Thursday, May 2, 2024

On Count Rostov's Plate: An Introduction

It all began when I came across a recipe for Latvian Stew. My mind immediately turned to my Around the World in 80 Dishes project. I quickly checked my blog and realized that I have not had a challenge involving a Baltic country or, for that matter, Scandinavia. I started researching the recipe and discovered that its origin does not come from a cookbook, but a work of fiction. 

The recipe for Latvian Stew was based upon a dish referenced in A Gentleman in Moscow, a work of historical fiction by Amor Towles. Fiction does not figure among my reading choices. If one were to peruse the shelves at my home, they would see mostly works of historical non-fiction, cookbooks and even historical books about cooking, such as such as Anya Van Bremzen's Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. It is Van Bremzen's book that ultimately opened the way for me to read Towles' book. Van Bremzen covered the entire history of the Soviet Union, beginning with its early Leninist and Stalinist days. I was quite intrigued with what life was like for ordinary citizens during those days, especially with the struggles they had to feed their families and hold on to their traditions as they weathered the turbulent changes to their government, economy and society.

The story in A Gentleman in Moscow begins during the early days of the Bolshevik revolution, as Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov -- recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, master of the Jockey Club, and Master of the Hunt -- faces the Emergency Committee of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. Ordinarily, titles associated with nobility often led to the person standing straight against a wall facing a firing squad. However, the committee spared the Count's life (for reasons you can read in the book), but sentenced the Count to house arrest at the Metropol, a hotel where he had been staying for the past few years. If he leaves that hotel, then the Count would be shot.

The main facade of the Metropol Hotel (Source: Wikipedia)

The Metropol Hotel stands on Theatre Square, which is in the center of Moscow, within eyesight of not just the Kremlin, but also the Bolshoi theater. Thus, the hotel served as the place for not just Russians (who had dollars, silver or gold), but also international diplomats and other visitors. 

Not only is the Count confined to the hotel, but he is relegated to the attic, which used to house the guests' servants. Yet, the Count is able to make his way throughout the hotel, including its two restaurants: the high-end Boyarsky and (as the Count refers to it) the more down-to-earth Piazza. As I followed the Count's life through the hotel, page after page, I found myself paying particular attention to when Count Rostov dined in the restaurants. Not only did I come across the reference to Latvian Stew, which has a very interesting part in the story, but I also noted other dishes that graced the Count's plate. I began taking note of those dishes, with the thought of preparing them myself. 

Those thoughts have led to this project, On Count Rostov's plate. My goal is to step into the shoes of the fictional chefs and kitchen staffs that worked in the Boyarsky and the Piazza. I hope to create the meals that they prepared for the Count at various points during his confinement. As of right now, I am planning to make the following:  

  • Saltimbocca
  • Okroshka
  • Latvian Stew
  • Ossobuco
  • Roasted Whole Bass with Black Olives, Fennel and Lemon
  • Chicken Marechal
  • English Roast with Yorkshire Pudding
  • Rack of Lamb with Red Wine Reduction and Cucumber Soup 
  • Bouillabaise
  • Braised Veal with Caviar Sauce 
  • Kotlety

Each post will feature one of those dishes, as well as a little context surrounding it. (If you want the whole picture, buy Amor Towles' book and read it, it is an excellent book.)

You can follow along with this project by clicking here to see the posts that I have completed to date. Until next time ...


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