In 2014 Boris Boignard, a French by birth, married a woman from Vitebsk, bought two country houses in a small village next to Novalukoml, and moved to Belarus for good.
Four years later I met him at Sprava festival, selling exquisite French treats from his mobile restaurant, a holey house on wheels with a giant snail stuck to the roof, clearly the perpetrator of havoc. “Bon Appétit!”, said the sign.
Morning brioche, tiramisu, tarte Tatin, made from apples, and stuffed snails, gathered and preserved by Boris personally, left me hungry for more. The festival was over, and I promised myself to find the miraculous chef from Belarusian countryside.
“I came here for the first time in August 2013, and loved Belarus immediately, because of its forests, lakes, and open spaces. I love nature and calm; for me, who is very much into hiking, fishing, cycling and especially the cold, Belarus seemed ideal!” explains Boris.
New life in Belarus
Upon his arrival in Strazhavichy, Boris set about renovating the houses. While his wife Oksana is away in Vitebsk, where she works as an engineer, he takes care of their vegetable garden and livestock: ducks, chickens, and two goats.
Boris heartily speaks of his village life.
“I am very fond of neighbors and the village people in general. I help people whenever they need anything. And of course I buy products from local villagers, such as milk and eggs, cream, cheese.
For me it’s better than buying in a store. Also, that makes people happy and gives them work. By the way, the products that I used for the festival this year come from the village as well!”
And it was truly delicious. Yum.
The best country for cycling
Ten years in cycling business, both as a salesman and mechanic, couldn’t leave Boris untouched, and now cycling is one of his passions.
“In France, I did a lot of cycling, and participated in competitions. I once crossed France by bike in 13 days, by small roads and mountains. So when I came to Belarus, I brought two bikes, including a special one to ride on the snow, ice and sand.
When I discovered the cold weather in Belarus, I went cycling through the snow and on the frozen lakes… it was a superb discovery! Amazing!”
There are three big lakes around Strazhavichy, it makes more than 80km to cycle around them all, and Boris couldn’t let the opportunity slip. It was an amazing experience, he states.
“In February 2016 I took part in a bike race in Lepel, 80km, and finished first! It was a happy day!”
He goes mushrooming on bike, keeping a sharp eye for morels in particular, and often spots wild animals, such as foxes, wolves, and elks.
Snails and a new life twist
The houses are located at the edge of small lakes, with many apple trees. As it rains profoundly in spring and summer, Boris soon discovered a treasure trove of snails.
In two hours he can collect four buckets of snails no further than 150 metres from his house.
“I started to pick and cook snails. Then I offered them to local villagers and friends. It made a sensation, and a reporter from a nearby town Chasniky soon came to interview me.”
News started to spread and in 2017 Boris was invited to participate in Sprava festival.
I agreed immediately, because for me helping others discover French cuisine is a great honor!”
Having gained popularity for his snail dishes and his pastries, Boris was invited to teach cooking classes in Minsk.
This year he had several requests to work in cafes in Minsk and Vitebsk, and, finally, signed a contract with a restaurant in Vitebsk where he now works three days a week.
Advice to foreigners
“A foreigner who decides to move to Belarus must like the cold and the heat. But also love nature and the great outdoors!” thinks Boris.
If you come in winter, he adds, sauna should be a must-do, combined with diving into an icy lake afterwards.
“This is magic!” says Boris.
Text by Alesia Ivankova. Photos courtesy of Boris Boignard.