In 1992, a mere five months after the fall of the Soviet Union, John Rivera Sedlar was invited to Russia as part of a U.S. Delegation made up of doctors and chefs to march in Moscow’s May Victory Day Parade. Sedlar and his peers (including L.A.’s own Kerry Simon), rare U.S. visitors in that time, spent their adventure cooking for military dignitaries, meeting everyday Russians, and visiting restaurants in St. Petersburg and Moscow, which had only recently been privatized and mostly lacked food. The trip made a lasting impression on Sedlar, who returned to L.A. and melded Russian influences into a special commemorative menu at his Santa Monica restaurant Bikini.
The chef still glows when telling stories about bringing Russian chefs their very first tastes of pineapple and banana and the kindness he encountered in the Russian people as they entered a brand new world. This May, 20 years after his trip, Sedlar rekindled his “End of Communism” menu at his Downtown stunner Rivera, and is offering his artistic interpretation of Russian classics through next Wednesday, June 20.
Knowing that we have a former Soviet operative on our team (Grub Street L.A. photographer, Tatiana Arbogast, a Russian military brat born and raised in Azerbaijan, who counts St. Petersburg, Ukraine, Georgia, North Caucasus, and Turkmenistan among her many homes), Sedlar invited us in to sample some of the Russian dishes he had revived; an artistic arrangement of Russian flavors and references merged with the dynamic chefs’ Southwestern prism and nouvelle influences past. Seeing as yesterday was Russian Independence Day, how could we resist?
The clever results don’t necessarily resemble what you’ll find at Traktir, but the evoked essences of a real Russian meal (beets, mushrooms, pickle, buckwheat, vodka, and smoked fish) all emerge letter-perfect. Take a look at some of the dishes served on Rivera’s “End of Communism” menu in our slideshow.