First, it’s the smile. Then the passion. But when you get to the food, well, if you weren’t hooked on Chef Anton Abrezov before, you are now.
Abrezov recently completed a residency at Brightwater, a Center for the Study of Food, in Northwest Arkansas—part of Northwest Arkansas Community College. As part of that, he served as an international guide during this summer’s Fayetteville Roots Festival, a celebration of both music and food.
Before he returned home to St. Petersburg, Russia, we sat down to talk with him about his life in food, how he got started in the business, and what being a chef means to him.
Marketing is Food
Abrezov said there were a lot of opportunities during the festival, particularly with various dinners and tasting events. For him, it’s a way to both learn and present his ideas in a new way. “I want to make changes and I don’t have that chance in Russia—but the best place to start is right here,” he says.
“I’m pretty young,” he points out, “I’ve never had culinary education. I’m self-taught. I have a master’s in international marketing. I think I didn’t know yet that marketing is food!”
Alchemy Meets Magic
Abrezov is from a small town in southern Russia, and felt comfortable in Arkansas because it’s a similar climate. That attention to his surroundings is part of what makes his food what it is. “When I began to think about culinary,” he says, “I realized it is a different world. A lot of chemical and physical worlds you will never meet anywhere else. If you know how to mix them, combine them, influence them . . .” His voice trails off, then comes back with an almost awestruck look, saying, “It’s like magic. It’s like a fairy tale.”
A self-proclaimed perfectionist, the Chef says, “First I wanted my food to be perfect. Then the ingredients. Now, I want my workplace to be clean and sterilized. It can be perfect!”
When asked what tips he was sharing with the students at Brightwater, he said, “I’ve been traveling all around the world. One of the things for me is motivation. I hope it’s interesting for them to see where I’m from and what I’m doing at home that translates to America.”
He also points to reducing food waste as one of his crusades. “It basically means when you are in a shop and buy three baskets of products, you throw one away.” At the same time, he points out that true farm-to-table is “almost impossible,” but says finding the people who really know how to do it is “like an obsession.” He talks about bread as an example, saying that leftover bread can be grilled, dried, and turned into a crumble for another dish.
Waste Not, Want Not
The chef’s work was on display during a tasting event where he and local chef, Rob Nelson, served what they called a combination of “Northwest Russia and Northwest Arkansas.” The result was burnt potato salad, grilled rye bread, and a smoked pork with a sauce called Kvas—popular in Russia as a beverage flavor, and made of “yesterday’s bread,” grilled, soaked in salt water, drained, and used as the base for a sauce.
Such creativity and combination of flavors is what you’ll see with Chef Anton Abrezov. That is, assuming you can get past that smile.
Photos: Paul K. Logsdon.
Bob Noble, Kay Logsdon
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