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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Yorker Blends Cultures in His Cooking

MTRestaurants in multicultural Lower Manhattan introduced Correa to various cuisines.
Black Angus Fillet & Charred Duck Foie Gras; Pistachio Mint Dredged Rack Lamb; Curry Crusted Blueberry Cheese Tart. These are excerpts from the menu at Uley, one of Moscow's hippest restaurants. The chef behind it all is Isaac Correa.

Anastasia Stepantseva, a member of Uley's core 10-strong management team, describes Correa's cooking style as "post-fusion" or "d'fusion" to be more precise.

"An unusual, occasionally extreme combination of different flavors, styles and traditions. Cuisine that satisfies residents of the metropolis," is how one web site defines d'fusion.

As of June this year, Uley's management registered both words with the state patent agency, Rospatent.

The restaurant attracts a crowd as varied as the dishes Correa cooks -- from clubgoers to businessmen.

A Puerto Rican born in the melting pot of New York's Lower East Side, the city of Correa's childhood is a world apart from the run-down, turn-of-the-century charm of Ulitsa Gasheka, where Uley is located on the ground floor of Dukat Plaza.

"Back then, Lower Manhattan was divided into China Town and Little Italy; there was the Spanish community at Spanish Harlem and Afro-Americans on the east side of Harlem," says Correa. "When I went to school, all these people that wouldn't mix on the street were put in this one building. At times it was a mess."

Weekly family outings to restaurants in Lower Manhattan exposed Correa to an eclectic mix of different cuisines, while at home, it was always the spicy Latin American flavors that dominated. "Really simple foods, but with a lot of good flavors, a lot of good marinades. My mother is an excellent, excellent cook."

As inspiring as it may have been, the young Correa was not allowed anywhere near the kitchen.

"My mom was always kicking me out. She's still like that today. I'd be going in and tasting stuff, and she's like, 'don't touch my food, don't stir the rice now -- you'll mess it up.' Or I'd try to flip something and get oil everywhere. It was her place, you know?"

Correa's big break came when, at age 16, his older brother found him a job at the Prima Donna, a popular Italian restaurant on 58th and Madison in New York.

He found himself instinctively adding the spices he knew and loved from home.

"I remember one time I was sauteing shrimp, and the chef comes in saying 'what you doing?' So I said, 'taste it.'" The shrimp went down very well.

Correa's talent was obvious, and his boss encouraged him to experiment.

Initially under the tutelage of the Prima Donna's head chef, then going it on his own, Correa went on to work in a multitude of New York restaurants. Some were of considerable renown, while others were less memorable.

"I've worked in some weird places," Correa says. "There was one, I can't remember the name, and I didn't stay there too long. I guess it was a kind of fusion restaurant -- and this was years ago. Sort of a Jamaican mix with American cooking. Hamburgers with coconut and spices. It didn't last long."

In 1995, Correa got an offer to come to Moscow. "I didn't think I was going to stay, but I said I'd check it out -- I'm one of those people who likes a challenge."

Nearly seven years down the line and with a number of projects under his belt, he is still in town; and with the birth of the highly acclaimed Uley, or Beehive, in May 2000, Correa at last feels he is coming into his own.

"There was always this thing: Chefs shouldn't do this, chefs shouldn't be messy, chefs should have a big hat, chefs should be fat, all these misconceptions," Correa says.

"I feel good in a small environment -- I can create, I can play. I realized it's not about money -- it's about finding a place where you feel free."

"He is very inventive," Stepantseva says of Correa. "He can go through a huge quantity of ingredients before he gets the flavor he wants. If something is missing, he starts all over. He never cuts any corners."

Only a person experiencing acute gastronomic deliria could have suggested creating a post-fusion restaurant in Russia five years ago. Now, with restaurant-goers able to select from Ethiopian, Tibetan, Mongolian and Moroccan restaurants, as well as a host of others, competition in the Moscow restaurant business is hotter than the sauce on Correa's Chilean Sea Bass.

And today professions that would have been considered bourgeois abominations in the Soviet Union, and were unheard of until recently, are well respected and in great demand in modern-day Moscow, Correa says.

"Five years ago, you could say to someone, 'I'm a sommelier,' and they'd be like -- 'What is that? A piece of cheese?'"