What's Cooking in the Kremlin: From Rasputin to Putin, How Russia Built an Empire with a Knife and Fork (Paperback)

What's Cooking in the Kremlin: From Rasputin to Putin, How Russia Built an Empire with a Knife and Fork By Witold Szablowski, Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Translated by) Cover Image

What's Cooking in the Kremlin: From Rasputin to Putin, How Russia Built an Empire with a Knife and Fork (Paperback)


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A New York Times Editors’ Choice

“Entertaining . . . A heady mix of propaganda and paranoia . . . [Szabłowski writes] sensitively . . . not just about food but also its terrible absence.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Riveting—a delicious odyssey full of history, humor, and jaw-dropping stories. If you want to understand the making of modern Russia, read this book.” —Daniel Stone, bestselling author of The Food Explorer

A high-spirited, eye-opening, appetite-whetting culinary travel adventure that tells the story of the last hundred years of Russian power through food, by an award-winning Polish journalist who’s been praised by both Timothy Snyder and Bill Buford

In the gonzo spirit of Anthony Bourdain and Hunter S. Thompson, Witold Szabłowski has tracked down—and broken bread with—people whose stories of working in Kremlin kitchens impart a surprising flavor to our understanding of one of the world’s superpowers.

In revealing what Tsar Nicholas II’s and Lenin’s favorite meals were, why Stalin’s cook taught Gorbachev’s cook to sing to his dough, how Stalin had a food tester while he was starving the Ukrainians during the Great Famine, what the recipe was for the first soup flown into outer space, why Brezhnev hated caviar, what was served to the Soviet Union’s leaders at the very moment they decided the USSR should cease to exist, and whether Putin’s grandfather really did cook for Lenin and Stalin, Szabłowski has written a fascinating oral history—complete with recipes and photos—of Russia’s evolution from culinary indifference to decadence, famine to feasts, and of the Kremlin’s Olympics-style preoccupation with food as an expression of the country’s global standing.

Traveling across Stalin’s Georgia, the war fronts of Afghanistan, the nuclear wastelands of Chornobyl, and even to a besieged steelworks plant in Mariupol—often with one-of-a-kind access to locales forbidden to foreign eyes, and with a rousing sense of adventure and an inimitable ability to get people to spill the tea—he shows that a century after the revolution, Russia still uses food as an instrument of war and feeds its people on propaganda.
Witold Szabłowski is an award-winning Polish journalist and the author of How to Feed a Dictator (“an outright pleasure to read” —Bill Buford) and the New York Times Editors’ Choice Dancing Bears (“mix[es] bold journalism with bolder allegories” —Timothy Snyder). When he was twenty-four he had a stint as a chef in Copenhagen, and at age twenty-five he became the youngest reporter at one of Poland’s largest daily newspapers, where he won awards for his features on the issue of immigrants flocking to the EU and the 1943 massacre of Poles in Ukraine. He lives in Warsaw.

Product Details ISBN: 9780143137184
ISBN-10: 0143137182
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: November 7th, 2023
Pages: 384
Language: English
Finalist for the André Simon Food Book Award

“Chatty and illuminating.” —The New York Times

“Fascinating . . . Poignant . . . Reveals the flip side of repression and violence. In the end What’s Cooking in the Kremlin is about care; about how cooks looked after others with food, conversation, favors, and beauty, wherever they could scavenge it.” —The Times Literary Supplement

“Extraordinary tales . . . [A] feast of a book . . . The great strength of What’s Cooking in the Kremlin is the way that Szabłowski has managed to track down people, many now very old, who have vivid food memories from another time . . . [and] allows them to serve their testimony in full. The result is a work of oral history of the kind made so popular by the Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich.” —Daily Mail

“Moving . . . The level of detail is truly remarkable. . . . There is plenty of humor in these pages, but the tone is never jarring. . . . These historic testimonies are particularly poignant as Russia continues to strike villages that endured the Great Famine. . . . Does not disappoint.” —The Moscow Times

“The vignettes in this book reveal a different side to political figures and thereby dent the image they foster. It is hard, for instance, to see Mr. Putin in the same way after hearing of his childlike obsession with ice-cream.” —The Economist

“Fascinating tales of hunger and brutality . . . A Studs Terkel history of food, life, death, and dictatorship that’s admirable for its honesty, tenderness, and immutable sorrow . . . The oral histories ripple with tension. . . . Delightful.” —Food & Environment Reporting Network

“A fascinating and wide-ranging history, with recipes.” —Arlington Magazine

“Superb on every page . . . Magnificent.” —Strong Words

“An original work of social history . . . Entertaining . . . Poignant, timely . . . A bitter history lesson taught with humor and grace . . . Detailed, chilling, and priceless.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A culinary travelogue infused with dark and savory legends from Russia’s kitchens, dachas, cafeterias, and canteens . . . enriched with recipes gathered during [Szabłowski’s] travels throughout Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and several ex-Soviet republics. Readers will be satiated by this easily digestible gastronomic history.” —Publishers Weekly

“A riveting account of a uniquely sumptuous cuisine prepared in often grotesque and dangerous settings. Poignant, comical, and, in the best sense, disturbing.” —Paul Freedman, author of Ten Restaurants That Changed America

“This wickedly delicious tale uncovers the secret gustatory history of the Kremlin and will leave you begging for seconds.” —Douglas Smith, author of Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As a chef and the daughter of Soviet Jewish refugees, I have experienced a lifelong fascination with, mingled with repulsion toward, the food on my ancestral table. What’s Cooking in the Kremlin gracefully captures this perpetual tension—it is what inevitably arises when an extraordinary cuisine becomes a weapon deployed against the very people who’ve made it.” —Bonnie Frumkin Morales, author of Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking

“A captivating, heartrending, and fascinating book that is more important now than ever with the Ukraine conflict. The chapter about the famine in Ukraine was especially touching for me, as my grandparents and great-grandparents lived through it. You won’t be able to put it down!” —Tatyana Nesteruk, author of Beyond Borscht and founder of Tatyana’s Everyday Food

“By turns poignant and playful, What’s Cooking in the Kremlin offers an invaluable history of Russia viewed from the kitchen and told through engaging stories and oral histories given by cooks who survived the vagaries of the Kremlin’s whims and who toiled through the great afflictions of collectivization, the Siege of Leningrad, the Chernobyl disaster, and more.” —Darra Goldstein, author of A Taste of Russia, The Georgian Feast, and Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

“This book will make your mouth water. Witold Szabłowski’s delicious dive into Russian imperial history comes complete with recipes for Stalin’s favorite Georgian Walnut Jam, the Blockade Bread that people ate during the World War II Siege of Leningrad, and the Turkey in Quince and Orange Juice served to Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in Yalta in 1945. A fascinating and insightful culinary extravaganza that explores how the way to the famed Russian soul has always been through the collective stomach.” —Kristen R. Ghodsee, author of Everyday Utopia, Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism, and Red Hangover

“A spicy and original romp through Russian history through the tales and recipes of the cooks who served rulers from Nicholas II to Vladimir Putin.” —Robert Service, author of A History of Modern Russia and biographies of Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, and Nicholas II