Portfolio: Martin Kollar's photographs of Russia's largest military academy for chefs


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The Independent Culture

Naro-Fominsk is home to the largest military academy for chefs in Russia. Since its inception in 1961, the 190th has produced more than 25,000 graduates – a group of whom were prepared to show Martin Kollar how they'd capture, slaughter and cook food while on the move.

Together with his friend, the director Peter Kerekes, Kollar was making a film called Cooking History that sought to answer how "a little man behind a stove can change history".

After interviewing more than 100 veteran army chefs involved in European conflicts from the Second World War on, they asked their interviewees – and occasionally their successors – to recreate their experiences of cooking in the field. And in doing so, the pair were confronted with scenes that both disconcerted them and put their lives in danger.

Students of the 190th demonstrated how to "process" a cow, recreating a story from the Chechen war.

"The Russians were sent in without proper supplies," says Kollar. "When they set up camp, they saw the nearby villagers had cows. And as they were starving, they decided to steal one…

"The chefs here used very primitive instruments, such as a hammer, to kill it for their training. You can see from their faces, it was very tense."

Mladen Vlachyna relived a moment he himself experienced during the war between Croatia and its Serb population in the 1990s. "This guy and his friends discovered they were in the middle of a minefield," explains Kollar. "They found a calf and pushed it in front of them, stepping in its hoofprints. The young cow led them out of the field and to celebrate, they caught and ate it.

"We shot this in a live minefield – you can see the flags showing us where we could step. The guys behind the cook – they were sweeping for landmines. It was good to have them there…"