An interview with Mia Kuprava, Director of Gault&Millau Georgia.
By Carolina Holzmeister
The annual Gault&Millau Australia restaurant guide is one of the 18 dedicated national editions that comprise the extensive global network of G&M guides that have set a standard for dining experiences all around the world. It has been more than 53 years since Gault&Millau published its very first restaurant review in France and today qualified reviewers evaluate more than 10,000 restaurants each year across those 18 countries.
A recent visitor to Australian shores was Gault&Millau Georgia publisher Mia Kuprava, travelling from her native Georgia in the Eurasia region, bordering Russia and Turkey. Mia spent a week in Sydney with the Gault&Millau Australia team, who invited her to Berowra Waters Inn, a regarded award-winning Sydney restaurant, to show off Australian cuisine. Mia discussed the untapped potential of Georgian food and wine and the successful events she organises at Gault&Millau Georgia. Surprisingly over lunch, she even spotted a Georgian vintage on the wine list!
Mia is a proud ambassador of Georgian culture and food. The impact of the era of the Soviet Union on Georgian culture was huge. In days past, simplified cooking with a limited number of ingredients was the ethos of Soviet cuisine. Today, a new Georgian cuisine has been flourishing in the capital Tbilisi and in regional restaurants across their country. Mia through her Gault&Millau Georgia guide has been instrumental in redefining modern Georgian gastronomy.
Geographically, Georgia lies between Western Asia and Eastern Europe. How have the neighbouring countries influenced Georgian cuisine?
Georgian cuisine follows its rich history, one of the land positioned along the ancient Silk Road trade route. Merchants and travellers left their culinary influence on Georgia and our food reflects the melting pot of influences brought by trade over the centuries.
Our traditional food has also evolved from the influence of our nearby countries - Turkey, Iran and Russia - mainly in the border regions. However, Georgian gastronomy is really unique to the region, and despite the influence of our neighbours, we have managed to preserve our own food identity.
Georgia is a small country: it covers an area of 70,000 square kilometres and is surrounded by the sea, mountains and desert. It has abundant water resources, which is invaluable for agriculture. Georgia’s agri-business is a major contributor to our economy as we have a diverse climate and rich soils. We produce a wide variety of quality produce, including grains, grapes and tea. We even grow our own citrus fruits in the warmer regions close to the Black Sea.
What are the Georgian regional foods and national dishes?
Badrijanis, a Georgian national dish
Georgia is composed of six different regional cuisines. Each region has its own special flavours with distinctly local foods and cooking techniques. Depending on the region and the season, there are many specific types of seafood, meats, fruits and vegetables that characterise these local areas. France, for instance, is well known for its 354 types of cheese, while in Georgia we have 200 different types, some of them with specific geographical appellations.
Our most well known national dish is khachapuri, which has made a revolution in America. It is a flatbread filled with smooth cheese. It tastes great with pkhali, a paste made from spinach, walnuts, and garlic.
Every time I have overseas visitors, I make badrijanis for them. The dish is a cold salad made of grilled slices of eggplant with walnut-garlic paste, ajika (chilli paste), coriander and pomegranate seeds (see image above). There are many more traditional dishes to savour, but you will have to visit George to taste them!
What do we need to know about Georgian wines?
Dish served at Samepo Marani 1878, a Georgian regional restaurant
Georgia has long been famous for its wines. Last year in Bordeaux, French researchers have confirmed that Georgia is the oldest wine producer in the world. We have our own native grape varieties and our unique winemaking technique, kvevri. It is an aging method, where clay vessels are buried in the ground to store and ferment the grape juice after being pressed.
Not only is Georgia the birthplace of wine in the world, but the country also has fabulous terroirs, native grape varieties and winemaking techniques. I believe that Georgian wines are becoming popular worldwide and some of the well-known French and German wine companies are investing in the Georgian market.
Tell us more about the restaurants inspected by the Georgian G&M team. How many have you inspected for this year's guide? How many of them are in the capital?
A traditional Georgian meal served at Dadiani in Tbilisi
We are in our second year, and up to now we have inspected 600 restaurants. Out of 600, we have published 60 reviews. There are 53 reviews from restaurants based in the capital, Tbilisi, and the other seven are regional restaurants. Next year, we are planning to explore more regions in Georgia and possibly expand our guide to more regional restaurants.
Other than publishing the G&M book, you also organise national and international dinners promoting Georgian cuisine. Can you tell us more about that?
A modern dish served at Schuchmann Wine Bar & Restaurant in Tbilisi
In our events, we aim to promote Georgian culture and cuisine. We are trying to redefine the modern Georgian gastronomy with our events and move away from our traditional cuisine.
For 60 years, when Georgia was part of The Soviet Union, our cuisine didn’t have an opportunity to develop, as throughout the union the same simple food was served.
We have decided that for each project, we would serve five courses, paired with different wines. This was the first time in the history of Georgia that this idea was introduced!
All the dishes are prepared by well-regarded Georgian chefs. We have asked them to marry classic French technique with excellent Georgian produce. We also chose menus that were not overly complicated, as in our last event there were 350 guests present.
I understand that Marianne Lecerf, Chief International Coordinator of Gault&Millau France, flew all the way from Paris to Sydney to participate at the launch of the 2019 Gault&Millau Australia guide. My idea is to increase the activities between the international Gault&Millau teams. I believe it benefits all for us to improve our communication and invite our international colleagues to all our respective events, wherever they are in the world.
If we are visiting Tbilisi one day, can you give us your personal tips on what to eat and drink?
Georgian House, an institution in Tbilisi
This is a difficult question, as you have to choose which restaurant to go to, but our G&M Georgia guide should help! It depends if it is your first time in Tbilisi, how long you are staying, if you are going for lunch or dinner and how many guests you will have.
I always take my guests to a small idyllic restaurant called Keto & Kote, and also to Georgian House (see image above), which only serves traditional food. Last year, Georgian House won the award of the best traditional restaurant.
Georgia is an emerging travel destination, as tourism, mainly from Western Europe, Russia and Ukraine, is becoming one of the main industries of the country. So, there is great potential for our own gastronomic tourism to develop.