Last week, I stopped by Russian eatery Mari Vanna with a few girlfriends for dinner and drinks. I was lucky enough to meet the brand chef Alexander Lokhin and ask him a few questions about his culinary career. Check it out below!
What inspired you to become a chef?
Growing up in Moscow, I was always surrounded by great cooks. As a child, I spent most of my time in the kitchen with my grandmothers while they made Borscht and Pelmeni for the family. I must say, the biggest influence on my cooking was my grandfather - my father's dad. He always cooked in his Pechka, a Russian country-home brick oven.
What was your favorite dish growing up?
My grandfather's potato and vegetable stew. His dishes were always very simple, yet rich in flavor.
What is your favorite dish on the Mari Vanna menu?
My favorite dish is something I've added to our Fall menu. I love the Duck Leg with Soured Cabbage. I stew the duck and cabbage over a slow fire to make sure it's as tender as possible. The dish is served with sautéed apples that have been caramelized in honey.
You mentioned a Fall menu. How many times do you change the Mari Vanna menu?
I like to change my menu four times a year because every fruit/vegetable has a prime season. For example, I love Pumpkin Pie. I could eat it every day. But, everyone knows the best time for Pumpkin Pie is the Fall because the vegetable is in season.
What do you think about while you cook?
I always cook with my customer in mind. I want everyone to leave with a "wow" factor. I ask myself questions like, "what do my diners want to see on their plates?" and "what will make them come back for more?"
When did you start with Mari Vanna?
Mari Vanna is dear to my heart - I opened the first location in Moscow with the Ginza Project back in 2008. As the Brand Chef, I travel to all six locations to make sure our menus are consistent. Mari Vanna specializes in authentic Russian cuisine - every location has traditional dishes like Beef Stroganoff, Blinis and Pelmeni.
If you have never tried Russian food, be sure to check out Mari Vanna. The decor is cozy and resembles your grandmother's home. The service is impeccable and the staff is beyond friendly. My personal favorites were the Vinegret salad and Beef Blinis. Feeling adventurous? Try one of the 70 (seasonal) house-infused vodka flavors, specifically the horseradish.
Mari Vanna. 1141 Connecticut Ave. NW. www.marivanna.ru. 202.783.7777.