The foundation for Chesnok was laid in 1990 when my parents were given the chance to start anew in America. The Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse and life as they knew it in the Republic of Georgia was quickly falling apart. A new tumultuous landscape laid before them. Staying or leaving, either way guaranteed hardship and uncertainty, but only one option offered a light at the end of the tunnel. So, after two frustrating years waiting on documents, a month of screening and medical exams in Moscow (not to mention the fall of the Soviet Union), their tickets were bought and a date was set. With a suitcase in one hand and a little wooden basket carrying me, a newborn, in the other, they were finally on their way, from the largest Union in the world to the smallest state in America...
It was there in Rhode Island that we made our new home. Borscht, Russian lessons, and Pushkin were as much of daily life as were Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches, Legend of Zelda, and Britney Spears. As a kid, food was an afterthought, another thing that got in the way of playing outside with friends. My main food groups were hot dogs, freeze pops, and Capri Suns, and the only pies I was interested in making were of the Mud variety. That phase, however, didn’t last very long. As my appetite grew more and more venturesome by the day, so did my love and appreciation for the food my mother and tyoti, aunts, were churning out in their kitchens. Food had always been at the center of family gatherings—from big holiday feasts to summer cookouts and picnics—and it was there, spending time cooking beside those women, that my passion first took hold.
Maybe it was the way a meal brought us together, how it comforted and sustained us as we sat around the table. Or maybe it was the way it allowed my mother, my tyoti, and their husbands, my dyadi, to keep the food traditions and histories of the “old country” alive—grounding them amidst all the changes, failures, and successes. Perhaps it was because food meant much more to my family than I had realized at an early age—it went far beyond mere sustenance. Olivye salat, shashlik, khatchapuri... those dishes became the bridge that linked life in America to the life my parents left behind in Georgia—the “old life” that proved to be, over time, fundamental to my identity and my worldview.
That ember, stoked in those Russian-Georgian kitchens, grew into a life’s passion which has pervaded almost all aspects of my life. The earnest love and respect I carry for my multicultural heritage has always led me to share it with others, and this blog is another way for me to do so. Chesnok is the Russian word for “garlic”—a most beloved ingredient in Georgian kitchens. Aptly, and happily, it’s also the root of my last name, Chesnakova. Chesnok is primarily a tribute to my Russian and Georgian roots, but will also tap into the myriad other cultures that influenced me while growing up. It’s a way for me to take the recipes that I hold nearest and dearest and use their histories and my stories to inspire others and instill in them an appreciation for the cuisine that started it all.
Today I am eager to celebrate this special food heritage of mine, and ask you to join me as I explore and cook my way through recipes that call upon all corners, both old and new, of my world.