,” – he says calmly and waits for my reaction.
- What did you say, herring ice-cream?
- Yes, herring ice-cream. Raimonds Pauls was also looking at me with such widened eyes when I invited him during making this show. Everybody knows Pauls and it helped us greatly. Do you want to tell you how I managed to do it? Before this time a bit earlier we had an order of a wedding table. Pauls was also among the guests. He liked the cake and asked me what it was made of. I answered it was made of carrot. He laughed and said – O, yes, this cake is made of carrot, that tort is made of cabbage, and the ice-cream will be made of herring. I remembered his words and invited him to prepare and taste the herring ice-cream.
Saying Good-Bye Shaking Hands
- Is it because of the television and your program that “Vincents” is so popular? – I’m trying to find explanation to such a big number of guests at such an expensive location, especially, on a working day.
- The television made me popular only among the Latvians. And, mostly our restaurant hosts foreign people. Something else works here now.
- And, what’s it?
- I just don’t like to be the second. But I don’t say that I am the first, this should be said by others, and every day.