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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Pioneer in Gastronomy

Lisa Dobbs stands in front of a large, iron stove and stirs a kettle full of sliced apples. Cooks dressed in white aprons flip crepes, roll dough and place raw chicken slices on satay sticks all around her.


"It's really hard here", she says of restaurant-going in Moscow as she adjusts the burner. "If you want to go to lunch, you have to spend a fortune for mediocre food. Or you can pay rubles for mediocre food".


This is the inspiration behind the catering company Dobbs opened in Moscow in January, 1991. Lunches were about the only thing Dobbs could prepare at the time; even though she had a great repertoire of recipes -- Dobbs is an alumna of La Varenne, a prestigious cooking school in Paris -- she had no room to cook. Her small kitchen was difficult to work in, so she had to keep orders limited. and with a husband and kids, things could get chaotic.


"I was driving my family crazy, but I had to work", Dobbs says. "I felt guilty for not being the career woman. But none of this was planned".


Dobbs, 38, moved to Moscow five years ago with her husband Michael, a foreign correspondent for the Washington Post. She is from Jacksonville, Florida, and sometimes you can hear a faint southern pitch in her voice. She fell in love with cooking early: As a little girl, Dobb's favorite toy was a mini-stove and baking set.


Now her career as a caterer has taken off. Since September, when she moved the business into a big kitchen in a red brick building near Taganka Square, she has gone from fixing lunches to preparing big diplomatic spreads and corporate cocktail parties.


The sliced apples, which she plans to bathe in a cranberry butterscotch sauce, are for a 40-person get-together to be given by the Canadian Embassy; other embassies and firms often hire her to cater their parties.


The company grew so quickly that she had to hire more staff; 13 employees now work in the white-tiled kitchen.


Even so, balancing her life between home and work was tough; Dobbs has three children, aged four, three and one. Working out logistics and planning menus -- not to mention taking care of the kids -- left Dobbs with no time to cook.


Recently, though, she and Vincent Schadolski agreed to be full-time partners in the business, so now Dobbs is back stirring and chopping again. She gives Schadolski credit for nothing less than the survival of the outfit.


"I had no time for anything", Dobbs says. "If it weren't for him, this just would not work".


In addition to catering, the company prepares prepackaged food for Stockmann and supplies the Irish House with the chicken and chili for its pub. This is all just good business; her first love is cooking.


"I am not a great cook", Dobbs explains. "But I am a very good cook".


If nothing else, she is diverse. For the Canadian Embassy reception, she is fixing chicken satay, dim sum, and small, individual quiches. Her favorite kind of cuisine is Asian, but she can make mean bliny (pancakes) and pelmeni (dumplings) as well.


Dobbs says that the most difficult part of having a catering firm in Moscow is the ingredients. Not just getting them, but making sure they are good quality. Last week, as Dobbs was preparing a reception for the Canadian Foreign Minister, she ran out of butter. "And it's not like the West, where you can just send someone out to pick up 25 kilos of butter. Here, you have to deal with finding it, weighing it, negotiating the price. Everything is a struggle".


Nevertheless, Dobbs has a sense of humor about living and doing business in Moscow. Not long ago, a manager from Stockmann called to give her inside information: Oysters had arrived, and the manager wanted to give her the first crack at them. "I just said 'Yes, yes! ' and didn't even ask how much they cost. It turned out there were only 25 of them".


In spite of the difficulties, Dobbs thinks doing business here is exciting and worth the effort.


"It's like the Wild West, like pioneering", she says.


Dobb's enthusiasm for work and affection for the Russian people help make her business a success, but it is her cooking that keeps people coming back for seconds. The only problem now is to figure out a way to sneak into the Canadian Embassy cocktail party for a taste of the apples in cranberry butterscotch sauce.