Ridgefield chef shares Georgian roots in new cookbook

Madona “Dona” Giorgadze grew up in the small industrial town of Rustavi in the Republic of Georgia. 

Even after Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union, Giorgadze said life there was hard: homework was done by candlelight as there was often no power or heat, and there were long lines to buy bread. She remembers the joys, however, of sharing family meals and learning how to cook. By age 8, she said she was starting to prepare her own food from simple soups to fried potatoes and salads. After she began raising a family, she became more creative and adventurous, experimenting with ingredients to come up with interesting recipes.

“In Georgia, everyone cooks at home and there are no written-down recipes unless it’s a cake that needs more measuring,” she said. Emigrating to Ridgefield 11 years ago, she continued cooking, becoming a private chef and even teaching youth cooking classes.

Her latest project has been seven years in the works: a cookbook sharing recipes from her childhood that she adapted to use ingredients more readily available in the United States. The recently-published book, “Around the Georgian Table: Recipes of my Childhood,” includes 120 recipes passed down for generations as well as first-hand recollections of life in post-Soviet Georgia. 

“All the recipes are from my childhood that I remember from tastes, food that my parents, my grandparents or my friends' moms prepared,” she said. She first had the idea for a cookbook in 2013 when she was working at Ross Bread Shoppe in Ridgefield. 

“After working eight hours at the bakery, I was buying the ingredients, coming home and cooking one or two recipes from the book, taking pictures and writing about it. Years later, when I learned how to use my camera manually and what food photography was, I started over and took new photos,” she said.

Giorgadze likes to always have a project going. “This book is like my third child. It’s important because I introduced my American friends to part of my culture through food and it’s the most delicious way to get to know the small country that is still unknown to many people here,” she said.

It took her a year to implement the recipes, but six more years to redo them, take better photos, edit, format and then print. It ended up being a family project. Her eldest daughter, Sofie, formatted the cookbook using Adobe InDesign, and younger daughter Lile designed the cover and served as the hand model for the cover image. Husband David was the proofreader and the main food taster, though she said he balked at certain traditional recipes such as pig’s head and feet.

Certain ingredients that are staples of Georgian cooking are not available or as well-known here, so Giorgadze improvised. “For example, we use a fresh and salty cheese for a popular cheese bread called khachapuri. I created the filling using Mexican or Brazilian fresh cheese, mozzarella and feta, and it’s perfect,” she said.

Giorgadze says it’s the spices and the way of preparation that give Georgian food its distinct flavor. “We use the same basic ingredients as everyone like meat, fish, cheese and veggies, but adding spices like blue fenugreek, marigold, coriander and fresh herbs makes them taste Georgian,” she said — and walnuts.

“No one uses walnuts like Georgians. We make baje (thin walnut sauce) or pkhali (veggies with thick walnut paste). We also love using fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, tarragon and purple basil. I love Georgian vegetarian dishes as they are very light, easy to prepare and healthy,” said Giorgadze.

“Summer is for eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, peppers and we have tons of vegan/vegetarian recipes using those vegetables,” Giorgadze continued. “Winter is the time for potatoes, dried beans, cabbage and meat stew-based dishes. Even though there are summer vegetables at the supermarkets during the whole year, I still like to cook with seasonal veggies. They have more flavor, especially if you buy them at the farm stands.”

Giorgadze’s main mission is education. Between the area cooking classes she offered pre-pandemic for years and her YouTube channel, “Budget Friendly Cooking,” she focuses on recipes that are simple and budget friendly. “I’m trying to pass it on to new generations and people who want to prepare healthy and simple food that tastes fresh and delicious. I feel very satisfied to share my knowledge with others.”

For more information, visit georgiancook.com