The FINANCIAL — The idea behind the food is to keep everything as simple as possible. His approach to food is as a way to reach people. World popular chef Isaac Correa was involved in the creation of the menu at Strada by bringing his experience to Georgia. The recently-opened Strada restaurant offers fresh, clean and light food and delicacies. The restaurant was established by a team from NY, London and Moscow. In addition, Strada has launched an authentic Korean menu line.
The opening of the Strada café in Tbilisi in 2014 marked a new trend on the local scene. Made up of an international team, it became a new point of interest for all those who miss a non-smoking, friendly kind of place in Tbilisi with simple but smart contemporary food for every day: from chicken nuggets to corn chowder. Not following any of the classic rules, Strada is located in a pictorial but non-central residential area, offering a roomy terrace and the opportunity for easy parking.
The stylish and casual interior by Rooms design bureau, appreciated for their work with Kazbegi Rooms Hotel and Tbilisi Rooms Hotel, is also an important part of the concept. In interviewing Mr. Correa, The FINANCIAL sheds light on this new scene on the Tbilisi restaurant map.
Isaac Correa, of Puerto Rican descent, was born in New York’s Chinatown in 1965. By his own admission, Isaac began learning to cook at age six. For the last twenty years he has been living in Moscow, Russia, developing restaurants and cafés of his own brand. ‘Timing, approach to food as a way to people, the people of Moscow, and being surrounded by people who believed in me and had a passion for what they did – these are the main factors that determined my success,” Isaac Correa, Brand Chief at Strada, told The FINANCIAL.
The focus of Correa’s is to source the freshest and most genuine ingredients and leave the food as simple as possible so as to enjoy the natural flavours of the dish. Strada is relatively inexpensive for Tbilisi’s standards and designed as a trendy, modern-style café where clients can enjoy breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner in a light and comfortable atmosphere.
The FINANCIAL asked Correa to talk about his decision to be involved in Strada and the outstanding features that Strada offers Georgians.
Q. How would you describe your style of cooking, and what makes your menus and recipes distinctive?
A. The idea behind the food is to keep everything as simple as possible. It’s fresh, clean and light. We do not have anything too heavy. I believe that it was always about ingredients, and sometimes lack of ingredients. In terms of our style – I would say fresh, clean, colourful and fun.
Q. How did you discover your passion for food?
A. My parents were from Puerto Rico, and my mom had a bed and breakfast place, so she was always cooking. It fascinated me. Everyone says their mum’s cooking is the best, and it’s true, but it was funny, because she didn’t know how to cook small batches – they were always these huge portions.
She was clever too. We didn’t have the money to eat at all the different restaurants, so she’d go to the different markets and buy ingredients to make different types of food. One night would be authentic Chinese food, then Italian night or Spanish. So I don’t know if you always get to pick what you’re going to do; I think sometimes it picks you.
Q. When did you start to pursue cooking seriously?
A. My brother helped me get my first gig as a pizza boy. When he moved on to work in fine dining establishments, he took me with him. I got to work in some really nice places.
So after high school, I was working doing pizzas, and one of the big chefs at the restaurant told me I had a good eye for this stuff. He said he’d give me a shot to come work in the kitchen, but if it didn’t work out, my old job would be gone. I accepted the challenge, and ended up working with him for four years. He took me everywhere.
Eventually, he was recruited by a company looking to open Western-style restaurants in Moscow, and he said he’d only go if he could bring me. So I went, and he never showed up. What was supposed to be two weeks in Moscow turned into 20 years. I stayed by myself and learned a new language, got married and opened up a small restaurant that eventually grew into 15 restaurants, called Correa. We were the first to do comfort food in Moscow, and we found our niche. It was a hell of a ride.
Q. How did your experiences abroad influence you as a chef?
A. A lot of people do not think so, but Moscow has really become a food place. And it is so diverse. Working in a melting pot like Moscow really influenced me and helped me grow as a chef. I worked with chefs from all over the world – French, Italian, Spanish. It helped me become much more open to new ideas.
Q. How did the Strada project begin and how did you become a part of it?
A. Strada was the dream of a group of guys who invited me into that dream, and together that dream became a reality. I could not turn down the passionate and loving people of the Strada group, this is what inspired me to build the menu and the whole concept of Strada the way it is at present.
Q. Tell us about your team: Suki Maman and Anastasia Godunova. What makes working with them special?
A. Suki Maman from London is the Pastry Chef at Strada. He is famous for light and delicious desserts. Anastasia Godunova is Chief Barista. She is from Moscow, well-known for special lemonades and a wide range of offbeat teas and coffees.
I think what’s special about working with Suki and Anastasia is that they really love what they do. These are two people with great experience and potential. Suki is a global phenomenon! They are down to earth and fun to be around.
Q. What makes Strada different and why did you decide to give it a try in Georgia?
A. I believed what I was doing there would actually make a difference.
Q. Which is the segment of society that mainly visits Strada?
A. Lots of foreigners, expats mostly, guys who miss some simple and smart food from back home, plus mums & kids; we are definitely a family place.
Q. How did Strada change the food scene in Georgia?
A. A non-smoking place, breakfasts and brunches, even a community table – that’s all pretty new down here actually. I really think we did something different for this city.
There are so many restaurants here. Hopefully we can find our niche, and the quality of our food and service will keep people coming back. I know it’s hard to make everybody happy – but we are going to try.
Q. What are the new culinary trends that you consider to be significant?
A. Food is a universal language. It is living and moving constantly. Everyone nowadays loves food at every level.
Q. What plans do you have for yourself and your projects for the next few years?
A. I just opened Baker & Wife in Florida, with plans to open one in Connecticut next year, and a new concept in the USA. Also I plan on visiting Strada and Milk Bar in Kiev this summer.
Authentic Korean menu at Strada
The management team of Strada was primarily planning to just expand the place. But then they realized that it would be great to show up with some really exciting menu updates. A personal passion for Korean cuisine, which the team of Strada considers to be one of the most spectacular, became the starting point for the project.
In a strange way Korean food combines a very transparent approach based on using fresh vegetables, seafood and meat with an extraordinary selection of sophisticated spicy dressings and sauces. Strada is proud to offer Korean classics and much more: Bibimbap mixed rice, Bulgogi grilled beef and large Haemultang spicy seafood soup along with the Banchan traditional starter set.
The Korean menu at Strada has already had extremely positive feedback from both local and foreign guests. Native Koreans at the restaurant are mostly considered a true quality seal of Strada’s efforts. Additional good news was finding out how open-minded Georgians appeared to be! All the Korean classics were welcomed with true interest and that is really a positive marker for the whole culinary scene here in Georgia.