Anthony Duran was a chef to the stars in Hollywood before he moved to Moscow six years ago. On taking his new job, he was surprised to learn that feeding Russia's elite meant simplifying his movie-star menu for more homestyle taste-buds. Now, he works as the head chef for News Pub in downtown Moscow, where he has all the creative freedom he desires and the chance to concoct more exotic dishes for a new generation of Russian diners.
So, how did you wind up here?
When I first came here I worked in a casino - the Beverly Hills Casino, owned by Chuck Norris. I had been working at Arnold Schwarzenegger's [former] restaurant in L.A., Schatzi on Main. That was great. It was never boring. You got all the products you wanted. If you wanted to make a new dish, you could do it in a day, not like here. I could order fresh fish that night and have it in the morning. Any kind of exotic spice I could thing of, anything.
Chuck was at a party we had there one night, and a few weeks later some of his people approached me and offered me a job in Moscow. I told them "No way! I'm not going to Russia." Two weeks went by and they offered me more money. It was still less than I was earning in L.A., but I decided to go for it. I like adventure, and I like to travel, so I did it.
Later I worked for Le Club and Uncle Guilly's. I like working here at News Pub. I get to do what I want. I was hired as a consultant chef for the opening and then they wanted to keep me on. My job is to come up with new dishes.
How was working at the casino?
It was fun. I met Donald Trump and Grace Jones. I even met Wilt Chamberlain just before he died. The only problem was with what I was cooking. Russians like to see their food separate, whereas I was into doing wild presentations. I would make vertical presentations, and people would just be confused. Everyone wanted the food their grandmothers used to make for them. So, I had to learn to harmonize my style with Russian cooking. For instance, people here like salmon, so I made a salmon with a honey-crusted pecan shell and Dijon mustard.
Are there any other challenges unique to working in a Russian kitchen versus one in America?
Product is much more limited. I was ordering New York cheesecake, but then our supplier stopped delivering it. So now I make it here and it's better.
Also, Russians hesitate to order things that aren't on the menu. I'll always make something for someone - even if it's not on the menu - as long as I have the right product. I can pretty much make anything. Of course, here you're also limited by the calculation cards. It's illegal not to weigh the dish and sell it according to the cards. That can also make it hard to invent dishes. I'm the kind of person who can just take a basket of food and create anything. The first time I make a dish I never weigh anything; it makes it too hard to be creative.
What do you like to cook?
I like to mix things. I'm interested in Oriental dishes, mixtures of Chinese and Japanese. I like the spices. But I studied French cooking. I also like Hawaiian food. It's full of fresh fish and fresh products.
I like working at News Pub because I get to be creative. The owners want me to make an international mix, like our spring rolls or Chinese chicken salad.
How do you stay competitive as a chef for top-end restaurants?
Well, the way I'm used to working is a little different from the way they do it here. I always try to help everyone who works with me in the kitchen, so they can go on to something else. For instance, I started out working in the casino, and all four people who worked under me have gone on to other restaurants. Here, they don't want to help each other because they're afraid of losing their jobs. I understand why, but it's still not good.
Also, I think that every chef should travel - especially Russian chefs. There's a lot to learn from other countries. Russians I know who've traveled understand what I mean. They're more open to exotic dishes and flavors.
Do you have a favorite cuisine in Russia?
Georgian. I love it. I've tried to make it, but you can tell that I'm not Georgian when I do. You need a native chef to do it right.
Back home, everyone is always asking me to make Russian dishes. I was recently invited back to the Bar One in Los Angeles to do a Russian New Year's dinner.
Since you're American, can you explain what American food is?
I have a lot of people ask me that, then laugh and make some smart-ass remark like "hamburgers and hot dogs." American cuisine is a mix of everything and it's always changing. The biggest problem with working in Moscow is that you don't learn anything. My friends come out here from the States and they show me things I've never seen before. In America there are always new flavors and new presentations. The thing that makes cooking cool is that every day you're learning and creating. If I go back to the States, everything will be completely different.