Special mission — an ambassador of gastronomy
Anthropologist Tasha Lopatenko writes a book about Belarusian cuisine in English
By Yulia Sergeeva
Tasha lives in the US, but spends 2-3 months a year in Belarus, treating her friends, who hail from various countries, to Belarusian cuisine on her return.
“I’m a gastronomic ambassador for Belarus to the rest of the world,” Tasha explains. “I gather people from all over the world, to swap anecdotes and taste unusual dishes.”
Twisting paths of Fate
Tasha is a gastronomic anthropologist and an advisor to the Chefs’ Guild of Belarus, as well as being a member of the Association of Restaurants and Gastronomers of Russia. She tells us, “After graduating from the Belarusian State Pedagogical University, I became involved in resocialising convicts and those newly released from prison. I’d still be working in that sphere were it not for my husband having been invited to work for Google’s California offices four and a half years ago. At school, I studied German and Polish, rather than English, so I found learning a real challenge. After some thought, I decided to choose a hobby that would also help me to learn the language. I chose cooking as I’ve always loved cuisine; my grandmother and mother were great chefs, pampering us with various dishes.”
‘It’s impossible to eat the whole elephant’
Tasha Lopatenko entered a culinary academy in Napa (CA), and took classes in Stanford on the history of gastronomy and the socio-cultural characteristics of different countries. Her practical knowledge went hand in hand with unusual stories and interesting theories and she soon began talking about cooking using professional jargon. Of course, she was soon ready to share her findings and began writing articles online: for women’s portal Velvet, as well as Live Journal and Facebook. Her portfolio grew daily and she soon received offers of co-operation.
“I was asked to comment and write articles but with a wider scope than journalism; Belvideocentre invited me to act as a consultant on a film about the history of Belarusian cuisine. I must say that the film is quite good,” Tasha smiles. This summer, she worked with the Belarusian Radio’s First Channel on a series devoted to culinary history. She also offered advice on organising kitchen space, choosing the best products in the shops, reading recipes, and on preserving methods, on the popular For Those at Home radio programme.
Working in radio brought Tasha into contact with a Russian publishing house, which offered to publish her cookbook. Intriguingly, she tells us, “It will be a collection of my original recipes, that I’ve developed over the past four years. I’m also working on a book in English about Belarusian cuisine, including the story of shooting the Belvideocentre step-by-step guide to cooking our national dishes. According to the rules of the contract, I can’t reveal more!”
Chefs — in the Guild!
The Guild of Chefs of Belarus appeared two years ago but was only officially registered last year. “We’ve been able to unite the best cooks, not only from the capital but from regional centres,” Tasha notes confidently. “We want to show that our country has real professionals and dedicated cooking fans. It’s important to exchange expertise, especially now that Belarusian cooks are travelling more abroad to learn and to participate in competitions.”
Members of the Guild are planning to create a gastronomic theatre, allowing chefs to cook live before an audience and share their own story.