The meal starts with an edible candle: richly aromatic, amber-like garlic butter shaped into a stick complete with a wick. Once lit, the butter slowly pools at the base of the candlestick, and guests dip bread in, as one would with olive oil. It might feature the exact same components that start a typical meal in an Ukrainian home, yet with that little bit of inventiveness, even the bread course has become memorable.
Such is the culinary genius of Ukrainian chef Yaroslav Artyukh. The 27-year-old chef-owner of four-year-old Kiev-based restaurant Kanapa cites the likes of Heston Blumenthal as a source of inspiration, but truth be told, his motherland’s cuisine is his biggest inspiration. “We have such a diverse range of produce, from the Carpathian Mountains in the west and the Black Sea in the south. Together with our country’s rich historical and cultural influences, it has given us a unique cuisine.”
Indeed, those unfamiliar with the country might have their memory stuck in 2014, when the nation faced political unrest. Yet, look further back and you will find that Ukraine was the influential religious and cultural centre of the first eastern Slavic state during the 10th and 11th centuries. The Ukrainians have always been proud of their culture, and in recent years – with the country’s economy on an upward trend – there has been reinvigorated efforts to celebrate it. Artyukh belongs to a young generation of chefs who are doing their part to bring the cuisine of Ukraine to the world – and they are doing things differently.
“Ukrainian food is all about balance. Heavier dishes are paired with fermented foods to cut the richness; and fresh produce – like the wild garlic and morels of spring, the cucumbers of summer, which we marinate simply with salt and dill – are treated delicately,” shares Artyukh with The Peak, during an exclusive dinner hosted by the Ukranian ambassador to Singapore Dmytro Senik.
There is indeed a very elegant dimension to Ukrainian cuisine, beyond the stereotypical dishes of borscht and chicken Kiev. And it awaits the world to explore it.