Last Friday, Boris Portnoy, who made his bones as the pastry chef at Napa’s Meadowood and New York’s Cru, brought his moped-towed, mobile tandoor, Satellite Republic, to a Chinatown sidewalk in L.A. to prepare a multi-course feast of Georgian cooking that combined recipes from the Caucasus region with Georgian wines and Northern California produce and products. Why does Portnoy have Georgia on the mind? His fixation on the region’s Middle Eastern-influenced cuisine began in his native Moscow, he tells Grub Street, where Georgia was seen as “the promised land…full of watermelon, grapes, pomegranate,” a fantasy for many fruit-deprived Soviets that became his present reality when the chef recently adventured through Georgia and Chechnya.
Portnoy explains that he doesn’t “really like Russian food,” but the tart sauces, fresh produce, kiln-baked breads, natural meats, and shared feasts of the Caucasus really speak to him. Now he seeks to translate this fixation on Georgian food to a U.S. audience, where the cuisine is relatively unknown and most likely unappreciated. Satellite Republic also donates 10% of its proceeds to helping bring back an after-school arts program for Chechen children in the Pankisi region.
Joining his galley-bound dinner party at Jancar Jones Gallery, we came in for a look at what Portnoy prepares from a tiny clay oven hitched to the back of his bike on the street. Take a look at Satellite Republic’s Georgian feast in our slideshow.
With his moped-attached tandoor oven, in Chinatown, Los Angeles.
A sauce of chilies, garlic, herbs, and tomatoes that Georgians slateher on everything, including the puri he baked and the sturgeon shaslik to come. Portnoy’s version may have been toned down for the western audience as it lacked the heat and dominant garlic taste found in a typical adjika of the Caucasus.
The dinner party’s kefir was a slightly fermented water-based drink, rather than the typical yogurt variety we’re familiar with in the States. Portnoy’s kefir used wild grape, elderberries, and blackberries from Northern California farms, with a taste somewhere between kvass and kombucha.
These soft, thin shells were filled with lightly cooked lamb raised by Don Watrson in San Pablo, California, which feed on radish greens and marsh grasses.
Here the chef folded thin ribbons of squash in satzivi, a cream sauce made primarily of walnuts and coriander with vegetable stock, fenugreek, and roasted onion. Whatever satzivi is served with typically is used in the sauce’s stock.
Satellite Republic sources from a NorCal farmer farm-raising sturgeon in an endless parade of tender, tandoor-fired kebab.
And green beans. Sort of a no-brainer at any Eastern European dinner.
A staple sour plum sauce for meats and fish served at any Georgian meal. Portnoy’s had grape, making it a little sweeter than what you may find in Georgia.
Came before a final serving of watermleons, which Portnoy used to allude to the Russian movie Brother. But when it comes to shooting watermelons, we much prefer this Ruski’s work