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New Europe

Day Eighty-seven: Aluksne to Riga

The Blackheads House 
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The Blackheads House, Riga. Named after an association of unmarried merchants whose patron saint, Maurice, was black. One of the finest in a city of glorious buildings.
Michael Palin - New EuropeAmericans have discovered it too, and not just any old Americans. George W. Bush and friends were here recently for a conference and to celebrate our arrival in another new country we eat tonight at the restaurant of the man chosen to cook for the President.

Martin Ritins, a Latvian who's lived in Canada and Corby, Northants, before coming back to his roots, is a celebrity in Latvia. His restaurant is called Vincent's, after van Gogh.

'Any particular reason?'

'Not really,' he says cheerfully.

The foyer of his basement restaurant is lined with photos of an eclectic clientele. Prince Charles and Joe Cocker (not together), Mikhail Baryshnikov and Terry Wogan. Waiters move smoothly by, dressed head to foot in black. Martin, who is engaging and enthusiastic, takes me into his state-of-the-art kitchen to help him re-create the 'Sauce Americaine' he produced for George Bush. A combination of fresh Latvian ingredients, carrots, onions, tomatoes, garlic, together with bay leaf and cognac. It's served with crayfish, summarily executed in boiling ale.

Seeing me wince, Martin shakes his head. 'It's sudden and instant,' he reassures me, without consulting the crayfish. No sooner have they been topped than they're brought out, onto ice, and their heads removed. I'm aware of how slow I am at this job, like someone working on an illuminated manuscript whilst everyone around me is using e-mail.

I must say, it sounds like a nightmare cooking for a President. Apparently Bush's personal chefs had spent three days with Ritins, checking the kitchen, the menu and the food sources. In the end George W., who doesn't drink, ate crayfish with brandy in the sauce, beef with red wine in the sauce, washed it down with Coca-Cola and reserved his most appreciative comments for the ice-cream.

'Wow!' he'd said and asked for more, but the secret service wouldn't let him.

'He's too busy,' they explained to Martin.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Eighty-seven: Aluksne to Riga
  • Country/sea: Latvia
  • Place: Riga
  • Book page no: 209

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  • Day 5 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 3 
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