An avid promoter of Russian Cuisine, and champion of his country’s new gastronomic culture, Anton Abrezov has garnered numerous awards for his contributions to the culinary movement in St. Petersburg. After training at several multiple Michelin-starred restaurants in cities such as Oslo, Stockholm and New York, today Abrezov helms the kitchen as Executive Chef at Gräs X Madbaren – a boutique restaurant with Nordic influences situated in the historical center of St. Petersburg.
From Luksus at Torst & Gramercy Tavern in New York to 3 Michelin-starred Maaemo in Oslo, you have trained at some pretty prestigious restaurants. What were some of your biggest ‘take home’ experiences from these Stages?
The most valuable aspect for me was the atmosphere of the restaurant and its philosophy. For me every Stage is not about the recipes or techniques, it’s all about talking to Chefs about their work, plans and background. Every time I go for a Stage I want to know how great Chefs express the nature of where they live in their dishes, how they use such beautiful products and how does it feels to work in a 1, 2 or 3 Michelin-starred restaurant. Is this the mountain top for those guys or this is just the beginning?
Passionate about promoting the gastronomic culture of Russian cuisine, since starting as a cook at La Maree in 2011 how have you seen the country’s food culture evolve?
The changes that have happened in Russian gastronomic culture are so huge. Just 5 years ago all we had in the coolest restaurants were banal dishes made of usually middling quality products from all over the world. Nobody paid attention to Russian products, nobody trusted in Russian cuisine more than the tourist entertainment. But now, many Russian chefs spend weeks or even months finding some very unique local products. Even huge mass-market restaurants started paying attention to seasonality, most of them usually have at least some special seasonal menus 4-6 times a year, even if they have the same basic menu the whole year around. We have very optimistic plans, we try to help producers and we usually aren’t happy with the every-day quality of some products. But we have to admit that, for the last 4-5 years, we have made a tremendous step forward.
Gräs x Madbaren is known for its Nordic influenced modern cuisine. What are a couple of current standout dishes that your diners are most excited about?
We usually renew our menu every 3-4 weeks and this is why each time we have new favorites. For example, one of the most popular dishes right now is Hoe made from far-east Russian salmon with my best garnish of this year – feijoa guacamole. Hoe is the kind of marinated fish dish that is very popular in Kamchatka. But we serve it with spinach, fried quince and savory cream, made from southern Russian feijoa, oil, garlic and cilantro. It is green, creamy, oily and you will never believe it is made without avocado. This is why we called it guacamole. Besides that, we have beautiful chicken liver pâté which we serve with house-made sea-buckthorn balsamic. One of my favorite desserts is a white chocolate fondant made with salty brown cheese that we serve with Champagne ice cream, fresh pear and grape chips made of pickled grape leaves. I can say that every dish on the menu has a unique product or food combination or is made with an unusual technique.
Your menu is based on seasonal products with around 85% sourced from Russian producers. What are some of the items you receive and from where do they travel?
We try to use more products from north western Russia because we believe our guests have to feel the season and the region where they are situated. But for now we don’t have a lot of high-quality products, which is why we search for them all over the country: fish from the far east, north and Black Sea, fruits and beef are from the south etc. Most of the products, especially in the beginning of the season, come from the market but we really want to make close connections with farmers like I saw in New York and Scandinavia.
And, with a cocktail bar onsite, what are some of your favorite food pairings?
My favorite pairing is a cocktail with the taste of spicy pickled carrot and tapas «truffle with truffle»: chocolate truffles with fresh truffle oil rolled in ceps powder. We serve them on a dried fern that has a mushroom flavor. Another favorite is a cocktail with the taste of ginger apple pie and the tapas that we called «Chicken Snickers» or «Crispy skin». It is made from fried peanuts mixed with the horseradish infused salted caramel between two thin chips of fried chicken skin.
Gräs x Madbaren is located at Инженерная ул., 7, 191011 Saint Petersburg, Russia. More information about both the restaurant and cocktail bar concepts can be found online at gras-restaurant.ru, or via the following Social Media pages: Facebook/gras.restaurant, Instagram and Facebook/madbaren. You can also follow Chef Anton Abrezov on Instagram @abrezov.