Cuisine beyond war

Tomorrow, in Kiev, the first fine dining congress in Ukraine will start. Our interview with the two curators

The homepage of Fontegro, the first edition of the

The homepage of Fontegro, the first edition of the Ukrainian fine dining congress, taking place tomorrow and on the day after tomorrow in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, with many Italian chefs in the programme. Today we present an interview with the two curators Anna Zelenokhat and Ekaterina Avdeeva; in the next days the live report from Kiev

On Tuesday 14th and Wednesday 15th of April, in Kiev, Ukraine, the first edition of the Fontegro congress will take place, an event we will follow from the frontline. Over half of the chefs in the programme speaks Italian: Lorenzo Cogo, Christian Milone, Errico Recanati, Eugenio Roncoroni and Beniamino Nespor, Viviana Varese. The others, instead, are all more or less known to Identità, from Daniel Burns to Kobe Desramaults, from Sergio Bastard to Peeter Pihel up till the only local chef, Yuri Priemsky.

To get into the atmosphere, we called Anna Zelenokhat and Ekaterina Avdeeva, the two curators of the congress. «This is the result of a crazy idea», they candidly admit. «And we can’t tell if our thoughts reflect those of all the Ukrainians. Yet Fontegro can truly represent an opportunity for development, success and prosperity for our people».

What’s your story?
Anna: I’ve been working in the restaurant industry for over 10 years. I started as a PR manager in a restaurant. In 2005, together with my husband, I created a catering business. For years we have served the Olympic stadium in Kiev. The congress is one of the many ideas we have in mind.
Ekaterina: I’ve always liked cooking. I started working in hotels and restaurants. Then I met Anna and we became partners. We have recommended directors and chefs to all of Ukraine.

 Ekaterina Avdeeva and Anna Zelenokhat

 Ekaterina Avdeeva and Anna Zelenokhat

How did you get the idea for Fontegro?
By participating in Identità Milano a few editions ago, it was striking. For us it is a legendary event thanks to the impact it has on Italian and global gastronomy. We immediately fell in love with the way in which chefs would explain their dishes and preparations. Beauty and magic in a place where everyone can communicate and learn. We then returned with a delegation of our chefs, all enthusiastic. We visited other congresses and decided that our country too had to organise one. For a long time Ukrainian chefs have considered Moscow as their example. Once this link was broken, they didn’t know where to look. Confronting themselves with chefs coming from all over the world can be a turning point.

You first thought of doing it in October 2014.
Yes but the variables connected with the war in the East, the shot down Boeing, the frequent protest meetings in Kiev and a very unstable exchange rate could not guarantee safety for our guests and speakers. This is why we chose to postpone to April.

Was it difficult to organise it in such a moment?
It was very difficult because many of our people’s resources are concentrated on volunteering, to help refugees fleeing from the eastern areas of our country. Unfortunately, not all of those who would like to participate in the congress can do so. This has forced us to downscale the programme a little. But we still need to think about promoting efficient businesses, without too much unproductive talk. Fontegro represents our small example of how to move forward in difficult times. It’s a long road, and uphill, yet we need to start to take it, each one with their skills.

Anna visiting the latest edition of Identità Milano, the first source of inspiration for the Ukrainian congress

Anna visiting the latest edition of Identità Milano, the first source of inspiration for the Ukrainian congress

Is there a cuisine that can be defined as Ukrainian?
We are trying to define it. Soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, what with Italian, Spanish, French or Chinese cuisine there was no space for Ukrainian restaurants. Our chefs knew everything about imported products but nothing about local raw materials. We could easily buy sea bass or salmon but the fish from the Black Sea or the Azov Sea was impossible to find. Now there’s an opposite trend: chefs use lots of local ingredients and there’s a stronger culture on how to cook fresh and high quality food, even with daring and creative techniques. This is a very favourable moment for gastronomy: in Kiev, but also in Lvov and Odessa, there are very many restaurants. We divide them in those for the holidays – the most expensive ones – and those where you can go everyday. But there’s still lots to do. We hope, perhaps in 5-7 years’ time, to be able to show our gastronomic side to Europe.

The two-day event starting tomorrow includes many Italian chefs.
Italian food has been very popular in Ukraine for many years. Our countries have many things in common: fertile soil, a hot climate suitable for growing fruits and berries. And most of all, we are surrounded by the sea: our diet too, includes both meat and fish.

What’s your dream in the long run?
That many Ukrainian chefs can develop a personal style thanks to Fontegro. This is what is missing the most, especially now that it is rather difficult to go abroad to get trained. We dream that one day Kiev may become a privileged area for the dialogue between Ukrainian chefs but also those from Georgia, Moldavia and Belorussia.


Zanattamente buono

Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world