Adrian Quetglas: Moscow old-timer in search of Russian cuisine

Anton Moiseenko - 17/04/2015

It’s hard to say how an Argentine-born chef who has spent more than 10 years in Moscow is still capable of joking. Having arrived in the noughties, Adrian Quetglas came to Russia at a moment of hard transition and painful cultural changes when the population was absorbing western values and step-by-step turning from Soviet to European ways. In his new restaurant AQ Kitchen in the city centre, Adrian aims to combine a democratic price tag with inventive cuisine. We caught up with him in Moscow.

Images: Duck pate covered with orange jelly; beef tartare with mustard cream; and herring

Adrian, how hard has it been here in Moscow for you?

It hasn’t, really. Not in the first three years, at least. I am the kind of person who has to change everything every six to seven years, and I am still here. Actually when I just started back then I didn’t care much about anything: cold weather, snow and heavy traffic. It’s a bit harder now but I still love Moscow.

How are the people changing?

The new Moscow gourmet is calm and adequate. Not whimsical and ready to try new things. I started to see some real gourmets in Moscow four or five years ago. Those people have travelled a lot and besides gastronomy they know fine wines too.

So what’s the Russian cuisine for you?

It’s still very hard to define the borders of what can be called “Russian cuisine”. A lot comes from the Soviet times traditions, other things come from the pre-revolution period. It’s a development period for Russian cuisine and it’s yet to be discovered by Russians themselves and by the world too.

What's the major difference between Russian chefs and European ones?

There’s not so much chef discipline, as I experienced when I worked with Marco Pierre White. It was like in the army, though it’s hard for me to compare because I’ve never served. Initially my staff looked at me like I was speaking Martian to them. It changes over time, but there's still a lot of those attitudes out there. Chefs now feel like stars, they're losing their modesty fast: all this TV and press attention doesn’t do them much good.

Service is also often bad. Interaction with customers is essential and is often overlooked in Russian restaurants. So many times I've had episodes when waiters didn’t really care to ask why the client didn't like the dish or returned it. Most of these situations can be fixed without losing clients — simply by talking to them.

Does it irk you when people take pictures of dishes in the restaurant?

I’ve never cared much about people taking pictures of my dishes. Especially in my new restaurant AQ Kitchen, which is not a Michelin-star thing. The other matter is when it comes to stealing and copying recipes, but sane chefs will never take that path.

[One of the unique dishes served in AQ is Russian herring on risotto-style Russian rice, which combines traditional salty fish no one would probably consider a fine dining product with Italian-style rice sprinkled with aromatic rye-bread crumbs and served with dill pesto-style sauce.]

Where does business end and art begin?

At home [laughs]. Really, it’s hard to answer what is art and what is not. On the one hand you have to follow basic rules, on the other – be creative and think yourself.

What Russian dishes would you cook for a food show?

I’d cook borsch and okroshka on kefir (cold kvass soup with chopped vegetables and meat).

How do you see local restaurant critics?

Moscow restaurant critics often apply the same standards to a 10-euro café as to a Michelin star restaurant. They complain about the service and design, which is totally stupid.

Images: Anton Moiseenko, Alexander Averin