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Moscow nights. From caviar to catfish: chef takes a ton of fish to Russia for summit

By Phyllis HanesStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 25, 1988

HUNDREDS of American fish are defecting to Russia. A ton of farm-raised Louisiana cat fish will be flying to Moscow next week specifically for the United States-Soviet meetings.

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But there's a good reason for the defection.

Chef John Folse will introduce Cajun-American food at a restaurant in the Soviet Sovincenter, overlooking the Moscow River, during the 10-day meetings of President Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.

``To me catfish is as all-American as mom and apple pie,'' says chef Folse, owner of Lafitte's Landing restaurant in Donaldsonville, La., about 45 miles west of New Orleans.

``This is the first time regional American cooking has been open to the public in the Soviet Union, and I'm taking plenty of seafood,'' he adds.

For those who may not know the taste of the new kind of farm-raised catfish, it compares well with other whitefish. It has been said to be as sweet as sole, and as firm as salmon.

But catfish isn't all that's making the trip.

``Along with it will be the best of everything Louisiana has to offer,'' Folse says. ``We're shipping 1,500 pounds of Louisiana crayfish, 1,500 pounds of jumbo lump crab meat, 25 gallons of oysters, 500 Louisiana quail, one ton of shrimp - plus lamb, chicken, mushrooms, and many regional specialties.

These include such items as alligator meat, tasso (the highly seasoned smoked ham), and andouille, the popular Cajun pure pork sausage,'' says Folse.

With three other Louisiana chefs, he will be serving dishes like Louisiana seafood gumbo, the dish made with a roux and fil'e, and jambalaya and crayfish 'etouff'ee. His customers will be dignitaries, journalists, and staff members of the American and Soviet government attending the meetings.

The restaurant is on the second floor of the Hotel Mezhdunarodnaya, in the Moscow World Trade Center, home base of the Sovincenter, a national Soviet organization designed to increase and foster international cooperation. It's also the location of the Soviet government's media center, where most of the summit press conferences will be conducted.

The restaurant seats 175, but there will be several seatings at both lunch and dinner. Folse expects to serve 5,000 to 10,000 meals during the 10 days.

Catfish will be featured in three courses. But when it comes to dessert, Michael Roussel, a chef who has been at the famous Brennan's Restaurant in New Orleans for 30 years, will make Bananas Foster, a dish he also served at President Reagan's inauguration when 50 American chefs prepared their specialties for 12,000 guests on the White House lawn.

``Bananas Foster is one of the dishes that made our restaurant famous,'' Mr. Roussel says, ``but we're also famous for breakfast - and although we may not be serving breakfast in Moscow, I'll be willing to cook any foods requested.

``The dessert menu will also include Louisiana Bread Pudding, Praline Cr^epes, and probably a custard dessert,'' he adds.

Brennan's is known for the very best New Orleans French Creole food - which is sophisticated Louisiana city cooking. Cajun food is country cooking - less inhibited and with more spices than Creole, more herbs, more hot pepper, and more gusto.

Other Louisiana chefs on the Moscow team are Kim and Tim Kringlie of Baton Rouge, La., and Bruce Cain of Shreveport.