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What to serve when Mikhail Gorbachev visits?

Mikhail Gorbachev

The most prominent foreign visitor Minnesota had ever hosted was coming, and we had four tastings to plan a luncheon menu. In 1990, the Cold War was beginning to thaw. Gov. Rudy Perpich invited Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to visit Minnesota during his short US trip, and to everyone’s surprise, he accepted. That started a mad scramble to ensure every detail was just right.

It was simply the most important menu I’ve ever had the honor to plan, alongside great culinary minds from two Minneapolis institutions—the amazing team at Goodfellows and Kristine Aashiem, of La Tortue. I’ll always remember our series of tasting luncheons, where we explored how to best represent Minnesota for each course, and elevate those courses with the ideal wines. What we put together was a celebration of rustic Minnesota ingredients, like wild rice, morels and, of course walleye, prepared with a level of urbane sophistication. We took great efforts to source local ingredients, well before the “buy local” trend took off.

Wines were carefully paired to accentuate every bite. The highlight was Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour Private Reserve, the fabled 1984 vintage. To this day, it remains a stunning representation of California Cabernet. As a dessert wine, we served a Rosenblum Black Muscat that caught the attention of a noted guest—international financier Robert Maxwell. It must have stuck with him, because he would stop in for a case of it whenever he had a plane in the area.

Our moment of true panic was when we realized the Governor’s Mansion didn’t have its own china—casual dinnerware wasn’t fitting for the head of the Soviet Union. We went rushing to Dayton’s, who were our saviors. They graciously donated china, silver and linens—proud to be part of the historic event.

Luncheon menu in Russian and English

Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev’s visit only lasted six hours, but Minnesotans will remember it forever. To commemorate the event, a painting was commissioned of the Soviet bear and the American eagle in Minnesota’s north woods. One was given to Mikhail Gorbachev, one to Rudy Perpich, and one hangs on my wall. It makes me proud to this day.

Who do you have coming over? Whether you’re hosting a foreign dignitary or close friends, pairing the right wines will make your menu truly stand out. Tell us what you’re serving—we would love to help.