“Gastronaut” Puts Georgia on World Gastronomy Map

Exclusive interview

Levan Qoqiashvili (Restaurateur/founder of Gastronaut) and Lali Papashvily (Creative Director/founder of Gastronaut) met each other and set off on a mission to introduce Georgia to the world as a county of gastronomy, creating restaurants of various concepts countrywide. We sat them down for an exclusive interview to find out more.

“I have 15 years’ experience as a manager in the hospitality field,” Levan tells us. “Yet, in that time I never saw a specialized consulting agency [here]. The idea to do it ourselves came up when I met Lali. She had been part of this sphere since childhood, as her father had a restaurant in Moscow. Our interests crossed and ‘Gastronaut’ has born. We started out by helping our friends and relatives, giving advice, and grew into a business consulting agency five years ago.”

“I’m an architect by education, but I was extremely interested in the gastronomy and restaurant business,” Lali says. “And my interests and education eventually united! In Tbilisi, I came to the gastronomic field seeing great contrasts between Russia and Georgia in this industry on the local market. When we started forming our business, as the first hospitality consulting agency we had to work hard and energetically. And the result of that is the success and opportunities for growth we have today!”

Tell us what Gastronaut is.

“We are a HoReCa business development agency, consulting in different directions for F&B outlet needs, based in Tbilisi, Georgia,” Levan says. “Our aim is to establish high quality in the Georgian gastronomy and hospitality market and to improve and innovate existing projects.”

“Our company offers 11 different services, so if you have an idea and you want to open a restaurant, you can come to us and we will plan everything from the very beginning,” Lali adds.

Tell us about your involvement with the renowned ‘Barbarestan’ restaurant.

“Back in the days, 5-7 years ago, everything in Tbilisi was approximately the same: the restaurants and hotels concept, interior design, brand identity, f&b menu, style of service,” Lali notes. “Restaurant ‘Barbarestan’ was one of the first innovator restaurants and an important attempt to change the concept of HoReCa, suggesting something special, a unique dining and conceptual experience with a powerful storyline. In Gastronaut, we believe in the ‘power of complexity,’ a term I use when I speak at forums and trainings. In Barbarestan, we see the concept, brand identity, interior and exterior design, the theme on the plate, and set up and service as being in one spirit, and the fact the menu is completely different from what is happening on the local market is one of the most important factors for the restaurant’s success. I’d say that this was a restaurant that inspired a specific change in Tbilisi and has set a kind of precedent. The Barbarestan owners are already experienced residents who stay up-to-date with the latest novelties and are constantly seeking to evolve.”

Is Georgia becoming an innovator in the field of gastronomy?

“Europe is more of an innovator, while America is a researcher,” Levan says. “I would say Spain [is most innovative]. We travel to a lot of different countries and discover all kinds of restaurants. We have been in top restaurants and met the top masterchefs, because in our field it is important to have such experience. You have to know the world’s trends. The history of Georgia is different from that of the Soviet Union - the chefs were only cooks [then] and knew nothing about restaurant management. But a new generation is coming with a new view. We lost 120 years, though, hence the importance of our consultancy agency.”

Tell us about the Gastronaut team.

“The Gastronaut Agency already has 27 people on its team and has implemented about 15 projects. Lali is the creative director of our agency. I'm a restaurateur,” he tells us. “The most recent project we did is Puri Guliani, a bakery and kitchen.”

What is the most important thing to know in the gastronomy business?

“The specifics of gastronomic knowledge are very important in our field,” Levan says. “Today, the world is developing very rapidly. You need to have knowledge in this area to find your place and to be able to develop your business and implement the worldwide restaurant and gastronomy trends gently on the local market, taking into consideration lots of different factors, like the Georgian psychology, way of thinking, and spending capacity.”

Tell us about one of your most satisfying projects.

“We are never satisfied with the projects we’ve done,” Lali says with a laugh. “We are constantly developing, and we believe that there will always be even more interesting projects ahead.”

What is Gastronaut’s main goal?

“One of our main goals, which we have done globally, is to develop Georgian gastronomy to an international level and to pin our food and wine culture on the world gastronomy map,” Levan says. “For this purpose we entered a project with the Ministry of Agriculture, which financed us with 147,000 Euros so we could go to the Bocuse d'Or Young Chefs Championship and SIRHA exhibition in Lyon, France- the biggest of its kind in the world. There were 30 of us in the Georgian delegation. Neither Georgia nor the Caucasus region had a [renowned] place in our field and therefore it was a very important challenge for the company and an incredible opportunity to see and be seen, just in the right place and among the right people. Now, we are running the national championship of Bocuse d’Or in Georgia. This will be the first Georgian gastronomic festival to be held in the framework of the ‘Bocuse d'Or’ championship.”

By Mariam Gabedava

08 July 2019 17:59