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Top Chef: Serafima Berenstein

Twice a month, we shine a spotlight on our favourite chefs in Berlin. This week: Serafima Berenstein of Mitte's Gorki Park café, Datscha in Friedrichshain and the newly opened Datscha Kreuzberg.

Image for Top Chef: Serafima Berenstein
Photo by Marie Yako

Since 2010, Friedrichshain’s Datscha has been a fixture for Berlin’s Slavophile foodies. Now, with the opening of a second branch in Graefekiez in January, Kreuzbergers can get their dumpling, borscht and blini fix, too. Head chef Serafima Berenstein has been working as a cook all her life. After studying restaurant management in Moscow, she moved to Germany in 1991. Four years later she co-founded her first Berlin restaurant, the famed Gorki Park café in Mitte, together with her brother Ilja Kaplan.

What kind of food do you cook?

I cook Russian food with a European touch. We don’t offer typical regional or rural cuisine. Instead, we’ve adapted Russian cuisine to the German market. Our dishes aren’t necessarily “authentic”, but always influenced by what people are used to eating here. For example, we serve dumplings with a salmon filling topped with parmesan cheese, which you probably wouldn’t find in Russia.

What is your most popular item?

Our blini (Russian crepes) are very popular, we serve them with spinach, aubergine ragout and even ‘kaviar’ (salmon eggs). For breakfast, customers like sirniki (curd pancakes) as well as dumplings with various fillings, such as beef and sour cream or lamb marinated with coriander.

What food trend do you hate the most?

Well, I’m really not into places that fry cockroaches, ants, stuff like that. There’s a place in Mitte that actually does that! Also other things that are just too exotic for me, like kangaroo or some types of seafood. But of course I can understand people liking it, because some things out of Russian cuisine might seem a little exotic to others, like buckwheat or beetroot for example.

A cooking tip?

Cooking is as much a visual art as it is pure taste. For me, of course it’s important to pay attention to how the plate will actually look when it’s being served. When I cook, I also think of it as a kind of impressionistic painting. Preparing food and  producing art use a similar creative process.

A dining tip (other than your own restaurant)?

I’m really into Asian and I love going to Tuan Phong (Helmoholtzstr. 26, Tiergaten). They serve delicious Vietnamese food and use exceptionally good ingredients while being decently priced (lunch goes for €5). I especially recommend their summer rolls.

The best thing about being a chef in a restaurant in Berlin?

The best thing is the freedom to cook what you want. To choose from so many different culinary traditions and create something new entirely. I also love finding out about and using new ingredients.

…and the worst?

Definitely the problems you are bound to have at some point with your neighbours due to the smell.

Datscha Xberg, Graefestr. 83, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Schönleinstr.