Tekuna, the rebel of Georgian cuisine

At Cafe Littera in Tbilisi, volcanic Gachechiladze is building something significant for her country

11-06-2018

Tekuna Gachechiladze, chef at Cafe Littera in Tbilisi, Georgia. A graduate in Psychology, she attended the Culinary Institute in New York. She’ll be at Al Meni, in Rimini, on June 23rd and 24th

«Nine years ago we invited Alain Ducasse. He tasted khinkali, meat dumplings of Mongolian origins, badrijani nigvzit, aubergine and walnut rolls, a heritage of the Persian invasion, chakapulilamb stew… He was so impressed he asked to speak with the chef. ‘Chef?’, we asked startled, ‘we don’t have a chef in the restaurant, there are many people cooking’. That’s when I realised something had to change».

Tekuna Gachechiladze is the godmother of Georgia’s culinary revolution and the cook who over the past decade has tried to upturn her country’s traditional cuisine. A tradition with surprising flavours. Indeed, even before arriving at Cafe Littera in Tbilisi, at the end of a nice trip to Kakheti, the world’s cradle of wine, we shared the same thoughts as the French master. We found tomatoes that were more explosive than the Italian ones, marvellous vegetable salads, plenty of khachapuri to dive into, mchadi cornbread you can’t get enough of.

Who would have expected such a light, aromatic cuisine, in many ways so similar to our own? Too bad that, while moving from one tavern to the other, we mostly found the same dishes. «Our culinary culture», explained Tekuna, blonde bob, fluent English and chatty personality, «is still affected by the 70-year-long Soviet immobilism. We’ve been so obsessed with preserving our language, our names and flavours that we’ve built a wall impervious to everything new».

The meal begins at Cafe Littera, a very convivial format 

The meal begins at Cafe Littera, a very convivial format 

Mushroom salad 

Mushroom salad 

Cod wrapped in walnuts on celery purée and tarragon sauce 

Cod wrapped in walnuts on celery purée and tarragon sauce 

Not her. Fifteen years ago, she put aside a degree in psychology and graduated from the Culinary institute in New York: «Dad», she said calling home, «I want to be a cook». She scared the life out of him: he thought it too diminishing for her daughter to abandon her scientist white coat and start an insignificant profession. Soon he had to change his mind: Tekuna is becoming more and more prominent, and is at the helm of the most interesting restaurant in Tbilisi, in a charming art nouveau house built over a century ago by a brandy producer and expropriated by an association of Soviet-Georgian writers.

«My work is based on a twofold mission: recuperating recipes from the endless traditions we’ve lost, like those of Mingrelian origin», she says, «and importing ingredients that are no longer in use, including simple artichokes, wild garlic or mushrooms. I work with farmers intensively. I explain to them that even aubergines and corn, two emblems of our edible identity, in fact come from India or Persia...». It’s the same awakening that is livening up the universe of Georgian wine: «In our country we once had 525 local grape varieties. During Soviet times they only planted 4…».

The restaurant’s art nouveau building 

The restaurant’s art nouveau building 

The beautiful garden 

The beautiful garden 

The opulence of the rooms inside 

The opulence of the rooms inside 

So at Cafe Littera they’ll serve you a delicious River trout carpaccio with mango «though there’s no tradition for raw fish in Georgia, it’s time there is one». Or a lovely Mussel Chakapuli–«they’re starting to breed some lovely mussels in the Black Sea», – with Aubergine croquettes and a walnut sauce «recalling Basque potato croquetas. And even a lovely Mozzarella, tomato and basil salad, a tribute to Italy with 100% Georgian ingredients over which she drizzles local extra virgin olive oil: «it’s the first to be produced in our country», she beams, «and we’re very proud».

Her example is quickly inspiring other cooks in town. Two above all: Levan Kobiashvili from the lovely Barbarestan and Meriko Gubeladzefrom Shavi Lomi.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

Cafe Littera
13, Machabeli
Tbilisi, Georgia
+995.599.988308
litterareservation@gmail.com​

See also
Why Georgia is the cradle of wine
The boom of Georgian winesde


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