A midsummer night’s dream
AYLİN ÖNEY TAN
Aylin Öney Tan
It was a dream, and it actually came true.
We were a group of about a dozen or more food-centric people touring Georgia, and we all felt we were living in a dream. Our trip was masterminded by Argot Murelius, a New York- and Los Angeles-based Swedish journalist/writer, and organized by the Georgian National Tourism Administration. The idea was indeed simple but not easily implementable: A culinary expedition tour of Georgia for a small group of celebrated chefs and food writers from around the world. It was meant to be a casual get together to explore Georgian cuisine, visiting markets, buying ingredients and cooking together at home kitchens, at restaurant kitchens, and finally preparing a big gala dinner to host the Tbilisi gastronomic scene. It was a hard task to achieve, but it worked fine, I can say as a lucky witness that it was miraculously well executed.
The miracle lies firstly in the great Georgian hospitality and their easygoing stress-free attitude. Apparently the dream was a result of a chain reaction of a global group of venturous enthusiasts who would not blink a moment to jump in for such a gastronomic travel experience.
Here is how Argot Murelius tells how it all started and happened:
“I was invited on a general press trip to Georgia a little over four months ago. It was a great tour, organized through a Tel Aviv- and New York-based PR agency. Ross Belfer, the founder of the PR firm, had become a friend even though I’d never met him, we just had great correspondences. He got involved in promoting Georgia and put together a small group of travel writers to meet up in Tbilisi and journey around the country. We all immediately fell in love with Georgia; it’s wild and untouched, mystical and raw, the people are incredible, their generosity, positivity and hospitality are striking. There’s also something a bit sad and crumpled about the country - the soviet leftovers of crumbling apartment buildings, abandoned factories and bombastic monuments - that makes it intriguing and real. We toured different parts of the country and food and wine was of course abundant, delicious and everywhere. In the middle of all this enthusiasm and adventure I got a message from Maksut Aşkar from Turkey saying he was so jealous of me being in Georgia because he’d always wanted to visit. So I immediately came up with the idea for a gastro-press tour with a few choice food writers and chefs who would work hand-in-hand with Georgian chef Tekuna Gachechialdze and cook food inspired by Georgian flavors. We’d all eat and drink and the chefs would shop at markets and improvise dishes based on newly discovered tastes and ingredients and everyone could be part of the creativity - meaning chefs and writers could mingle maybe even cook together which of course happened totally naturally. I had visited Pheasant’s Tears winery and wanted founder John Wurdeman to be a part of our gastro-tour as he’s a great raconteur and winemaker and a wonderful man who talks so well about the country, and I thought Tekuna would be the perfect food ambassador for us all because she’s a fabulous chef and a warm person with a nothing-is-impossible-attitude.”
At that point I have to step in and say that I cannot agree more with Argot’s words. Tekuna is a great food ambassador with a generous smile as shiny as the Georgian sun; and John truly belongs to this land though he is American in origin, he is even more patriotic than most Georgians, and his narrative abilities are beyond imagination.
So Argot comes up with the idea of this gastro-press tour with the triggering comment of Maksut from Istanbul. She presented the idea to the GNTA ladies in charge, namely Masho Bojgua, Head of Department, Maka Makatsaria, Senior Specialist, Nino Turashvili, Specialist, which were luckily delighted with the idea and agreed to work with Argot on this project. Eventually the tour was guided by Mako Qavtaradze, who is a free spirited free-lance guide who started SPY Recipe Spice Company.
Argot continues to tell her story: “I decided that the chefs should all come from winemaking countries and they should all be working with modernizing traditional cuisine, just like Tekuna does. It would be an interesting experiment and make for good storytelling for the writers. I invited Maksut Aşkar from Turkey, Josean Alija from Bilbao, Eszter Palagyi from Budapest and Ana Ros from Slovenia. Ana had to cancel for personal reasons, Eszter flaked out at the last moment, Josean lost his father. But thankfully he sent Iñaki Bolumburu in his place; we found Adam Barna from Budapest and Tekuna invited Santiago Lastra from Mexico, who is about to open a restaurant in London. At the end of the day it wasn’t my original streamlined group of chefs but it turned out excellent anyway.”
I really worked excellent and I personally think it created a great model to promote gastronomy tourism, but even more importantly, it created a miraculously working model to create fraternity and communication through chefs and writers eliminating rivalry and forming a culinary united nations. When cooking a feast at Tekuna’s family country house, at one moment Mason Florence, an American journalist based in Bangkok, founder of Talisman Media Group, was saying, “This must be one of the top dinner parties ever, anywhere!” Mason nailed it, it was an unforgettable night, an ecstatic experience, it was not only about all the wonderful food and wine, but also about the mystically blissful night, a magical time stolen from our hectic lives.
A Georgian feast is named “Supra,” we had several amazing supra’s, but that night at Tekuna’s country home was exceptional for one reason: There is a proverb in English, “Too many cooks spoil the soup.” It was that midsummer night’s dream supra party that was transformative and proved that this saying is no longer valid. Cooks can come and cook together without spoiling the soup, on the contrary, they can whip up a supra feast at an instant, surpassing borders of taste. I feel we only scratched the surface, there is so much more to explore, but even that small scratch left a deep mark on all of us. Thank you. Madlob to all who have a pinch of salt in this super supra!