Armen Petrosyan’s family supplied black caviar to the tsars. His father taught Europe that black caviar is an elite delicacy. The question of eliteness (and delicacy) is a theme that is very much alive and well in the culture of food consumption in modern Russia. DE I grabbed the chance to talk to someone who is convinced that in a previous life, he was a sturgeon.
DE I: How did your family get involved with black caviar??
A.P.: There are two ‘sagas’ about how the whole thing started. One is to do with the history of my mother’s family, the Mailovs. They were millionaires from old Baku, one of 5 families in Russia who had licenses from the tsars to run their own fish industries. Their one was situated on the river Kura which then was still part of the Russian Empire. Lianozov, Morozov…all together only 5 families, so even then it was an exclusive business. Their company was founded in 1850 and disappeared in 1917 when the Bolsheviks arrived and the family had to emigrate. That’s one part of my family history.
The other began separately and a little later. My father and his brother – Melkum and Musheg Petrosyan – were educated in Moscow but emigrated to avoid the genocide of the Armenians. That was when they started importing. In 1920s France, there was no caviar, no tradition of eating it, and no manufacture of it. At that time the idea of doing business with Russia was unusual also for another reason – the majority of people didn’t expect Soviet power to last. So that’s how the Petrosyans became the first caviar importers, continuing on for more than 70 years. Another important step was the establishment of quality standards because the quality of caviar coming from Russia varied widely. There were 3 types of caviar -
pressed, salted, and soft. Pressed caviar had been a part of traditional Russian cuisine since the 17th century. Salted was the same as pressed, except that it was salted to a specific recipe. In the beginning of the 20th century, soft caviar appeared. At that time fishing was becoming an industry in the Caspian Sea. The businessmen of Baku (my ancestors) invested the money made from oil sales in what at the time was very innovative technology for processing pressed caviar as well as refrigerators and other equipment.
My ancestors on both my mother’s and father’s sides were in this business but were working totally independently of each other and met quite by accident. My father was born in 1895. When I was born after the war in the baby boom period in 1949 my father was 55 or 56. On my mother’s side there were five generations involved in the caviar industry, and on my fathers, three.
DE I: Can you immediately tell if someone regularly eats caviar? He is probably guaranteed a sound nights rest, great sex, and quality genes…
A.P.: If caviar can be a cure for anything it can get rid of a bad mood. But you shouldn’t eat caviar every day like you would pills. Caviar is pleasure. And if it helps sort out your health that’s terrific.
DE I: There is a negative attitude to consuming large amounts of caviar because people don’t understand how you can eat it without bread.
A.P.: It’s very important that caviar creates an intensive taste sensation in the mouth. Maybe that’s why Russian people are so sensitive – because they’ve been eating caviar from childhood. It really increases sensitivity.
DE I: How do the French eat caviar?
A.P.: In France today – and I think this is thanks to our family – black caviar, as well as champagne, has become an essential part of all parties, celebrations, festivities and receptions. For example, black caviar is obligatory at Christmas. I want for caviar to become widespread in France. In our own circle, we uphold traditions – just as you have a Kulich cake at Easter, we always try to serve some new, special kind of caviar as caviar is a sign of respect, a sign that you love yourself and you love life. That is the philosophy of our House. Every person, even the most unremarkable, becomes part of our history, a part of our company. Amongst our permanent staff of 40 people in France we try to develop a sense of self-identification through association with our company. This is a passion for perfection in everything – in your taste, how you carry yourself, how you look. That’s why I always wear a suit and bow tie. How you appear is how people relate to your company. I am supported by the memory of generations gone by who have worked in this company. It’s like building a house – each generation builds a new floor.
© DE I / DESILLUSIONIST ¹-1. «THE GREATEST TOOL OF SEDUCTION»