Chef Leon Ek is no stranger to northern cuisine. Born in Sweden and a chef at Moscow's Scandinavia, he's had plenty of experience preparing northern delicacies. Now, as head chef of Expeditsiya, he will apply his talents to capturing the flavors of the taiga and Lake Baikal. In addition to brewing homemade aquavit and grilling reindeer steaks, he's planning several expeditions into the Siberian wilderness to hunt down new recipes.
So, what kind of food do you have on the menu here?
The main idea here is the polar [Arctic] Circle. We want to serve an eclectic variety of northern-themed cuisine. In the winter, we'll have more dishes. Right now, the hunting season hasn't started, so we're waiting for the autumn. I have reindeer and kuropatka [polar partridge]. You know, kuropatka is different from the kind of partridge you would find in, say, France. The bird grows up eating a different diet in the north, the same way different grapes from different countries make different wine.
Do you have any big game on the menu like wolf or bear?
No. Bear is quite difficult and even dangerous to prepare. It would be stupid to put it on the menu. [Bear meat can cause potentially fatal trichinella if not cooked thoroughly - ed.] But, right now, we're planning a trip to Baikal. We'll be going down there for a week to find omul, a fish native only to Baikal. There's a fish factory there, and we're going to work on bringing it fresh to Moscow two or three times a week. The environment there is clean. So, we'll take an expedition to look for the fish and find recipes. We want to bring back the soul of the region; that's really the goal of our owner. He's from Siberia, and he wants to bring the soul and experience of Siberia to Moscow. It won't be the only trip, either. We're actually planning a couple of trips to hunt down recipes and Siberian culture. After this trip, we're going to Salekhard to shoot ducks and find recipes. I'll talk to old women and try to discover some local delicacies. How could I do this job if I didn't make these extreme trips? We're going out by helicopter, and we'll be on a mountain for three days with only knives, salt and pepper. That's how we're going to bring back the forest.
So there's not really an easy distribution network for the food you have on the menu?
Well, that's one of our aims. For instance, we want to know how to get the omul here, fresh. We hope to be successful, since then we'll be one of the only restaurants with this fish. Of course, we're going to find other fish [too]. We also have muksun on the menu, a Siberian white fish. It's a vegetarian fish, so it only eats green stuff. You eat it raw, without any danger of bacteria or anything else. We serve it frozen with different sauces, so that it's crisp, and you eat it with your hands. You know, when you eat with your hands, you become a kid again. It's almost like adding another spice to the dish. We also serve it salted and fried, and we combine it with Kamchatka crab.
We really want to do something new. In Moscow, we already have so many restaurants that you can have everything. There's pasta. There's French. There's sushi, sushi, sushi. What we'll have here will be a mix, but I don't like to call it fusion. Fusion is something people have done since the beginning of time, mixing things together. I did fusion when I was a kid; I mixed kefir and ketchup. "Eclectic" is a word I like better. It's taking the best of everything and creating something new.
We want to give people a whole journey here. We want people to really bring Siberia to Moscow. We have a banya downstairs. Dinner here should start with the banya. You go down there for a couple of hours. You get a massage, listen to music, drink different kinds of tea and honey - there's no vodka... It's serious business. It's like meditation. I did it, and I felt 10 years younger. After you've healed, then you go up for dinner in Expedition.
I see you have a helicopter in the corner. Is it for dining?
Oh, yes. We removed the engine, but it lights up and looks very good at night. We have three seats inside, and there will be a television installed soon for watching movies of expeditions. But it's not ready yet.
Where do you get your aquavit?
I make it here. We have eight to 10 different flavors. Dill, orange, lemon, blackberry and currant are some of the more popular ones. The dill is my personal favorite and goes well with muksun.