Boris Portnoy’s original food moped trike is like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Sporting a built-in handmade clay tandoor oven and griddle, the moped is the ultimate expression of the trained chef’s personality — he enjoys pottery, loves working on motorcycles and experimenting with flatbreads.
Under the name “Satellite Republic,” Portnoy cooks Caucasian food — originating from the Caucasus borderlands between Europe and Central Asia, especially from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. His specialty is a Georgian lamb flatbread sandwich with sour plum sauce.
One of his early events using the new food trike was the July opening of ECHO art gallery on Calistoga’s Lincoln Avenue. His assistant, Curdy Garber, lives in Calistoga, and Portnoy promises to do more events Upvalley, in addition to events in the Bay Area.
Portnoy, a part-time Angwin resident, was born in Moscow when it was still part of the Soviet Union. He said he enjoyed cooking from a very young age.
“I was a picky eater and I wouldn’t eat the food my mom cooked, so I cooked my own food since I was 6. It tasted horrible back then,” he recalled.
When he immigrated with his parents to the United States in 1989, necessity, along with passion, made him pursue cooking more seriously.
“I was only 11 and my parents were working, so I kept experimenting with a coffee-table picture cookbook,” he said. “I always wanted to be a chef and that was my introduction to American ingredients.”
After graduating from college, Portnoy moved to Philadelphia and began a three-year internship with Chef Fritz Blanc, who encouraged him to research food, he said. “Fritz Blanc is a microbiologist turned chef and I learned a lot about manipulation of ingredients from him.”
Portnoy also worked in San Sebastian, Spain, and in New York before accepting a job with Meadowood Napa Valley resort as a pastry chef and moving to Angwin in 2010.
“I really got into the bread program at Meadowood and changed it when I came there,” he said. “Instead of serving one type of bread throughout the meal, the bread changed with the different courses.”
Portnoy said he enjoyed working with different breads at Meadowood, but at the same time wanted to start his own business while going back to his culinary roots.
The decision to start Satellite Republic came after he made a short list of his favorite things.
“I had a mini-crisis, not knowing what I really wanted to do. Assuming I could do anything, I wrote the things I enjoy on a piece of paper,” he said.
Portnoy has been riding and working on mopeds for a long time, he said, and “I was taking pottery classes from Lynn Mahon in the Napa Valley and I wanted to learn more about flatbreads. Satellite Republic incorporated all of these.”
Portnoy started building his food moped trike earlier this year, modified it so it could carry more weight — Mahon’s tandoor oven, which is essential to make flatbreads — and designed a menu.
“I didn’t think I’d build a clay oven on a moped, but that’s just what happened,” he said.
The name Satellite Republic refers to the former Central Asian members of the USSR, the kitchens of which inspired him: Georgia, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and Dagestan.
“Georgian cuisine is considered the elite of cooking,” he said, “because it is flavorful and incorporates exotic spices with some Persian influences.”
Portnoy launched the business in May. He currently focuses on events but also does “pop-ups,” where he takes over a kitchen of a restaurant for an evening or a series of events.
Even when cooking in a restaurant kitchen, Portnoy still makes sure his moped is nearby.
“The tandoor clay oven is essential to making the flatbreads, so even when I work in a restaurant I bring my moped with me,” he said.