The FINANCIAL — A country which has struggled a lot in its past – this is how the French Michele Haines characterizes Georgian cuisine. Haines, who has volunteered in more than twenty countries as a chef, says that Georgian food is marvellous, but the portions – endless.
Haines came to the Caucasus two weeks ago after an unsuccessful attempt to prolong her work visa in Russia where she used to work for Slow Food, promoting healthy food and the environment. As a big fan of delicious wines, Haines decided to start promoting Slow Food in Georgia by organizing French cuisine days.
The 71 year-old chef owns a French bistro, ‘Spring Mill Cafe’, outside of Philadelphia.
“I was born in Paris during the war to a famous spy and a very young woman who could sing opera beautifully,” Haines describes herself in her own blog.
“I lived in Tours with my grandparents, my mother and my sister. I went to university in Paris and then Brown University, Florida State and more. I opened my own restaurant so that I could be involved in everything to do with cooking, special literary events and action-oriented projects to help people.
I raised two children. And then I decided that I wanted to travel the world. I have worked on the councils of various countries as a guest head chef,” she wrote.
We met Michele Haines at the Azarphesha restaurant in the centre of Tbilisi. She was a guest chef volunteer there and has helped the restaurant to gain more customers by creating a French dishes menu. She was also eager to speak about Georgian cuisine.
“Georgian food is marvellous. What I really like in Georgia is that there are a lot of vegetables. The problem is that the portions can get a little bit out of control. Georgians probably have bigger stomachs than me. Georgian cheese is also marvellous, although it does have a lot of salt in it,” said Haines.
“Georgia has a much more tumultuous history than France. This is both fortunate, because you are so rich in history, and also unfortunate, because of the great deal of pain and devastation that has persisted in the country even to this day. As a result, Georgian food reflects a country with struggles, with a loss of economic wealth. Therefore, you need food which is cheap. You need food on which you can rely if things go badly. We frequently see programmes on the television where people are making dishes akin to paintings. But Georgians do not tend to eat such dishes. Most people cannot afford to. Food is who you are, where you come from. So, while some have lost sight of who is being fed, this is not the case here, as thousands of people simply cannot afford such cuisine. Therefore the country’s dishes reflect the hard times. But the creativity is marvellous. You never waste products and this is absolutely as it should be. You can always prepare something new from what’s left over. So, your food reflects all that history, that ability to carry on. It is a way to say: I will survive,” she said.
Haines loves Georgian wine because it is not acidic. She does not like acidity. “Cooking is like giving birth to a child for me. Plus you are always close to people,” said Haines.
Fast food does not necessarily mean bad food. Luckily we have a menu from which we can choose what to eat. Appetizers, salads and puddings are what we usually have in Paris. Portion size is very important. We cannot change the world. However, we can choose what is beneficial to our health. We need green vegetables, we need protein, and we need some fat. Our body is like a car and food is the engine. Contrary to a car though, if you destroy your body – it’s over. One does not need ice-cream at 10:30 pm when lying watching TV. Life is a balance. It is the same with work. You have to work but you have to laugh and play at the same time. You must be in love with what you do. The worst thing for our health is doing something that we don’t enjoy. Make yourself happy. Happiness equates to good health. It is one big combination.
I love people who create things. Many people think that I travel for food, but indeed that is not the case. My main interest is people. After all, food is for people in the end. Fusion is artificial and it will never work for me. I cannot be that person. Cooking is like art, thinking, writing and music. It is like being on the stage, which I like.
My energy and my enthusiasm are what I often leave behind when moving on from a place. Many chefs try to imitate others, which is wrong. I always recommend that chefs not put too much on a plate and simply be themselves. Even if something sells, little nuances are quite sufficient. Exaggeration is not good.
Increasing Competition in the Restaurant Segment
Character and personality are really important in business. For example, I was looking for eye makeup remover recently and went into many different shops in Georgia to find some. The problem was that the shop-people treated me in a very unfriendly way. I did not say anything to those people, but in cases like this I would generally say that if you were paid by your smile you would be starving in Paris. Serving customers is like being on the stage. You might have sick children, dead parents, pain, but as soon as the curtain goes up, that must all be put to one side. If you cannot do that, then you are in the wrong job. To increase competition the owners of restaurants should feel a responsibility to teach their employees how to behave in the right way.
There are two words that do not exist in my vocabulary: regret and impossible.
The Way Dishes Become World Famous
The way dishes become world famous is frequently misunderstood. I have heard of French or Italian dressing, but indeed neither of these countries used to have it. It is more like creating a project based on our impression of a country.
Impressions about Georgia
I want to come back to Georgia. Creativity, wine, food and hospitality – when you put all these things together you get everything you could want. Georgians help each other, they are kind to each other and they do it because they want to. That feeling is very strong here.