Bodyguards and bouncers are new elements in the social lives of wealthy Russians now that rivalries among businessmen have become so murderous. Also new are foreign caterers, who are entering the world of the moneyed elite armed with the best ingredients rubles can buy. A decade ago only a handful of Russian hotels offered catering services; today there are about a dozen foreign-owned catering companies and innumerable homegrown ones. They are not inexpensive. A catered sit-down dinner can cost up to $200 a head for food alone--more than what half the Russian population earns in a month.
Once installed behind the stove, these caterers see it as their job to cultivate as well as satiate the Russian palate. But bringing Western food east isn't always an easy task, since Russians know what they like and are not inclined to deviate from tradition. Tradition, for instance, requires covering the table with massive quantities of food. "It is not cultured, of course, but Russians love to put everything they can on the table," says Vill'iam Pokhlebkin, a Russian culinary historian. "It should be laden, piled, overcrowded, with caviar, at least seven cold fish dishes, meats in aspic and mushrooms, tomatoes and cucumbers. Everything must be salty, every ingredient should be served individually and the only possible drink is vodka."
Foreign caterers, the majority of whom are French or Swiss, admit to having to double portion sizes for Russian clients. "But then, no matter how much you serve, everything always gets eaten," Desseaux says.