John Tesar Says This Stunning Former Soviet Country Is the New Caviar Capital of the World
"If you are interested in how caviar is truly made and where it came from, this is the place to go."
Bordered by the Caspian Sea and Caucasus Mountains, Azerbaijan is one of the most historic, naturally stunning locations in Eurasia. Not to be confused with the Iranian region of the same name, the country (and former Soviet republic) is gradually becoming a global tourist destination, and its rich caviar culture is partly to thank. John Tesar, a two-time Top Chef competitor and founder of Knife and Knife Burger in Dallas, is hosting a ten-day trip through the country to explore one of the most underrated caviar capitals in the world.
"It was formerly a Soviet Republic, and Americans didn’t pay much attention to the Soviet Union even though they loved Russian caviar," Tesar tells Food & Wine. "But, that’s where it came from. Really good caviar only comes from two places on the Caspian Sea: Iran and Russia. There’s no longer the Soviet Union, so Azerbaijan is the new place for great caviar."
To showcase the culinary richness of the country, Tesar's luxury trip will start in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, and hit Lahjih, Shaki, Guba and more surrounding cities.
"Azerbaijan has so much history; it’s close to Turkey, the Middle East and Asia, so it’s a melting pot of different cultures," Tesar says. "There’s also a lot to explore; you are right on the Caspian Sea, and there’s museums, and so much history. It’s a beautiful city and if you are interested in how caviar is truly made and where it came from this is the place to go."
Stops on the trip include Baku’s Caspian Fish and Caviar Co., known for having delivered Czar Nicholai 11 eleven tons of caviar as an annual “caviar tax” for over twenty years. Tesar will also explore the various caviar vendors that occupy the country’s fish markets, where Azerbaijani, Persian and Russian caviar can be purchased (or bargained.)
Not everyone is welcome in this caviar paradise, though. You won't see Anthony Bourdain exploring the country any time soon, as he was banned in 2017. According to the Washington Post, his offense was entering one of the country's hotly contested territories, Nagorno-Karabakh. (The region tried to succeed from Azerbaijan in 1988 to join Armenia.) Azerbaijan rejected the attempt, and the region has been embroiled in conflict ever since. As reported in the Post, visiting the contested area without government permission is considered a crime.