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Anya Von Bremzen Speaks from the Podium and from the Kitchen

Anya Von BremzenOn Oct. 1 Davidson welcomed award-winning food writer Anya von Bremzen, to discuss Soviet history, cuisine and her latest "foodoir" (part cookbook, part memoir).

The History and Russian Studies Departments, the Dean Rusk International Studies Program, the Public Lectures Committee and Vail Commons sponsored von Bremzen's visit, during which she also served as a guest chef for Vail Commons.

Von Bremzen is the recipient of three James Beard awards, the author of five cookbooks, and a contributor to Food & Wine, Saveur and Travel + Leisure magazines. She also has written for The New Yorker, Departures and the Los Angeles Times. Her latest book, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing, tells the story of post-revolutionary Russia through the lens of her family's meals.

"I fell in love with her book," said Chair of Russian Studies Amanda Ewington, as it speaks to her academic interests as well as her personal ones. She said she assigns parts of the book to students in her freshman writing class, "Russia and the West," because von Bremzen's story shows her family's perceptions of Western goods during the Soviet era, and their experience of assimilation into Western culture through immigration.

In addition to her lecture and academic contributions while on campus, von Bremzen's visit also was in keeping with Mombert's goals for his kitchen. For the last four years, Mombert has invited guest chefs to plan and host special meals.

"Bringing in guest chefs gives the [Vail Commons] staff a chance to work with other colleagues and mentors in the industry," he said, and it exposes guests to a wide range of different cuisines.

"Americans tend to have a lingering notion of what Soviet food is, a sort of lingering Cold War assumption about it," Ewington said. By featuring some of von Bremzen's recipes, Ewington and Mombert hoped to show guests the true, dynamic – and delicious – character of Soviet cuisine.

Guests enjoyed some authentic dishes from von Bremzen's family history, including juja kabab (marinated chicken skewers), blinis (thin crepes with choice of toppings), kupati (Georgian pork sausage) and a dish she calls "dad's uber-borshch" (a variation on the classic beet soup, created by von Bremzen's father), among many other items.

Von Bremzen's visit is not the first joint effort between the Russian Studies program and Vail Commons. For the last three years, they have teamed up to celebrate the Russian spring festival of Maslenitsa (a religious and folk holiday celebrated before Lent, similar to Mardi Gras), for which Mombert used recipes from Von Bremzen's cookbook, Please to the Table.