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Tbilisi Techniques Meet Brooklyn Ideas

Tbilisi Techniques Meet Brooklyn Ideas

Dobro pozhalovat' (Welcome) to the Culinary Crossroads

Imagine, if you will, a bustling kitchen in the heart of Tbilisi, Georgia - a cramped galley on the eighth floor of a Soviet-era apartment block, with a coin-operated elevator ferrying up the hungry hordes. In the midst of this culinary chaos, a young man named Davit Varduashvili is whirling like a dervish, juggling pots and pans, pouring homemade wine from a repurposed Coke bottle, and teaching a group of American visitors the secrets of Georgian cuisine.

As Jodi Rudoren of the Forward newsletter recounts, Davit's kitchen was the unlikely setting for an impromptu cooking lesson, where he schooled the group on the art of making khinkali (Georgian dumplings) and badrijani nigvzit (eggplant rolls with a garlicky walnut spread). But this wasn't just a lesson in technique - it was a window into the rich tapestry of Georgian hospitality, where the lines between host and guest blur, and the spirit of sharing and togetherness reigns supreme.

Embracing the Unexpected

As I learned more about Davit's story, I couldn't help but be struck by the parallels between his culinary journey and the ethos of Geo Cuisine, our beloved Georgian coffee house in the heart of Brooklyn. Both are rooted in a deep respect for tradition, a willingness to embrace the unexpected, and a boundless enthusiasm for bringing people together through the power of shared meals.

Davit's path to becoming a master khinkali maker was anything but linear. A former tour guide and driver for the eccentric Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili, Davit found himself thrust into the role of catering a large Georgian feast for the bishop's 60th birthday celebration. It was a hit, and soon he was tasked with organizing the food for a group of visiting American Jews.

But Davit's culinary prowess wasn't born in a professional kitchen - it was honed in the humble galley of his family's apartment, where his mother taught him the art of soup-making during his university days. "She said it's so easy," Davit recalled. "If you have two liters of water, put 100 grams of rice, some carrots, potato, boil it 20 minutes, it is soup." Of course, Davit being Davit, he had to take it to the next level, adding half a kilo of rice and "water, water, there was no space in the pot!"

This spirit of experimentation, combined with a deep respect for tradition, is something that Karen Shimizu of Saveur magazine has also discovered in her own Brooklyn kitchen. As she shares, "It's an idiosyncratic arrangement - I think a former owner of the building built the kitchen without a lot of attention to standard measurements - but there are drawers and cabinets galore so we have lots of places to store the big stuff: pots, pans, mixing bowls."

Just like Davit, the team at Geo Cuisine has embraced the quirks and challenges of their unique space, using it as a canvas to create something truly special. From the hand-crafted wooden shelves that display our collection of Georgian ceramics to the cozy nooks and crannies that invite our guests to linger over a cup of strong, fragrant coffee, every inch of our cafe is imbued with a sense of character and personality.

Nurturing Community, One Supra at a Time

But what truly sets Davit, Geo Cuisine, and the Georgian culinary tradition apart is the way they use food as a catalyst for building community. As Jodi Rudoren discovered, Davit's kitchen was not just a place to learn cooking techniques - it was a hub of hospitality, where the lines between host and guest blurred, and the spirit of togetherness reigned supreme.

Photographer Lydia Panas, who has deep ties to the Georgian community, explains that this emphasis on hospitality and shared meals is rooted in the country's history as a place of intersection and exchange. "When you cross the ocean to live in another part of the world, family becomes critical," she says. "I felt that our family was like an island in a vast unknown. Not fitting in, we had to hold on to one another."

This sentiment is echoed in the way Davit and the team at Geo Cuisine approach their work. Whether it's Davit offering early-morning shots of his homemade chacha (Georgian brandy) to hikers, or our baristas greeting our regulars by name and inquiring about their families, there is a palpable sense of community that permeates every interaction.

And at the heart of it all is the supra - the traditional Georgian feast, where multiple toasts, endless conversation, and a deep appreciation for the simple pleasures of life come together in a joyous celebration. As Davit shared with Jodi, "Georgians are big on toasts at every supra - someone is dubbed toastmaster, which means they stand up randomly and repeatedly throughout the meal to offer stemwinding tributes to host, guest, God, country, and whatever else moves them."

It's this spirit of conviviality, of breaking bread and sharing stories, that artist Lydia Panas finds so captivating about the Georgian culture. "Family is the first place I look to begin to understand where someone is coming from," she reflects. "That's where all the secrets lie."

A Culinary Tapestry, Woven with Care

As I walk through the doors of Geo Cuisine, I'm always struck by the way the space seems to hum with the energy of a thousand stories, each one woven into the fabric of the place. From the weathered wooden beams that once supported a Georgian farmhouse to the collection of antique samovars that adorn our shelves, every element of our cafe is imbued with a sense of history and tradition.

But it's not just the physical space that captures the essence of Georgian culture - it's the way our team approaches the art of hospitality, and the way our guests respond to that warmth and generosity. Whether it's the barista who takes the time to guide a newcomer through the intricacies of our menu, or the chef who happily shares the backstory of a particular dish, there is a palpable sense of connection that permeates every interaction.

And of course, at the heart of it all is the food - a tapestry of flavors and techniques that reflect the rich cultural heritage of Georgia. From the fragrant, herb-infused kharcho soup to the irresistible khinkali dumplings, each dish is a testament to the skill and passion of our culinary team. And like Davit, they too have embraced the unexpected, incorporating local Brooklyn ingredients and techniques to create a truly unique culinary experience.

Finding Common Ground, One Bite at a Time

As I reflect on the stories of Davit, Lydia, and the team at Geo Cuisine, I can't help but feel a deep sense of kinship. It's as if we're all part of this grand, global tapestry of food, culture, and community - each of us adding our own unique threads to the ever-evolving design.

And perhaps that's the true power of Georgian cuisine, and the ethos that drives Geo Cuisine - the ability to transcend boundaries, to find common ground, and to bring people together through the simple act of sharing a meal. Whether it's the American visitors learning to make khinkali in Davit's cramped Tbilisi kitchen, or the diverse clientele of our Brooklyn cafe savoring the flavors of the Caucasus, there is a universal language of hospitality and connection that speaks to the very heart of what it means to be human.

So the next time you step through the doors of Geo Cuisine, I invite you to immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Georgian culture, to savor the flavors of Tbilisi, and to join us in this ever-evolving story of culinary exploration and community building. Who knows what unexpected delights and connections might await you? After all, as Davit's mother once said, "If you have two apples - one small, one big - give the big one to your guests. You will find another one in your garden."

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