Renowned Italian Chef Presents Chocolate Khinkali


Enzo Neri, famous Italian chef and the creator of the now-popular Chocolate Khinkali is in Georgia exploring its cuisine, culture and landscapes. The charismatic chef settled in Tbilisi last May in order to bring his dream to fruition and run his own authentic Italian restaurant in Georgia. The culinary expert has the ambition to produce a sweet version of Georgian dumplings and sell his Chocolate Khinkali on the Georgian market.

“I see Georgia as a country that is growing towards Europe. It’s a kind of fertile field to build a business in. I could start up something great,” Neri told GEORGIA TODAY.

As the popular chef promises, he will bring new flavors to the city and present food in a new and creative way. And he will definitely include his signature avant-garde Chocolate Khinkali on the menu.

“A few months ago, when I was living and working in New York City, I came up with a variation of Khinkali (Georgian dumpling) and created a dessert option. Khinkali are dumplings like Italian ravioli that can be offered with so many different fillings and sauces. I want to include my Chocolate Khinkali in my menu and develop it using beautiful products from Georgia. Every single ingredient here is organic and naturally biological; from great village chickens, lamb and vegetables rich in flavor. The tomatoes grown here remind me of the ones we have in Italy. When I was living in the USA, even if I was buying tomatoes from South America or Florida, they were never as good as the Georgian ones,” the famous chef explained.

During his previous visit to Georgia, Enzo delivered a speech before students at the Culinary Academy, part of the Free University, in Tbilisi. Afterwards, he said, “It was a great opportunity to talk to the next generation of chefs, to share my experience and passion with them. I found the students were quite inspired by what I said, people were very attentive and responsive and asked many questions. The management approached me later about collaboration with the Academy, an opportunity for me to share my knowledge of Italian cuisine”.

When speaking with Enzo, you envision culinary art in a new way; you feel that it is more than simply cooking; it is a sort of art that gathers people around one table and brings them pleasure. Most importantly, you understand how significant is to have a beloved profession.

“Eating in a restaurant is not just about sitting at a table and enjoying what the hosts have prepared, but it is also a time of sharing, an exchange of palates and words, a promise of intimacy. It is not just a biological necessity but a true 'metaphor of existence,' where you can look at food as an entity in constant motion, which is formed and transformed,” Neri said. “I am a guy who decided to change his career at the age of 29 and start from scratch. I was an IT specialist in bio-medical engineering services, and I used to work in hospitals. I completely changed my path, founding my life’s passion in the culinary art- and as my motto goes: “cooking has never been my ambition, just the way I express myself”.

What inspires you?

“I get inspiration from many things: from culture, music, history, art or simply from everyday life and people itself. Making a dish is like doing a painting: you play with colors, form shapes with flavors and smells. When I experimented with Khinklai, I decided that it would be dark as chocolate, with the original shape but sweet, with an Italian flair. I got back to the tradition, I studied and understood the dish; I wanted to evolve it in a different way and that was it I’m still working on it and trying to push it into the market. I would love to start production and sell them in local supermarkets”.

How did the Georgian public react when you came up with Chocolate khinkali?

“Some were shocked to see their own food transformed by an Italian chef, but I also remember some Georgian girls coming to my restaurant in Manhattan specifically to sample my Chocolate Khinkali after reading an article online. I think it’s great to love the traditional food, but it’s also great to look at the tradition without nostalgia and to reinvent it and add a contemporary twist”.

Neri visited Georgia for the first time in summer 2015 and organized an Italian evening for Georgian guests and food enthusiasts in the country’s eastern Kakheti region. The chef prepared unique Italian dishes with Georgian products at Chateau Mere in Kakheti, which “reminded him of his home in Umbria”. During his visit, Neri visited the local market, sampled Georgian produce, and explored Georgian cuisine.

“My favorite Georgian dish is Khinkali: I simply love it! For me, it’s like a hangover cure: fun and a joy to eat. Drinking the juice inside is probably the best part of the whole process. I also enjoy Georgian salads with local tomato, cucumber, spring onions, spicy peppers and walnuts. I’m also a big fan of bean pie (Lobiani) and Khachapuri (cheese filled bread) and I like the variety of cheeses and soups like Kharcho or stews like Chakapuli and chicken Satsivi, too. I’m here to embrace the culture, and food is a predominant part of it. I’m an Italian guy who came to Georgia because I embrace the culture and because I want to be part of the development. Apart from the capital, I have been to Kakheti few times, I love the outskirts, but I definitely want to explore more of Georgia, go to the mountains and to the beach in Batumi. I want to see all the regions of the country,” Neri said.

Lika Chigladze

07 December 2017 19:23