Roasted vegetables with pesto, seafood stew in white wine, lyula kebab, pork tenderloin with apricot mustard glaze, mozzarella balls with mint. These are just a few of the delicious meals produced by the new entrepreneur, private chef and cooking instructor Madona (Dona) Giorgadze. Born in the city of Rustavi in the country of Georgia, Dona describes cooking as an important part of her culture and her own life. "Everyone in Georgia cooks," she says.
Just as cooking is a constant in her native country, busyness is the norm here, and Dona has found those who are thrilled to have her come into their homes early in the week, armed with groceries and ready to prepare meals the family can enjoy the rest of the week.
Many know Dona by her cheerful smile at her previous job as manager of a local Ridgefield bakery. Others know her as the talented leader of the Ridgefield Newcomers' cooking club, but few know the story of her tumultuous journey from Rustavi to Ridgefield, the journey, which she says, shaped her spirit.
In her childhood city of Rustavi – a small industrial town inhabited by factory workers – Dona, like many Georgian children, had two hard-working parents who struggled financially to 5improve their living conditions. Her parents dreamed of remodeling the three-bedroom apartment into a beautiful home, while Dona dreamt of having a comfortable armchair where she could sit and read her romance and adventure books.
To realize these dreams, every family member had his or her share of sacrifices. "I had to wear my only, ugly dress for years to every party and a pair of shoes that didn't match with anything," Dona recalls. By the time she had nearly completed high school, the Giorgadze family had a nice-looking apartment, complete with all the essential appliances. The small sacrifices, that had seemed huge to Dona at the time, had finally paid off, but there were dark days ahead.
Just months later, the war for independence in Georgia broke out, and there was no food, power, heat nor water for days. Feeding and keeping their families warm became the biggest concerns for the people of Rustavi. The unemployment rate was increasing as the inflation rate rose uncontrollably. Mr. and Mrs. Giorgadze would leave their home at 3:00 a.m. to stand in long lines for a few loafs of bread for their children. Dona's father built a wood stove for the apartment. "It was the greatest thing to have as we could cook on it and heat the home as well," Dona explains. "A lot of our neighbors couldn't even afford this, and they all gathered around it in the cold winter evenings; we helped each other to overcome this period." Now a first year student at the Institute of Foreign Languages & Literature, Dona – along with the other students – completed lessons by candlelight because the power was on for just a couple of hours each day. "The darkness was very depressing," she remembers.
Many people, mostly mothers, found it difficult to find local jobs and were forced to work abroad, sending money home to support their families. "They had to leave their children, go far away, wet their pillows at night with tears, missing the touch, the smell, the voice of their kids," Dona recalls. "[The mothers sent] money and presents to them, who were brought up without their love and care, and who could find the only happiness in those toys and clothes." Years later, Dona found herself having to do the same for her own children. She left her two young girls to work in the United States, a difficult situation that turned out to have a happy twist. It led to the meeting of her current husband, David Augustine.
A Happy Twist
Dona was working as a nanny for a friend of David's, who threw a barbeque party. "That's where our story started," she says. "It was a chemistry or love from the first sight." The two began dating, and spent a happy, but short time together, as Dona's visa was about to expire. On her 35th birthday, two months after meeting David, she flew back to her native country, crying all the way to Tbilisi, happy and sad at the same time.
After living for five years thousands of miles away, with an eight-hour time difference between them, Dona started her life over again, working and bringing up her two daughters. "David was always with me, in my thoughts and heart," she says. Following four years of daily calls and emails, he decided to visit this small unstable and typically unknown country. As David describes, it was quite an adventure: walking on top of the high mountains to see locals sacrificing lambs to their saints, enjoying dinner feasts with other tourists from around the world in a local bed and breakfast under a photo of Stalin, drinking home-made Georgian grape vodka and eating delicious trout just caught in the river. It was an unforgettable experience, but he had to return to his home in New York.
A year later, the pair decided to move Dona and her two daughters to the United States. They began the daunting task of collecting countless documents, married in the United States, and on September 23, 2010, the new family drove into the "quiet, sleepy" town of Ridgefield. After her full social life in Georgia, Dona found it extremely hard to live in a town where she knew no one, but that didn't last long. After joining the Newcomers Club of Ridgefield, she met many new people, volunteered at the Ridgefield Library and Keeler Tavern gift shop, and began working at Ross' Bread.
The Georgian Cook
By day, she worked at the bakery, but during her spare time, Dona searched out ways to express herself through her cooking. Inspired by new foods and ingredients, she began posting her recipes on a Georgian website where she shared the knowledge and experiences she was learning here. Then, she set an ambitious goal for herself. She would create Georgian recipes in her small kitchen, take pictures, write everything down and make a Georgian cookbook for American people – the people who had been asking her: "What is Georgian food?"
After executing 150 recipes in one year, Dona established her website www.georgiancook.com, where she began posting her recipes, sharing them now with her American friends. Once again, she decided to aim high and completely devote herself to cooking, photographing and writing. Though Dona enjoyed working at the bakery, she had her sights set on a higher and more personal culinary goal. In April, she left the bakery and started her private chef career, cooking food for families and teaching classes on how to cook easy, yet delicious meals, using simple and organic ingredients. As she says, "The secret ingredient in my dishes is love, love that I share with my family and friends through my food."