Yevhen Klopotenko popularized borshch for two years, even shot a film about it. Finally, borshch was included in the UNESCO heritage list. About “Russian salad”, cabbage rolls and the main Ukrainian dish — an interview

Maria Zhartovska
Yevhen Spirin
Yevhen Klopotenko popularized borshch for two years, even shot a film about it. Finally, borshch was included in the UNESCO heritage list. About “Russian salad”, cabbage rolls and the main Ukrainian dish — an interview

On July 1, Ukrainian borshch was included in the UNESCO cultural heritage list. One of the pushers of this process was chef Yevhen Klopotenko, co-founder of the Ukrainian cuisine restaurant "100 years ago forward". For about two years, he promoted borshch on the international stage, filmed the documentary "Borshch. A secret ingredient" and, in the end, cooked borshch at invited dinners and almost at every step. One of Klopotenkoʼs ideas is to erect a monument to borshch in Kyiv. After UNESCOʼs decision, Klopotenko briefly spoke with Babel correspondent Masha Zhartovska for our YouTube project. He talked about which Ukrainian dishes will gain popularity (spoiler: cabbage rolls will break through), how he plans to conquer the States, whether Ukrainians will stop eating “Russian salad” and which is better to cook borshch with — mushrooms or beans.

About recognizing borshch as an intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO:

Yes, I won and achieved my goal. I hope that Ukraine has returned another part of its identity, another part of its culture called "food". And the leader in this field, of course, is our flagship — borshch.

Will Russia try to fight again for borscht:

Itʼs difficult to predict, because people with sick brains work there [in Russia]. And to imagine what will happen, you need to get sick brain as well. Mine is, of course, strange, but not sick. My opinion is that when the war is over, they will try to reintegrate the culture. Not sure that they will do it because of borshch. Because itʼs stupid. They will use some other methods.

Do we still need to include Ukrainian dishes in UNESCO:

This is not entirely correct. Many people throughout Ukraine began to form their applications so that the next dishes after borshch were other dishes. But food is not the main profile of UNESCO, their profile is sights, houses, some embroideries. They are suitable for food when it has already boiled [a hot discussion is going]. This is how it was with hummus, there were battles for hummus [more details here ]. There is also pita bread, pilaf, baguette, Neapolitan pizza and French gastronomy. But there is no more food, and they do it reluctantly. Only when they see that this is a real issue, they support it. We will not serve dumplings from Ukraine, because the Poles have replaced them in the world. For us, they are ours, and in fact they are very common in Poland. Our dumplings are unique in their filling. We eat with cherries or poppy seeds. Nobody eats them like that. But with potatoes and mushrooms is a unique Polish thing, it is famous in the world. I think the borshch did its job. Not me, but borshch.

Which Ukrainian dishes will gain popularity:

Depends on the creativity of the cooks. Unfortunately or happily. I think Ukrainian gastronomy will gain popularity. I think the cabbage rolls will break through. I think they are clear. Cheesecakes should gain a new meaning in the world, different variations of buckwheat. I will personally fight for chebureks so that they become more famous in the world. If we talk about products, then smoked pear and cheese. My personal one is bees. I know that many are against them. But when I was at a foodtech conference, people there who are changing the world of gastronomy, when they saw the bees I showed them, they said: "Wow!". This is an important component of future food. And, I think, sour cream. It also does not exist in the world in the sense that we use it. I think we will work around these products — borscht, cabbage rolls, cheesecakes, sour cream, Kyiv-style cutlet, it is already well-known, but it will gain momentum. It is like a Viennese schnitzel.

About the next steps of popularizing Ukrainian cuisine:

I think that we should go to the American market and talk loudly about Ukrainian gastronomy there. To open many Ukrainian institutions of different formats, to integrate into American culture, which is used to accepting other cultures. I see there is a chance and the world has a demand. The world wants us because it has had enough of the international food and wants something unique. We are unique to them. We are interested in being in the information space not only in terms of war, but also food, music, and art.

Now is the best time for the explosion of Ukrainian gastronomy. I am currently negotiating in Belgium, perhaps this will be an establishment that many will open for themselves. Maybe I will write a book in the USA. Maybe now I host a small program on American television, and then it will be seen — and I will become the host of a big program, and I will continue to be followed. Perhaps we will create borshch in a jar, and it will be sold as a Ukrainian dish. Give me time, Iʼm an entrepreneur.

About plans to open a Ukrainian restaurant in New York together with Veselka restaurant chef Dmytro Martsenyuk:

The restaurant will be called Ruta and will be in Washington, where Dima moved. I was supposed to advise the restaurant very deeply from February and go there in March, but the war changed all plans, and Dima did not change them. According to my information, the restaurant opens on Independence Day. We agreed that I will come and we will have dinner parties, and we will talk about Ukrainian gastronomy via this restaurant.

Should we completely abandon Soviet dishes — Russian salad [known as Olivier], Shuba [beetroot salad with herring]:

In my opinion, it has already begun to emerge by itself. There used to be people who said: "Well, Iʼll listen to Russian music, and whatʼs wring with it? Letʼs eat a Soviet shuba, whatʼs wring there?". And now everyone somehow understands whatʼs going on here. People and cooks have an automatic vector change. Recently, I watched a Russian stand-up artist for the first time in 4-5 months. Just for curiosity, and could not even smile, because it changed on the level of sensations. It is no longer perceived at the DNA level. I think the only question is what we will leave. What will remain is the Kyiv-style cutlet, Kyiv Cake, and our Kyiv pastry will remain. I think itʼs important for the city, but I donʼt accept it. Though I think that this is my problem, not the one who eats.

Russian salad will disappear, because now you are going abroad, and how will you explain to foreigners what it is? By the way, I didnʼt understand this before — we donʼt eat true Olivier, itʼs Russian salad. Therefore, I think that it and shuba will definitely disappear. We will leave some dishes from the Soviet Union. We will call those that our grandmothers and mothers cook Ukrainian. Thus, the war washed away the layer of Russian influence. Thatʼs why cabbage rolls are clean, cabbage is clean, "Anthill" cake is not very clean, just like okroshka. Or a cold beetroot soup.

About the fact that he himself offered alternative recipes for the Russian salad:

I did it three years ago, when I had to make a personal website. Because you can go against the system, and people say: "Okay, but we need that salad." They look at the recipe for the salad without mayonnaise, and then get hooked on this "heroin needle" and start preparing normal food. Thatʼs why, unfortunately, such a shoe is worn. Itʼs the same with okroshka — I couldnʼt give an alternative for three years. But this year I was in the mountains, in Lviv, there we talked with the boys. They showed kyselytsia — itʼs like yogurt. You take it, add baked potatoes, vegetables. So this is what we were looking for! Now the task is to popularize it. In 2-3 years there will be less okroshka, more kyselytsia.

About whether there will be a borshch monument in Kyiv:

Yes, I found patrons, and they gave money. There are many opinions. There was a competition [for a monument], we have permission from the Kyiv City Council. But now is not the time to open monuments, you know. And thatʼs why we donʼt talk about them. The project is frozen, I donʼt want to open monuments during the war. If they will be needed at all. And if they are they needed now for borshch.

What to cook borscht with — mushrooms or beans:

I donʼt like it with beans, but I love it with mushrooms.

Translated from Ukrainian by Olya Panchenko and Anton Semyzhenko.

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