Chef Martins Ritins brings top cuisine to small Latvia

Tue Dec 9, 2008 9:01am EST
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RIGA (Reuters Life!) - When Martins Ritins started a haute cuisine restaurant in post-Soviet Latvia a Caesar salad would get sent back because it had too little mayonnaise.

Eighteen years later, Ritins and his restaurant, Vincents, is one of the culinary bright spots of eastern Europe and he has entertained many visiting luminaries, from Britain's Queen Elizabeth and the Emperor of Japan to Elton John and BB King.

Ritins was born in a refugee camp in England after his parents fled Latvia ahead of the advancing Soviet Army in World War Two. He spent his youth in the industrial town of Corby, before moving to London to become a chef. He then spent many years in Toronto, where his fondness for organic food grew.

Back in Latvia after the small Baltic state regained its independence in 1991, he began catering and then opened Vincents in 1994.

One of his key goals now is to spread the philosophy of slow food, in contrast to fast food, as well as be involved in education programs for young people about food and cuisine. His restaurant is a highlight for many people's visit to Riga and he says his clients are about 70 percent tourists.

Q: Who is your biggest influence?

A: My guru is Alice Waters. Even before slow food, I always wanted to use the best, I wanted to use what was local and what was in the area. It is from the earth, your fingernails get dirty, digging for this, to give the best that you can.

Q: How would you describe your cuisine?

A: The roots here are still French because that is what I was brought up on. There is no fusion, it is really true down-to-earth French cuisine.   Continued...