Latvia’s Barks, Berries and Resins– A talk with Eriks Dreibants

In Latvia’s  Gauja National Park,  70 kilometers from Riga and 20 from Cisis.  Here, far from main roads, immersed in an environment of dense forests of conifers and marshes, emerges an old forest house, that today is home to Pavāru radošā māja, a Chefs’ Creative Workshop.

Ph. Matīss Markovskis, magazine Santa.

An uncontaminated environment, that for many years was not used for any economic activities. It’s not difficult to find trees classified as ancient or secular, nor to smell the many resins, which in some cases have been carved from the trees by cutting into their trunks,  giving them the look of tribal tattoos.

The project’s creator – and co-owner of Restaurant 3 and Restaurant 3 chefs – is Ēriks Dreibants, guest of the upcoming Terra Madre Salone del Gusto as the host of two workshops: the first aimed at enhancing the rare legumes of his country, included on the Ark of Taste,  and present at the local Straupe Earth Market; the second on another product of the Ark of Taste, the lamprey of Carnikava offered in different declinations – smoked with alder wood accompanied by Latvian black bread and in jelly with horseradish sauce, porcini mushrooms, and sour cream.

I contacted him to get a closer look at these wild flavors and to better understand the philosophy that inspires his work.

When did you start Chefs’ Creative Workshop? What are its goals? What is its philosophy?
Dabas Garša Latvia
Dabas Garša opened its the doors two years ago. This idea came to me as I felt the necessity to create a place where a chef can get out from the daily routine and devote himself 100% to creative work. Chefs’ Creative workshop welcomes chefs from all over the world.  There is only one condition – he/she is expected to perceive the world in a similar way as me, namely, to share the same values when cooking as we do in the restaurant:

-choose products whose certificates clearly show their origin that is in line with the responsible farming and fishing regulations;
-in the cooking process, we strive to use every single part of the ingredients;
-supported by wildlife experts, we continue exploring and discovering the unique tastes of the natural   foods characteristic to our region;
-we are continuously using more natural foods, unaffected by human intervention or industrialization.
– when using nature’s bounties, we observe all the restrictions and give proper consideration to the quantities needed in order to preserve biodiversity.  We very carefully make our food ever more contemporary.
-we share our thoughts on the work we do so that our children can live in a better world than we do!

In your biography online I read: “Cooking = biology, art, geography, history, chemistry, politics, fashion… I try to put the whole of the world on a plate at the same time maintaining the dominance of a product’s natural taste”. Can you tell us something more about this definition? How can you manage to put all these on the plate?

Culinary practice is closely related with the processes in nature, with people’s attitude toward ecology, with fashion trends… and therefore chefs have to be knowledgeable about and responsible for what they put on a plate. We cannot let ourselves to get influenced by trends, for example, the growing use of rapeseed oil. We cannot do it because this monoculture is grown in huge areas in Latvia causing misery in nature. The fields are regularly sprayed with chemicals in order to increase harvest yields, but this action greatly harms wildlife and nature. I am always observing with horror how people are collecting, for example, linden tea or forest strawberries just in a few meters away from these fields. Therefore, chefs must be competent otherwise with a lack of knowledge they could put poison on a plate.

Earlier you mentioned the sharing of thoughts and ideas. Tell us about teamwork, and how the creative process can be carried forward together.

A team is very important in our industry.  My team is the whole of Latvia. My team is numerous farmers I have conversations with about products and after our talks, they invent new products. My team is craftsmen who are making plates and dishes for us from wood, clay, porcelain, birch bark … My team is collectors of nature’s bounty – we are having conversations about protected plants, about forgotten nature suitable to use in alimentation. My team is scientists who are open to share advice and give me the task of monitoring the desires of consumers.

In Terra Madre, you’ll participate in two taste workshops. The first one is focused on rare Latvian legumes that are nominated for Slow Food Ark of Taste. The second is focused on another Ark of Taste product, the Carnikava lamprey. Can you tell us something more about these products and, in general, about the research of the ingredients in your daily work? Is it easy to find them? And how can small producers be valued in a restaurant?
The lamprey is a very primitive fish, uncontaminated, like the way of cooking used in Latvia is also primeval and unique.  I remember how when I was a child we went down to a small river to look for lamprey. When we found the place where they were gathering we took off our socks and put them on hands as gloves because lampreys are slippery, and you can’t take them with bare hands. We were picking up lampreys one by one from a river, afterward we made fire and grilled them on the coals. Very delicious! Small farmers are like pearls –  you have to search for them by asking friends, visiting markets in different regions. And when I find them I am ready to pay for their products more than for analog products offered by large farmers. It is to protect them and avoid a situation where small pearls are quickly turned into beads sold as low-quality products.

Creative Chefs Workshop LatviaThe theme of the Terra Madre 2018 edition is Food for Change. Do you think that through our food choices we can bring about positive change on the planet, in the environment, in society?
Of course, as I mentioned before, it is my conviction, that we can influence positively with our choice and change society’s way of thinking. The Slow Food movement proves this.

When and how did you meet Slow Food?
I have been familiar with Slow Food movement a long time and I have had same world perception already since I was born, but I have not been a member of Slow Food for so long; since then I collaborated with the Earth Markets and developed more cooperation with farmers.

By Silvia Ceriani, s.ceriani@slowfood.it 

The Recipe – Carnikava Lamprey

Serves 4 

Carnikava’s lamprey –  4 pieces
Pearl onions – 6
Blueberry juice – 50 ml

Traditional marinade – 100 ml
Syrup of birch juice – 4 teaspoons

Apple puree – 4 tablespoons
Nettle powder – ½ teaspoon
Honey

Cut the pearl onions in half and separate every layer. Put these into marinade mixed with blueberry juice. Leave onions in the marinade for 24 hours. Heat oven for 160 C. Put 4 autumn apples “Antonovka” with peel into the oven for 30 minutes. Let them cool, separate apples from peel and seeds. Softly rub the apples through a sieve and add a little bit of honey. Dry nettles in the dehydrator, blend and put through a sieve. Put the whole lamprey on the plate and serve with marinated pearl onions, apple puree, syrup of birch juice and nettle powder.

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