Taking Refuge

Picture: CC by 2.0, Hungry Dudes (Disclaimer: This photo is not of Natasha's recipe.)

In Her Words: A New New Year's Eve

Written by Natasha Pogrebinsky

Edited by Becky Allen

June 16, 2015

Editor's Note: Natasha Pogrebinsky was born in Kiev, Ukraine to a prominent Russian family. Her father, Alexander Pogrebinsky, is a renowned artist and, as such, Natasha grew up surrounded by culture - including fresh food and bustling markets. But, her parents were also political dissidents, critical of the Soviet regime. With only $300 in hand, her family was forced to flee in the bitter winter of 1991. Years later, with degrees from Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University and a stint at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in New York City, Natasha has risen through the ranks of the culinary world in America. From directing her own catering company to working for some of New York's finest restaurants, Natasha opened her own restaurant, called Bear, in 2011. Nestled in Long Island City, Queens, the highly praised establishment sits just one mile from the hotel her family was first placed in upon arrival in the United States.

Growing up in Kiev, every New Year's Eve we gathered around a table with grandparents, cousins, and friends. Traditional Russian olivie potato salad, herring, caviar, and pork dishes covered the table from edge to edge. At midnight, "Ded Moroz," or Santa, miraculously dropped off gifts for the kids under the tree. The adults drank champagne and ice cold vodka. Confetti and sparklers lit up the tiny soviet rooms as the kids played in the snow and fell asleep after filling their bellies with dumplings. Although the late 1980s in the ex-Soviet Union were years of depression and turmoil, in my childhood memories, the holidays were full of enchantment and delicious, elegant specialty foods.

New Year's Eve 1990 was one of those unforgettable nights that will stick with me forever. On the eve of December 31, 1990, my father, mother, brother, and me said goodbye to not just the old year, but to our entire life and family. With hopes for a better future in America, the four of us boarded a midnight train from Kiev to Paris en route to New York. Instead of spending the night celebrating with family, we were escaping.

We were political refugees; the United States would welcome us to safety only if we were able to cross the border with our refugee visa un-tempered. The USSR did not give us permission to visit the United States and so we had to trick the authorities into thinking we were going on vacation to Paris. Our refugee visa was smuggled in the lining of our suitcase, one of only three suitcases we were able to take with us. Part of our escape strategy was to not give inclination of sadness or grief. As the train began to move, I pressed my face to the window and watched my cousin standing along the platform as we quickly disappeared into the grey snow and night. Before the train guards could notice my tears, papa moved me into our car and gently, but with stress and fear in his eyes, reminded me what we had to do.

The night before we left Kiev for good, papa went to visit his cousin - my Uncle Slavick - a big and jovial man who loved to cook and was incredibly good at it. He worked as a stock boy at a local meat market and was therefore able to get some of the best cuts. As a parting gift for our journey, he prepared a traditional roasted garlic-spiced pork loin with black pepper and parsley. He wrapped it in paper and string. As we crossed the border into Germany, we sliced the loin and ate it with bread. I will never forget that meal.

We had to throw the Soviets off our trail, so in a layover at Berlin we slipped out from our train car and crossed the tracks to board another train to Frankfurt-en-Main where we met an art collector named Konstantin. Konstantin had fallen in love with my father's work and was slowly buying off his collection over the past few years. When Konstantin found out our plan to escape, he offered to buy us plane tickets to New York City in return for several of my father's paintings.

On January 2, 1991, papa's 40th birthday, we landed in JFK airport in New York and were transferred by Immigration Services to a nearby refugee motel on Astoria Boulevard in Queens, our first home in America. Uncle Slavick's pork loin traveled with us the entire way to the motel.

The agents of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) looking over us brought us food while they searched for a community to place us with, as we had no family or friends in the United States at that time. Our daily meal consisted of Roy Roger's fried chicken in the New Year of 1991 and it was awesome! I instantly fell in love with the totally different and unfamiliar flavors.

Twenty years later, I opened my restaurant Bear here in Queens, where every New Year's Eve I serve a roasted garlic-spiced pork loin with parsley. It's a tradition that is not only delicious, but has a lot of meaning for my family and me.

Join Natasha next New Year's Eve to try this delicious dish made by the chef herself. Until then, try your hand at Natasha's recipe!

Natasha as a young girl in the USSR

Natasha working in her kitchen

Garlice-Spiced Pork Loin with Parsley
  • 1 pork loin, with a medium layer of fat
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • Fresh ground black peppercorns
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Spice mix: coriander, caraway, fresh ground black pepper, yellow mustard seeds, cumin, and salt
  • Sunflower oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
  2. Take a teaspoon of each spice and mix together in a bowl.
  3. Slice all the garlic into pieces, about 1/4 inch thick.
  4. With a narrow, sharp knife, make 10 small incisions on each side of the pork loin. Insert the garlic into the pockets, reserving some garlic for later.
  5. Line the bottom of a deep roasting pan (large enough to cover the loin) with parchment paper.
  6. Rub the pork loin with the oil and spice mix. Place some of the extra garlic on the bottom of the pan. Lay the pork loin down, cover with more garlic, whole parsley bunch, onion, bay leaves, a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover the entire pan tightly with a lid or foil.
  7. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes. Slice and serve with brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes or pasta. Use the juices at the bottom of the pan as sauce or gravy.