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A Latvian dinner flies via Oslo to Afghanistan

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment

In October, I enjoyed an eight-course meal at one of the best restaurants in the Baltic States, Vincents in Riga. (Read more here.) Today, I discovered that its owner and chef Martins Ritins recently cooked up a Latvian dinner in Afghanistan for Latvian and Norwegian soldiers, having personally flown there with more than 400 kg of fresh Latvian products!

Read about his experience below!

“On the 10th November, I and four of my chefs flew to Afghanistan  with more than 400 kg of fresh, seasonal produce grown by Latvian farmers to feed our troops. We landed at the army base of Meymaneh on the border of Tajikistan after a 20 hour journey via Oslo and immediately got to work unloading all the good food we had brought with us.

Kelmenes dark rye bread and Dundagas farm butter, hemp seeds, Latgales Rusonas cheese, Aizputes barley and white beans, wild salmon cured with beetroot and caraway, Initas caraway cheese and even pumpkin grown by Laima in Dobele. The list goes on. We brought as much as we could to give our brave soldiers a taste of home. We did have one major problem though, the traditional Martins day goose.

Because of red tape, geese cannot be exported from Latvia , so the only way we could have got them there was if they had flown in convoy behind our plane. Luckily, the Norwegians came to our rescue and provided us with geese which were almost as succulent as those we usually get from our own farmer, Mary.

I have always imagined an army kitchen to be one lone chef, peeling a mountain of potatoes. How wrong I was. They hadn’t even seen a fresh potato since their arrival at the base. We soon changed all that and after a lot of hard work, we served our Latvian soldiers and their Norwegian comrades with a feast that was worthy of them.

It was a phenomenal experience to see how our defense boys live in that far off, hostile country. A huge culture shock, which served to remind me that things here aren’t half as bad as we think they are. I am full of admiration for them all and would certainly be willing to repeat the experience and prepare another feast for them. I salute them all.

I am truly grateful to all the Slow Food farmers who donated so much of their fine produce. My heartfelt thanks to Mehmet of Frisch Paradise who provided me with 50kg fresh salmon at the very last minute so that we could cure it here at Vincents.

However, the very biggest thank you is reserved for Bertolt Flick, President of Air Baltic who flew us to Oslo and back, and handled the 400 kg of cargo. Without AirBaltic we would have got no further than Riga airport on the number 22 bus.”  View the video.

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Best restaurant in the Baltic States!

November 24, 2009 2 comments

Fresh sea buckthorn berry sorbet made with liquid nitrogen, snails in a jar topped with a raw egg, and lamprey with chilli and mustard. That’s a sample of what you can expect at Vincents restaurant in Riga, one of the best restaurants in the Baltic States.

Last weekend I dined in Riga at Vincents restaurant – Riga’s culinary gem and probably one of the best restaurants in the Baltic States.

Vincents' quirky and trendy interior.

When booking I was informed we would have the special Latvian tasting menu which turned out to be an eight-course set menu, starting with parmesan flavored sticks and finishing up with a chocolate ice-cream which we struggled to finish. In between the culinary journey included salmon, pork, snails, Baltic Sea local fish like lamprey and herrings and waffles.

Sea buckthorn berry, a Baltic Sea speciality features heavily throughout the menu. It’s a bitter tasting orange berry which grows along the Baltic Sea coast and a few berries easily fill your recommended daily Vitamin C intake. One of the highlights of the meal came when the waitress placed a big steel bowl filled with sea buckthorn berries at the end of our table and whipped the berries up into a delicious sorbet by adding a flask of freezing cold liquid nitrogen.

Simplicity, fun and originality are the key word to sum up the menu at Vincent’s. Each course teased our taste-buds and we waited in suspense to see what was coming next and how it would be presented. You feel that the kitchen puts as much thought and creativity into the presentation of the food as into the fusion of flavours. For example, one of our three starters was herrings served in a small tin box; the snails appeared immersed in a soup in a small jar with a raw egg on the side to mix with the jar’s contents.

The food was exquisite, made from local Latvian ingredients and the dinner menu changes every week so it’s always a surprise as to what you’ll be served.

Vincents opened in 1994 and is owned by British-Latvian chef, Martins Ritins, who was born to Latvian parents in the UK and moved to Riga in 1991. Outside the toilet hangs a small photo gallery with pictures of Ritins and all the famous faces he’s met and cooked for – from politicians like President George W. Bush, Gerhard Schröder and Boris Yeltsin to royalty including Dutch Queen Beatrix and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and stars like Elton John, Paco Rabanne and Jose Carreras.

The restaurant is located on the distinguished Elizabetes street, in the basement of a nice Art Nouveau building but walk inside the door and the first thing that strikes you is the ambiance of blue lights, white decor and modern clean cut lines. Step into the next room behind the entrance and there is an alcove with a long table perfect for groups. Further behind is another room with a mirror at one end making it seem larger than it actually is.

The meal was one of the best I have had in several months and the service was ten times better than many of the “in” places in Stockholm. Our waitress was professional, friendly, knowledgeable about the food and spoke perfect English.

If you’re in Riga, this place is pricey but a perfect spot for a special occasion or to try some Baltic States ingredients. It’s the ideal place to disappear for a few hours during the long, dark winter nights – our eight-course menu took four hours but the time flew by.

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