Russians like the real Italian classics – pizza and pasta
Massimiliano Montiroli started his career in the kitchens of Italy and France. He first ended up in Moscow in 1998, when he came at the invitation of Portofino – one of the few restaurants that started the development of Italian cuisine in Russia in the 90s. In 2000, he came back to his native Rome, where he managed his own restaurant for nine years before he decided to return to Moscow.
Since then, he’s been the chef at famous and trendy restaurants such as Osteria Montiroli, Tutto Bene, and Gilda. Now he’s the chef at the new restaurant RUSALKA Bistro, where he is in charge of managing the kitchen and the Italian part of the menu.
RUSALKA Bistro is a modern restaurant by the famous restaurateurs Timur Lansky and Alexander Oganezov (partners and co-creators of Chaykhona No. 1, Remy Kitchen Bakery, and Cutfish). It’s located inside the Pavlovo Podvorye Shopping and Entertainment Center at Novorizhskoye Shosse 15 k, around a district which has recently become the new favorite residential area for famous people and expats.
The bistro not only offers fresh fish and seafood, but also Italian pasta, pizza cooked in a Russian wood stove, along with Fiorentina steak and burgers prepared on the grill.
All seafood in the “Catch of the Day” part of the menu can be prepared for guests on the spot. You can also take it with you to go at the ULOVE fish stand, which is resupplied with different types of fresh fish every morning. The restaurant has a separate aquarium with live oysters, sea urchins, clams and crabs.
The professionalism and friendliness of the Italian chef create a wonderful atmosphere in the restaurant. Massimiliano is living proof that a real Italian chef does more than prepare delicious pizza and pasta – he is also constantly interacting with the guests. He’s always open to talking to them and can often be seen chatting outside the kitchen.
Massimiliano, which dishes from the new RUSALKA menu would you recommend we try first and why?
I recommend trying everything. I always put a bit of my soul into creating and preparing every dish on the menu, but I always ask the guests to try the pizza before they leave!
In your opinion, what do Russians like the most and end up ordering more often at the restaurant?
Pizza and pasta – the Italian classics. Guests also like dishes with an unusual presentation.
Could you tell us a bit about your first gastronomic experience?
When my father brought me to his kitchen to show me how everything was set up. I’m a fourth-generation chef. It was a very emotional day for me. I was young and curious.
When did you realize that this was your calling in life?
As soon as I made my first dish in my father’s kitchen.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
The gratitude and happy faces of people who eat my food. Evoking positive emotions in my guests is my greatest accomplishment.
How did you end up in Moscow? Who invited you?
The restaurant Portofino invited me. This was the beginning of my career in Moscow, and also a turning point in my life.
How did you adapt to life in Moscow? The majority of people here speak one language. How do you manage people when your employees talk to each other and you don’t understand anything?
The products and their proportions can be communicated in any language, and discipline in the kitchen is a matter of course. I’ve never had trouble communicating with colleagues and employees. I had a translator at first, but after a few months in Moscow I started managing just fine myself.
Is subordination important to you at work, or is this an outdated concept?
Of course, discipline in the kitchen and the quality of the dishes are important to me.
Do you prefer Italian cuisine in Moscow, or have you developed other preferences?
All cuisines are good. I like Russian cuisine, but I stiff prefer Italian food. It’s a part of me. Fresh Italian bread, spices, the right dough for pizza – all of these things are very close to my heart.
What do you think is unique about the restaurant business in Russia?
There is a broad culinary scope, in my opinion. The same restaurant can feature several different cuisines: Italian, Chinese, Georgian, and Russian.
How did life in Russia change you?
I’ve become a lot more patient. Plus, I met my wife here. Of course, living in Russia changes you. Italy is one country, and Russia is a different one. But I really like Russia. I don’t feel Italian anymore. My family is in Russia, my friends are from Russia, I have been working here for a long time. My kids go to a Russian school. When I come back to Italy, I feel like a guest.
Which Russian dish do you like the most?
Borscht and okroshka.
Do you have a lot of Russian friends?
Enough. I have been living in Russia for a long time, so of course I have Russian friends. My closest friends are Russian. In 20 years of living in Moscow, I’ve made three really good friends.
Do you keep in touch with the Italian diaspora in Moscow?
I have Italian friends, but they don’t have to be part of the diaspora.
What advice would you give expats who are getting ready to come live in Russia?
Listen to the Russian worldview.
In you opinion, what kinds of restaurants will be successful in the future?
Those that pay attention to quality. A restaurant should think everything through, down to the details: presentation of dishes, their unique qualities, how staff treats the clients. Everything should be top quality.
Do you have some gastronomic idea of your own that you’re fixated on?
I do in theory, and I’m working toward it. It will be something new and delicious. I don’t want to disclose all of my secrets. Let’s keep things intriguing.
Do you have any time for feelings in life, or is it all work?
Of course I do! This is my inspiration. I am happily married to a beautiful Russian woman. I don’t like to share details about my personal life. But she’s wonderful, and that says it all.
What do you do in your spare time?
I read books, watch movies, try to broaden my horizons and improve. Plus, I spend a lot of time with my family. Cooking together is one of the most fun things to do in my spare time.
Do you have a favorite place right now?
The place where I’m always needed. At home, next to my family.
What do you know about Moscow now that you didn’t suspect before you came here?
That the people here are very welcoming. I came to Moscow for the first time in 1998. It was a different time back then. In 20 years, Moscow has become home to me. I love this city, and I love the people who live here.
Are there any similarities between Russians and Italians?
Definitely in our temperament and our humanity.
Have you seen the movie “The Adventures of Italians in Russia”?
I’ve seen it and was very impressed with Eldar Ryazanov’s film. I love Russian classics. It’s hard to pick a favorite scene from the movie. But I live the whole movie and all the characters in it.
Can you tell us an interesting story about your life in Russia?
There are a lot of interesting, funny, and good stories. It’s hard to pick one. Maybe they deserve a separate book about my life in Russia. Stories happen to me every day. I’ll tell you a story that happened soon after I came to Russia. I had been living in Moscow for four years, and my passport was about to expire. I went to the Italian embassy in Moscow, where they made me new documents and annulled my old ones. The problem was that my Russian visa was in my old passport, so it was annulled as well. Maybe I didn’t fill something out correctly or they mixed something up at the embassy. In any case, the result was that I was in Moscow without a visa. So I not only had no right to be in Russia, I also couldn’t come back to Italy. It’s a good thing I had wonderful friends who helped me out. They put me on a plane and sent me to Italy, where I could recover my visa. I was really nervous about this predicament back then, so a big thanks to my friends who supported me.
What are your future plans?
To be better. I am confident that there is always room for growth. I want to spend more time with my family, to implement my culinary ideas, and relax by the sea. Like simple people.
If you ended up on a deserted island, which three products would you bring with you?
Olive oil, flour and fresh water. Of course, I would love to take a good wine.
If you were putting together a menu to get someone in a better mood, what would you serve?
Only the most delicious food. The first course would be a light and tender pumpkin soup with almonds, the second would be mussels in white wine or cream, and dessert would be mango-passion fruit mousse. It’s a real gastronomic delight that will put you in a better mood from the first bite. Delicious food and good wine can very quickly put a person in a better mood.