Cooking for the KGB

I bet you thought I was kidding. Truly, I entertained a member of the KGB one night in my little bungalow in Upstate New York. You may well ask, how did this happen?

In 1986, there was a cultural exchange between the New York State Theatre Institute and the Moscow Children's Theatre, while Russia was still part of the USSR. I often played in the orchestra for the NYSTI.

The Moscow Childrens Theatre brought an orchestra to Albany and we played several performances together. We presented Puccini's Madama Butterfly (sung in Russian), a concert of Beethoven and Shostakovich, and - my favorite - a children's concert featuring Peter and the Wolf.

My copy of Peter and the Wolf in French, autographed by my Russian friends.
Sure, we all love Peter and the Wolf, but this performance was out-of-the-ballpark special. It was narrated by Natalya Sats, the woman who commissioned the work from Sergei Prokofiev for the Moscow Children's Theatre and narrated it at the world premier. Amazing. I got to meet and talk with her. and I was suddenly one degree of separation from Prokofiev - a true master, one of my favorite composers, and a genius. (Sure, he was dead, but still...)

My favorite gift from them was a 1970s recording of Peter and the Wolf
narrated by Natalya Sats, which she graciously autographed for me.
It includes a photo of her from 1936 with Sergei Prokofiev at the piano.
During their residency, we did everything we could to help those wonderful musicians who quickly became "family" to those of us playing side by side with them.

A photo from the exchange: form left to right are Igor (horn), Vladimir (cello)
and Susan (cello), my friend and colleague from the Albany Symphony Orchestra.
We bought the harpist, Margarita, an electric tuner. We got them sheet music they couldn't get in Moscow. We went to their hotel rooms and learned to drink vodka. Good vodka, they said.

One night, I invited several of my favorite Russian orchestra members to dinner at my home. For rehearsals, we were able to communicate using a little German and French, but I decided to include my friend Mary too. She had been a Russian studies major, and could help as interpreter.

My table sat six comfortably; in addition to Mary, I asked four of the Russians: Margarita (harp), her husband Paul (principal clarinet), Sasha (French horn), and Vladimir (cello).

The time came, and the Russians arrived. One, two, three, four, .... five? I pulled Mary aside and asked if she could find out why the second clarinetist had come along uninvited. The second clarinetist was, by the way, a terrible musician. The other Russians told her, "It's okay. He's not going to eat." Ahh... it all made sense now. KGB.

I learned so much that night. In Russia, you always bring a special gift for the host. There is always bread at the table, even if you are also serving mashed potatoes. (I ended up putting a pre-sliced loaf of sandwich bread on the table that night; it made them happy.) There is always vodka. Lots of vodka.

The most important things I learned were that music is an international language, and words are not needed to form friendships. One Russian phrase I did learn, though, was Mir y Druzhba. Peace and Friendship.

Mr. KGB sat in the corner all evening, silently watching us laugh, share stories, and eat my "All American Meal": meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas, gravy, the unfortunate sliced bread, and Key lime pie. 

They loved it; we loved it. It remains one of the most memorable meals I have ever made or shared.

I heard once from Margarita about a year later via a postcard that was smuggled back via one of the New York State Theatre Institute employees. I would give anything to find her again to say hello, and to tell her how much her - and their - friendship meant to me, and to us all.

Mir y Druzhba!

~ David

Adapted from Julia Child's The Way to Cook

1 large yellow onion, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 pounds ground chuck (85% lean)
1 pound ground pork tenderloin
1 cup - lightly pressed - fresh bread crumbs
3 ounces grated cheddar cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup beef broth
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 fresh bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Sauté the onion in the butter until lightly browned, about 5-10 minutes. Place them in a large mixing bowl.

Add all remaining ingredients, except bay leaves, to the onions, and mix well with our hands, making sure all the ingredients are well distributed.

Pack the meat mixture into a 2-quart loaf pan (10-inch by 5-inch), and top with the bay leaves.

Bake for 90 minutes, then let to sit for 30 minutes, allowing the loaf to settle. Drain off all the fat, and turn loaf out onto a board. Slice, and serve with mashed potatoes and gravy or tomato sauce.

Serves 8-12


2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup strong beef broth
2 tablespoons light cream
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan, then add flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth and cream and cook, whisking, till thickened. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Another photo from the exchange: In the front row are
Leo (concertmaster form the Albany Symphony Orchestra,
Anna (violin), Viele (Bassoon), and in the back row are
Vladimir (cello), and Nina (can't remember what she played!)

Thanks, Susan for sharing your photos for this post!


  1. I was expecting to see a photo of you as well, but it never came ;)
    What an interesting story, what an interesting life you have led, David.

    1. Magda - when one is carrying the camera, one is rarely in the photos. (And that is why I carry the camera!) Glad you enjoyed the story!

  2. Another fascinating Saturday morning read. Now I must try this recipe as soon as it cools off. Thanks for sharing and inspiring.

    1. This is a really perfect autumnal meal, Jill. Don't worry, it will cool off soon! :) xox, David

    2. Meat loaf is one of my husband's favorite meals - also with mashed and peas - make it often but never tried Julia's - now I will.

    3. I hope he likes it! I can't imagine he won't!

  3. Hi David, another great attention grabbing title. Love, love the story. How wonderful of you to make their time in America so memorable. This recipe is a keeper!!

    1. Cheri - now that I know SOMEone likes my titles, I will be thinking of you each time I concoct one. Usually, it's very organic - it just happens. Every once in a while, though, I get stumped! And, yes, this recipe is a keeper! xo

  4. The recipe sounds perfect. And I love the Peter and the Wolf graphic. Perfect!

  5. David, another amazing story from your life - I do not believe I could possibly top that...I believe meatloaf recipes are one of the most elusive recipes on blogs, at least it is the first that I have seen so far.
    This sounds and looks like a very special and memorable evening to me!
    Euch noch einen schönen Sonntag,

    1. I wonder why there aren't many blog posts on meatloaf, Andrea. I am now more glad than ever that I chose to post it! Thanks, as always, for your kind comment!

  6. David, I love this story and I adore memorable meals like this one. And now I'm dying to eat it. Really great post! XO

    1. Thanks, Valentina! You can't go wrong with a Julia Child classic like this! xox

  7. What a wonderful story, David, and it makes me wonder what other elusive characters you've entertained in the past! Have you tried tracking down Margarita? Imagine if you found her!

    1. John - I can't say how many of my guests have been elusive, but I can say that there were definitely a lot of characters! I have tried a couple of times to find Margarita - but without her last name, I have had no luck!

  8. I'm sort of reminded of when Rhoda brought Henry Winkler to dinner at Mary's house uninvited. It was abig problem because there were only six servings of Veal Prince Orloff (Orloff, see what I mean?). Of course Henry Winkler wasn't KGB, I don't think... GREG

    1. Greg - I always look forward to your comments - they make my day! I just watched "The Dinner Party" episode on YouTube (I needed a refresher, as I hadn't seen since it aired) and I forgot that Henry got to sit aside and eat at "the little table." Perfect analogy for my little dinner party. Glad you shared...

  9. What a wonderful story. So was that a big hardship, having to learn to drink vodka properly? My daughter just graduated--alas a year before her children's choir will be doing a European tour. Accepted to college as a vocal performance major she made a last minute change to sustainability but I am hoping she stays involved with music. So enriching.

    1. Well, Inger, I wish I could say sustainability paid a lot more than music... :) But the good news is that your daughter is making a wonderful difference either way!

      As for learning to drink vodka... I failed. I really couldn't handle the stuff like they did!

  10. What an interesting story! Having the KGB show up is quite a bullet point to show up on one's resume! (My bullet point is that I am one hand shake away from three serial killers, but that's a story for another time...)

    THANK YOU for being such a great ambassador to international guests and making them feel welcome. I always had a soft spot for the international students when I went to college (even ended up marrying one) because I could not imagine how it felt to pick up and go to another country.

    Meatloaf is an American classic. I always winced when my mother would announce that it was what we were having for dinner, but my family inhales it when I infrequently serve it. I really like the addition of the cheddar cheese (cheese makes everything better!) and will have to give this a go in my kitchen.

    Thanks for sharing a phenomenal story and a great recipe!

    1. What a wonderful comment - thanks! As an avid traveler, I have always enjoyed sharing with people form across the globe. And I love nothing more than sharing a meal with someone who is visiting or when I am a visitor. The kindness of people in the world continues to astound me, even when all we seem to see in the news is about the small percent of people who are not good.

      I have always loved meatloaf, although some are much better than others. My brothers all loved the one my mother made using pineapple to keep the meatloaf moist, but it was too sweet for me!

  11. Wow. WHAT a story!!!! I always feel like I've been on holiday when I read about your adventures David. You've definitely lived a rich, incredible life... or at least it seems that way, due to your own incredible ability to absorb and retell experiences, learn facts and share delicious tie-in recipes! This meal looks delicious. I've never really eaten meatloaf (I guess we Australians don't really eat it very much... it's more lamb chops and tuna mornay that sing out from my childhood!) but it's amazing that you think of the KGB every time you make it now ;)

    1. You know, I really just assumed meatloaf was served everywhere! But, then again, I have never had a tuna mornay before... I am glad you liked the post, Laura - when you get to my age, you'll have a lot more stories to tell, too! :)

  12. KGB!
    David, you are not only a spectacular host, you are a great storyteller. Wish I had been there. xo

    1. Thanks, Colette - I wish you had been there, too Someday, we will have to dine together... imagine the stories!

  13. What fun to go down memory lane with you, as always...I just wish it ended with that meatloaf on my table! It looks great! (I wonder if this post was flagged by KGB search engines.)

    1. I thought of that, Susan, but when I look at my stats for "opens," they are pretty normal. I don't think I have raised any flags here! :)


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