Darya Tarasova spoke with Roads & Kingdoms co-founder Nathan Thornburgh in St. Petersburg about showing Anthony Bourdain around Russia, their conversations with Russian oligarchs, and extreme temperatures. This interview took place before Bourdain’s death.

Nathan Thornburgh: How did you become involved in the Russia episode?

Darya Tarasova: I got a call from Anthony Bourdain’s friend Zamir Gotta—a mutual friend had recommended he get in touch to ask me about St. Petersburg’s food scene. I run a local food festival and had read Kitchen Confidential years before, so I was very excited to work on this episode.

Thornburgh: You had a chance to show Americans—and Tony—St. Petersburg’s food scene. What did you want them to see?

Tarasova: I wanted them to experience modern Russian cuisine and see the personalities behind the places they visited. Chefs here are making delicious, simple, and sophisticated contemporary food.

When I recommended Cococo, I wanted them to see how the chef, Igor Grishechkin, uses produce and forgotten ingredients, like barley and acorns, in really interesting ways. I used to work with him at LavkaLavka, also in St. Petersburg, and I got to see how he works up close. He reconsiders the traditional Russian dishes and turns them into something new but doesn’t overthink it.

Cococo’s owner, Matilda [Shnurova], is also very talented, and she came up with the idea of opening a farm-to-table restaurant here. She’s the wife of the famous St. Petersburg musician Sergey Shnurov. His band, Leningrad, is known for Sergey cursing in his lyrics all the time. He was forbidden from performing in Moscow once because his lyrics had so many curse words.

We went to Sergey’s studio, which was very fun to film. He loves what his wife does with the restaurant’s concept, but he said, “Oh, I like simple food: fried potatoes with some pickled forest mushrooms.” I’m kind of with him on that.

Gotta and Bourdain on set in St. Petersburg.
Gotta and Bourdain on set in St. Petersburg.

Thornburgh: Tony showed up in the dead of winter, right?

Tarasova: Yes, they arrived during a horrible winter. It was almost unbearable.

But one day we decided to take a day trip in St. Petersburg to Pavlovsk Park, which is beautiful and very old, and took a ride on a troika, or horse-drawn sled.

Thornburgh: That scene is basically Zamir making Tony go on a pony ride and Tony’s sort of bitching about it the whole time. It seemed like it was physically uncomfortable to be out there because it was so cold.

Tarasova: Yeah, it was. You wouldn’t be able to last long without gloves or without wearing a hat. Before the trip, we bought some Russian ushanka hats. Anthony got himself one, and the guys from the crew got some as well.

Thornburgh: And the crew were using hand warmers to keep their equipment alive?

Tarasova: Yeah. A fully charged iPhone would die in five minutes in that cold.

Thornburgh: What did you guys do in Moscow?

Tarasova: In Moscow we were after oligarchs. Zamir set up a meeting with Alexander Lebedev, the owner of several newspapers and an opponent of the government. He invited us for dinner at his house. Lebedev was into healthy food. He grows his own potatoes to ensure they don’t have any chemicals or pesticides.

Anthony wanted to try traditional food, so we went to Yornik restaurant, where British chef Daniel Phippard was cooking traditional Russian dishes. That’s where Tony met Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

The crew prepares to film in St. Petersburg.
The crew prepares to film in St. Petersburg.

Thornburgh: Tell me about that dinner.

Tarasova: Nemtsov arrived almost an hour early. Tony wasn’t there yet, so I spent an unforgettable 40 minutes with Boris Nemtsov. He had a great, great personality.  

Thornburgh: Soon after filming Nemtsov was assassinated, a stone’s throw from the Kremlin. It was something that weighed heavily on Tony’s mind. Nemtsov wasn’t the first opposition member or journalist to be assassinated in Russia. Were you surprised?

Tarasova: The way Nemtsov was killed, walking in the center of Moscow and shot dead—it was shocking.

Thornburgh: Is there a connection between his appearance on Parts Unknown and his murder?

Tarasova: I don’t think so. Boris Nemtsov spoke a lot with foreign media. He always openly spoke about corruption and Putin’s crimes.

Thornburgh: And he had been speaking out in Russian media, obviously. He ran for mayor of Sochi. He was always fighting the Kremlin on some level.

Tony was not a journalist, but he sometimes crossed over into journalism when he met with these political figures. Then he had the same burden all of us have, I think, when you tell the story of people who are in the line of fire. Sometimes bad things happen afterwards. That was a very hard blow for Tony. Obviously, there are a lot of people who were affected more.

Tell me about how the show wrapped up.

Tarasova: There was a funny moment in Moscow. Tony and Zamir had a kind of skiing competition, because we were filming the episode ahead of the Olympic Games in Sochi. They decided to have fun with the Olympic theme. Anthony was wearing a big jacket that had “USA” on it, and Zamir had his own jacket that said Russia. So we had Russia versus the USA. Zamir kept shouting, “I will break you!”

Thornburgh: Like Ivan Drago.

Tarasova: He was there to win.

Thornburgh: I should say—Zamir does not look like a huge athlete.

Tarasova: Zamir knows how to ski, but he wasn’t very proficient when he was trying to go down this hill. And Tony wasn’t in great shape either, but he won the race. Zamir just fell down in the middle of the hill and then rolled to Tony’s feet.

This interview has been edited and condensed.