Check out our expert interview with chefs and twins, Ivan and Sergey Berezutskiy of Twins Garden in Moscow, where they’re refining the new Russian kitchen. Interview conducted by Hilary Armstrong.
Ivan Berezutskiy in short
Favourite dish Bread with ajika, a sauce of tomatoes and peppers eaten in the south of Russia.
Favourite drink Red wine.
Most memorable meal The family [staff] meal at elBulli. When it was my turn to cook, I made blinis.
Chef he most admires Ferran Adrià.
Guilty pleasure Chocolate marshmallows.
Sergey Beretutskiy in short
Favourite dish Grandma’s borscht.
Favourite drink Wine.
Most memorable meal When all the family is at the table, because it doesn’t happen very often. Grandma’s borscht, mama’s cakes, and we’d do the main course.
Chef he most admires Heston Blumenthal.
Guilty pleasure Candy for breakfast.
What chef couldn’t use a doppelgänger? Someone to man the stove while the other goes to the pub; someone to graft in the kitchen while the other schmoozes the critics; and always, always, someone else to take the flak for a failed soufflé. Russian identical twins Ivan (pictured standing) and Sergey Berezutskiy are in just such a position, though they swear they’d never use their peas-in-a-pod likeness for any mischievous ends (at least, not since their teenage years when one of them took out the other’s girlfriend). These days, the 31-year-old brothers from Krasnodar Krai in southern Russia are taking advantage of their identity as twins in a quite different way, by exploring its creative possibilities at their newly launched restaurant Twins Garden in Moscow.
The Berezutskiy brothers are at the vanguard of the post-Soviet Russian kitchen. Their brand of culinary patriotism – a challenging proposition in a country of 11 time zones – is not mere bandwagon-jumping. Sergey and Ivan are long-time locavores; their fellow chefs, in thrall to French cheese, foie gras and Spanish hams, have been playing catch-up ever since Russia imposed sanctions on imported EU ingredients in 2014 (the year the original Twins restaurant opened in Moscow). “Five years ago, diners didn’t go to a restaurant for Russian food. They went for Italian, Japanese… anything but Russian,” says Ivan. Now Ivan and Sergey are riding high on their success as Twins – on the World’s 50 Best long-list for the second time – settles into a new neighbourhood with a new name, Twins Garden, and a new 50-acre farm outside Moscow.
It could have all turned out very differently. Originally, it was only Sergey who enrolled at culinary school. Ivan, the elder by five minutes, was due to study engineering. Sergey lucked out. “My on-the-job training was going to be in a factory with a bunch of men,” laughs Ivan. “Sergey’s would be in a restaurant by the seaside with loads of girls. Once I found that out, I changed my career on the spot.”
The pair didn’t cook together – unless you count baking with their mama – until four years ago. Previously, Ivan had worked mainly in St Petersburg and had been the first ever Russian ‘stagiaire’ (trainee) at Spain’s legendary elBulli, while Sergey, who had been in Moscow, did his formative stage at Alinea in Chicago. Back on Russian soil, they made a deal: they would start a restaurant if Sergey won the Acqua Panna & S Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year award. And win it he did, with dishes of langoustine and artichoke, and mackerel with melon, Ivan cheering him along all the way.
The odd difference of opinion about food notwithstanding, the brothers get on well (they even have flats in the same building). “Arguments are useful,” maintains Sergey. “We have very different tastes – Ivan loves beetroot and buckwheat, I hate them – but we have one rule and that is that a dish has to be approved by both of us before it goes on the menu.”
Sergey and Ivan have a fascination with culinary lookie-likies. Sameness and difference are leitmotifs, with such pairings as porcini and conch sharing a plate. “They look alike and the texture of the two is very similar when fried. You can hardly tell them apart, but when you start to eat them you can taste the difference. The porcini have this forest aroma while the conch tastes of the sea.”
The brothers have made it their personal mission to unearth Russia’s finest ingredients, however far-flung. They travel the country four times a year and have a forager on the team full-time.
“Every region has ‘flagship’ ingredients that are well known across Russia,” explains Ivan. “During our travels, we’ve found a lot of ingredients, some of which are already well used in their regions, others of which are not even used by the locals. When we were looking for king crab in the far east of Russia, we discovered that its caviar was going to waste. We started using it and now it’s not only very popular in our restaurant but in other Moscow restaurants too.”
They also now have the farm, 110 miles from Moscow in Kaluga, at their disposal. “When we went to Italy to do pop-ups, we’d go to markets and see this huge variety of fruit and vegetables that we just can’t get here. There would be 10 different kinds of bell pepper, of chilli, of tomato.” Thanks to the farm, they now have 120 different varieties of fruit and vegetable, plus chickens, a fish pond, and goats and cows for cheesemaking.
For the Berezutskiy brothers, it’s still just the beginning. Their journey into Russia’s forgotten culinary history could take them a lifetime. For the curious gastronome, it could also be the start of something very big. Watch out, the Russians are coming.