FOOD AND WINE writer Élodie Noël asked the chef to tell us about the dishes that have had the most influence on his life and career.
Vladimir Mukhin grew up in Yessentuki, a small town in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains in Russia. Coming from a family of chefs, he started working in kitchens at a very young age, and completed his training in some of the best restaurants in the world, including El Celler de Can Roca in Spain. He opened White Rabbit in Moscow seven years ago, gaining a global reputation for its experimental Russian cuisine using seasonal local products.
In 2019, White Rabbit took 13th place in the World’s 50 Best list, being the only Russian restaurant mentioned in the prestigious rating and becoming one of the main gastronomic attractions of the capital. To learn more about his story and his influences, we asked the chef to tell us about the dishes that marked his life.
What is your first memory of taste?
I’d say it was my grandmom’s pike fish fingers, or the meat stew with vegetables cooked by my father. Or maybe borsht, a typical Russian sweet and sour dish.
What was the plate that made you want to be a chef?
There was no certain dish, but I can tell you how I became a chef. I was not older than 20 and working as a Sous chef in a restaurant called Rosemary, the chef was young and ambitious, but very fond of drinking, so one day after another party he was fired and the owners decided to invite another chef from Lebanon. I learnt a lot from him, especially about working with meat. When he organised a degustation for the owners, they absolutely didn’t understand his food. I was in the kitchen, listening to their discussion, and I decided to step out and said: “Why do you always try foreigners on chef position? Try Russian!”. I said to them that I could take the job, so they asked me to cook something. I cooked five or six dishes, among them was a chicken in almond breading and sour cherry sauce, and that worked very well.
What is the dish that could make you cry?
All the dishes my grandmother cooked. They touched my very soul. She passed away a long time ago, but I still have tears in my eyes when I remember her dishes. I want to ask her so many questions, but I can’t. Please talk to your grandparents, or you’ll regret you didn’t!
What is the dish that reminds you of your mum the most?
It would be a crepe cake with custard or maybe honey cake. My mother didn’t cook much, even though her first education was in food technology. All the significant dishes of my childhood were cooked by my granny.
What is the dish you don’t understand?
I hate “herring under fur” which is a typical heavy Soviet dish: layers of salted herring, onions, boiled potatoes, carrots and beets, all covered by mayonnaise. A lot of people in Russia still eat these salads made of mayonnaise and call this “Russian cuisine” which is not true. Using mayo is a dirty trick which I cannot stand. Also, I don’t understand dishes consisting of too many ingredients.
What is the dish you wish you had created?
Let me think… “Oops, I’ve dropped the lemon tart” from Osteria Francescana by Massimo Bottura and Taka Kondo!
What is the dish you can’t admit you love?
It’s a greasy meat cheeseburger… I could sell myself for that taste! My only self-justification is that I can’t remember when I ate it for the last time – it was a long time ago.
What is the dish you could eat every day for the rest of your life?
It would be a borsht with pastrami burnt ends from our Moscow restaurant Gorynych. Burnt ends are the leftovers of pastrami cooking process -sustainability is a topic we care about a lot.
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То, что вы сейчас видите, Горыныч ещё не исполнил, совсем скоро вы зайдёте и скажете: «Максимально вкусно, пожалуйста» И будущее, наконец, наступит! ⠀ Here’s a snapshot of your very delicious future! All you need to do is come to Gorynich, wish for some great food and our very own magic dragon will make it come true! ⠀ #gorynichmoscow #whiterabbitfamily ⠀ photo @gettable_ru
What is the dish you are the most proud of?
It’s Baked cabbage and caviar from my 'Contrast' tasting menu. It’s the contrast of poor and rich: cheap cabbage and expensive sauce made of caviar and reduced champagne. I burn slightly frozen cone cabbages on coals, until it becomes black outside and sweet and juicy inside, and I cover it with the sauce, dill oil and a bit of black salt. It tastes like my grandmother’s cabbage pies which we used to eat with sour cream and inexpensive caviar, like pike, and fresh dill.
What is the last dish you had?
It was sweet pies with apples and lingonberry cooked by my wife Sonya!
What dish would you cook for the person you love?
Pasta, veggies or a smoothie – because the person I love is my wife and she’s been a vegetarian for last 10 years.
What is your death row dish?
I’d go on a hunger strike for death penalty abolition!
What is the next dish you have in mind?
I always try to make something that might stir people up and excite them with unexpected combinations of flavours - something that would make people realise that food is a form of art.