The Art of Doing: When TEDx came to Riga town

Goran Gora performing on stage at TEDxRiga

Goran Gora performing on stage at TEDxRiga, I thought this was the best talk

It was highly anticipated – there had been talk about it for quite some time – and with the TEDx Viewing Parties as a great starting point, finally it was there on 14 June in the Latvian National Opera: TEDxRiga. With all the creativity and energy going on in Latvia, an event like this is a good way to present that to the world. Especially in a country that has been hit so hard by the crisis, it is great to see a selection of initiatives, projects, research that are going on. To me it is a sign of change, a sign of recovery. And the format of a TEDx event is a great way to show the world that Latvia is full of that energy and creativity.

The theme chosen by the organisers was also very fitting: The art of doing. Sometimes you need to stop talking about things, and simply start doing them. And many of the talks showed that it can be very rewarding to simply do something: using crochet to make hyperbolic planes understandable (Daina Taimina), let birds tweet (Voldemars Dudums), failing (Viesturs Sosars), writing music (Goran Gora), changing education (Zane Olina) or starting the Riga marathon (Aigards Nord).

The talks that stood out
There were three talks that really stood out for me. In the first session it was Daina Taimina who showed how she used the art crochet to make hyperbolic planes understandable, and also taught us why that is important. Going against many things people told her (‘you cannot combine crochet with serious science’ or ‘you have no feeling for art’), she proved them all wrong. A great example of how the art of doing can yield great results.

In the third session, there was Latvian songwriter Goran Gora, who shared the story of his life and his passion for music. Despite not being trained in music-writing, he has accepted many challenges in his life, and showed us that it resulted in great music. Beautiful performances, and a superbly constructed story. Be sure to watch the video of this talk once it comes available in about 3 weeks. (Follow TEDxRiga on Twitter to know when that happens).

And then there was Zane Olina, who shared the story of Mission Possible in the final session of the event. Improving education is important, and enabling teachers to do so is highly valuable work. This is exactly what Mission Possible is about. Great to learn about this initiative.

Promoting Latvia
So, was it all amazing and great yesterday in the New Hall of the Latvian National Opera? Well, of course. But that doesn’t mean there are some points that could be improved next time. Following the conversation about TEDxRiga on Twitter I noticed two points of criticism. The first was about the Latvian English, that was off-putting for some of those watching the live stream. Sure, the English used by most of the speakers might not have been perfect Oxford English, but I think that does not matter. I think the majority of the people who speak English around the world, speak it as a second language. And second languages are never as good as your native language. That doesn’t matter. It was all perfectly understandable, and in all honesty: when you do a TEDx talk your audience is wider than the people in the room. Your audience is global, and on a global scale there are just very few people who speak Latvian. Presenting your talk in English makes it viewable for people outside the Latvian language. That is important, because with your TEDx talk, you’re also promoting Latvia as a place where great things happen. The more people who can watch that, the better it is. Especially the first talk, with the very interesting topic of stem cell treatment, and sharing experience about that, could have been a hit in the global TED community, had it been presented in English. I think now there will be very few people who will watch it. A missed opportunity for showing off cutting edge science and medicine. Really, some of the talks we saw yesterday have the potential of becoming big hits, and with that promote Latvia in the world, but not if they’re Latvian spoken.

Then there was the second criticism: presentation skills. And that’s a good point. I think presentation skills revolve around three elements: a well constructed story, a message and addressing the audience with a bit of flair. To be honest, the majority of the presentations yesterday did not have all three elements. Especially the flair in presenting seems to be lacking from the Latvian education system. Too often people are speaking monotonous, without passion and sometimes even refuse to look at the audience. Come on! You have amazing stories to share. Be proud of it!

Thank you organisers!
All said, and the morning after, I’m still very excited to have been there, in the audience of the first TEDxRiga. And I hope it is the start of a new tradition. Events like this are great for the country, for building confidence, for showing off the great things that happen here. For having a positive wind blow through Latvia. Thank you to the organisers.

For those interested, I’m sharing some of the photos I took yesterday over on Pinterest.

Riga Resto Review: 3 Pavaru, lost in potential

Recently we went to the 3 Pavaru restaurant for the second time. A relative newcomer to the Riga restaurant scene, it has quickly gained quite a reputation. When I walked in to make the first reservation, I have to say I liked what I saw. It’s a spacious, modern-looking restaurant, that has a great atmosphere for an evening out. On our first visit, the restaurant was almost fully booked, so we took places at the bar that overlooks the plating are of the kitchen. Great seats for foodies, because you literally have a look in the kitchen.

Artful display of tasty dips and sauces for bread

Artful display of tasty dips and sauces for bread

The restaurant serves daily fresh meals, which means there is no printed menu, but the staff tell you what’s on offer that day. And on both occasions, the offer was good. After the orders are taken, as in many restaurants, you get served a bit of bread. However, at the 3 Pavaru restaurant, this is something special. On baking paper place-mats they make a small art work of different dips and sauces. They taste and look wonderful. For me, it’s a clear sign of the influence of chef Martins Sirmais, who is one of the 3 chefs from who the name of the restaurant is derived (3 Pavaru means 3 chefs in Latvian).

Veal cheek: great dish, high quality food, addition of human hair not necessary

Veal cheek: great dish, high quality food, addition of human hair not necessary

The food is generally very well prepared and the tastes are very well combined. We tried different starters (Latvian asparagus, burrata, foie gras), and all were definitely worth coming back for. Also the main courses were super, especially the veal cheeks.

Unequality on the plate
So far, so good, for this restaurant. But there is a catch. As said, during our first visit we had a good view of how food was assembled on the plates. Especially when the staff is working on large orders, the plating is inconsistent. Portions vary in size and not all get an equal amount of the best parts of the food. A good example is the asparagus starter. We saw them plate the green and white stalks on them. The thing with asparagus is: green ones have a strong flavour, and taste almost always the same, no matter where they’re from. The white ones are more special. They have a more delicate taste, and quality depends greatly on where they are grown. To me, the best are German and Dutch. The Latvian asparagus are also good. In any case, when they are in season, the ones that make it really special, are good quality white ones. So what you’d expect, is that the plates get at least all the same amount of white asparagus, and get topped off with the green ones. Not in this restaurant. The asparagus were, in a clear disregard of this quality product, randomly put on plates, with the last two plates being assembled clearly getting less than the other plates. Now, if you serve this to different tables, and make sure the portions at one table are similar, you might get away with it. But if you serve the plates that got the least attention and love to the people who can see what you’re doing, something is wrong with your quality and service standards.

Asparagus plate one: 3 green asparagus and at least 5 white ones

Asparagus plate one: 3 green asparagus and at least 5 white ones

Asparagus plate 2: 3,5 green asparagus, 1 whole white one, and 3 bottom-end small chunks of white ones

Asparagus plate 2: 3,5 green asparagus, 1 whole white one, and 3 bottom-end small chunks of white ones

Customers can be difficult people
What makes it even worse, is that the service in this restaurant is great, until you have a question or a complaint as a customer. Getting served those starters, of course I mentioned something about it to the waitress. Her response was one of looking at my puzzled and trying to get away as quickly as possible, without a serious reply to my question other than some mumbling. Now I understand that complaining customers are a pain, but not addressing the issue at hand at all, and just walking away is simply wrong. This could have been a solitary example of someone having a bad day. And I was ready to forget about this, because the food tastes so good. However, on our second visit, something similar happened. This time it was a bit more serious, as I found a human hair in my veal cheeks. Again, the food tasted good, and clearly had seen enough heat to kill any bad bacteria that could have been holding on to that hair, so I did not let it ruin my meal. But I put the hair aside on my plate, and when it was taken away, I pointed the waiter to it. No response. When our other waiter later came to ask if everything had been fine and if we wanted some desert, I mentioned the hair to him. He was shocked, called it uncomfortable, said he hoped it hadn’t ruined my appetite and… left it at that. No apologies. No, what would happen in a restaurant that cares about service, quality and customers, offering of a free coffee. Nothing.

Better service will make this restaurant worth a visit
The three chefs at restaurant 3 Pavaru clearly know what and how to cook, but if they keep service at this level, I don’t think it will ever be the success their cooking deserves. And as long as service is not improved, you’re better of at some of the other restaurants in Riga that have great food and great service.

Restaurant 3 Pavaru
Torna iela 4
reservations: +371 20370537