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Interview with Ilya Zakharov

The chef, like a sapper, can be mistaken only once

Ilya Zakharov - maestro of gastronomy and brand chef of restaurants of the entertainment complex "Casino Sochi". Co-host of the TV show "Hell's Kitchen", co-author of three dozen books, a member of the Federation of Professional Cooks and Confectioners of Russia.

His style - seasonal menus, natural products and gentle ways of processing them. He plans to open a laboratory where new flavor combinations will be born, and the army of completely different chefs will grow up.

Read about the life of the restaurant, about the novelties of gastronomy, culinary delights and much more from the first hands, the chef Ilya Zakharov.

- What's in the mind of the chef?

- The chef is a dangerous profession. Not only his own career depends on the scrupulousness and the level of responsibility, but, perhaps, someone's life. An insufficiently qualified cook is potentially dangerous for guests, his mistake has all chances to become the last. Therefore, the chef has to be concentrated, remember a hundred little things and test everything on hisself.

At the same time, the true cook is slightly psychedelic, in his mind is a completely different world. He sees things differently and feels them differently. He may not remember the name of a new acquaintance, but the taste of once sampled food will never forget. A cook, like a composer, creates new work. Looking, for example, at a fish, he already thinks how to cook it unusually, preserving the taste and not spoiling the look.

A good cook is universal, not tense, but always concentrated. His mood is not reflected in the dish. His head is a bottomless archive of recipes, and he must be a little adventurer and storyteller, and be able to convey the history of a complex dish to the guest. Often this is what prompts the guest to return.

The chef should be able to convey the history of a complex dish to the guest

The chef should be able to convey the history of a complex dish to the guest, photo © casinosochi.ru

- Do you have creative crises? If your inspiration ends, where do you get it?

- This does not happen to me, but sometimes there is a desire to change the situation. Sometimes, then I work on a complex dish for a few days, I feel that the truth is somewhere nearby, but it constantly escapes. Then I break the plate, leave everything as it is, and switch to another case. After a day I continue it with a fresh mind, and the decision comes by itself.

- Do you somehow encourage for well-done work?

- I write out an award, for example, taking into account KPI. I always appreciate the feedback from the guests, the interest of the employee, his aspiration and potential. I follow the staff myself and watch the professional growth of everyone. Usually I teach everyone myself, but if we meet a purposeful person, who wants to develop rapidly, then we can pay for his training in another place.

Culinary discipline is important in the kitchen, and it depends entirely on the chef. It's not enough just to build a team, it's important to keep everything under control, to be able to punish or to encourage.

Culinary discipline depends entirely on the chef

Culinary discipline depends entirely on the chef, photo © zaharov._ilya

- How do you assess the situation in the Russian restaurant business?

- Today, no one goes to the restaurant because of the manager's loud name or an interesting interior. In a beautiful restaurant with a fashionable name, but tasteless cuisine, they can drink coffee or take a picture.

But now it has become fashionable to understand food - in roasting meat, the subtleties of cooking fish, a mix of salads ... Gastronomy carries people. Now good food is associated with different countries or even carries over to other eras. Recently, simple street food was popular, then it was replaced by "burgeromania". Probably, soon there will be a high cuisine and simple ideological institutions again in the trend.

- How does the chef choose food?

- Only with love!

- In the beginning of the conversation we had a snack. Its taste can not be forgotten! What is it?

- It's a crab with macadamia nut mousse, black caviar and champagne gel. Crabs have an incredibly delicate taste, which is easy to kill. I use these components to not to spoil the dish - they perfectly "live" with each other. I recommend to supplement this snack with cold champagne.

Ilya Zakharov - "the chef chooses foods with love"

Ilya Zakharov - "the chef chooses food with love", photo © zaharov._ilya

- In the ready-made dish, what is more important - decoration or, after all, taste?

- Of course, taste, and only then visualization. A delicious dish just can not look scary.

- What is unique about Brunello?

- Here we give an aesthetic direction. Guests come to us not to overeat. We bring up the taste. At Brunello I cook something that was never cooked in Sochi. In a sense, this is an adventure for the city, because it invested a lot of resources and forces. With the help of conventional products, I demonstrate the versatility of dishes, I open them from the other side. And, of course, at the head of all are freshness and quality of products. We prefer farm products and surprise guests with themed dishes for any convenient occasion.

We are going to a sophisticated audience from all over the world. These people have been everywhere and have tried many things. But our task is to make so that from the whole kaleidoscope of countries and entertainment they choose exactly "Casino Sochi".

Restaurant Brunello in Casino Sochi

Restaurant Brunello in Casino Sochi, photo © casinosochi.ru

- Oysters are especially popular in your restaurant. What should we know about them?

- To begin with, this is a very dangerous product. If they are not well rinsed, fragments of shells can enter the stomach. This can pass unnoticed, but sometimes provokes a very sad outcome. We treat this issue with special trepidation. By the way, our oysters are grown on our own farm. If necessary, we also order them from Japan.

- How to understand the difference between Zakharov's high food and other mediocre food?

- Ask yourself how often do you eat corpses of food? We say: "The dead will not become alive!", and "the corpses of food" we call dishes cooked or served with unacceptable mistakes. Each dish should have a certain type, consistency, temperature. The food, which reached the guest "tired", has already lost its idea.

My principle is to submit every order to any corner of the Casino Sochi no later than in 15-20 minutes. But much depends, of course, on the dish. For example, the preparation of products for the jelly from tomatoes with mushrooms take a day. But the submission takes no more than five minutes.

Oysters in "Brunello" are grown on their own farm

Oysters in Brunello are grown on their own farm, photo © zaharov._ilya

- How did you become chef of the restaurant in the casino?

- In Moscow, I was happy with everything, and only after two months of persuasion I agreed to come to Sochi to assess the scale of the project and understand the concept. Then I saw here only bare walls and crowds of builders, but I was interested, and we hit on the hands. Now the Casino Sochi is a real palace with an area of 33 thousand m², you just need to see it. We wanted to do everything on the highest level, and we did it.

- Do you organize culinary fights?

- What for? I have already won all!

- Aspiring all life to the ideal, today you can confidently say that you have achieved perfection in your business?

- I always tried to reveal my abilities, set goals and went to them. But I will not call myself chef "Number One". Many cooks cook very cool, but such an assessment is always subjective. It is possible to prepare something incredibly technologically complex, as hundreds of articles will write about. But if the guests do not appreciate the concept and do not come and try it again, both you and the restaurant will soon be forgotten.

The main criterion of success for me is the return of guests. If something went wrong, I'll apologize to the guest, ask for an opportunity to remake the dish and still bring idea of it.

Casino Sochi is a real palace

Casino Sochi is a real palace, photo © casinosochi.ru

- Who are you targeting in your business?

- After two years of work, we set trends in the gastronomic fashion. We have already become its legislators.

- What is your most ambitious goal for the near future?

- To bring Brunello to TOP-100 of the best restaurants in the world.

- Russian restaurateurs recently raised the issue of including tips in the account, following the example of Europe. Do you support such an initiative?

- In no case! Otherwise, motivation disappears in the work of the waiter. The waiter is an intermediary between the cook and the client, and if he is not motivated to convey the idea of the dish, then he is a zero, he has nothing to do at the restaurant.

People come to us for aesthetic pleasure. Therefore, if the waiter is not able to tell about each ingredient of the dish, about its preparation and the history of creation, then the guests are not obliged to give a tip.

- What would you have prepared for the arrival of the president?

- Looking at what time of the year. If in the late spring, the Crimean morels!

- Can you cook amanitas?

- Of cource. Siberian, hallucinogenic (I'm joking). In fact, it come out as excellent snacks, sauces, hot dishes and even cakes. Correctly cooked, they do not contain acids, but they have a more vivid taste than even white mushrooms.

People visit Brunello for aesthetic pleasure

People visit Brunello for aesthetic pleasure, photo © casinosochi.ru

- How many cooks work in your kitchen in one shift?

- One and a half hundred. For 15 - 20 people in each kitchen, taking into account that we work 24 hours a day. The complex can accommodate 2,000 guests and, if necessary, we will feed them all in half an hour.

And, forgot to mention that we are feeding employees also. There are more than a thousand of them.

- Do you have time for something other than work?

- For more than five years, work has been my way of life. I fall asleep with it, and with it I get up. I do not divide life into work and leisure and I am constantly in the creative process.

- How to keep a physical shape with such a profession?

- A couple of months ago I weighed 15 kilos more and got weight, mostly, from a power failure and lack of sleep. Of course, we have to try everything, personally check whether everything is in order, but there is no full saturation from it. You also smell dishes for the whole day ... In the end, at home in the middle of the night you suddenly realize that you want something, like dumplings with mayonnaise.

One way out of the situation is not to eat four hours before bedtime. And to work hard in the gym.

150 cooks work in one shift in Brunello

150 cooks work in one shift in Brunello, photo © zaharov._ilya

- What is the secret of success?

- Ilya Zakharov's biography, as chef, started with failure. I was not taken to the restaurant by a bartender, but I was allowed to work as an assistant in the kitchen. I was engaged in kitchen's cleaning, cleaning vegetables and seafood, always called to help the chef ... And it was very useful for me - now I can process any product. The initial stage can not be missed, otherwise you will not be able to sense the value of the products. Therefore, the main thing is to be in the hands of a good mentor.

The second component of success is technology. Our kitchen is one of the most modified in the country.

- What is the laboratory of the brand-chef? Tell us about your know-how.

- The most popular among us is a gastrocook. This invention of the Spaniards came to us a couple of years ago, but has not yet gained popularity. Why - it's not clear! After all, this device retains the properties of all products. For example, today I will cook black cod in it. Exactly 12 minutes, at a temperature of 54 degrees. The finished steak will look absolutely raw, but it will turn out to be perfectly cooked and will preserve all the useful qualities. Fruit with meat taste, seafood with a taste of herbs, cooking with marinade, in pairs of wines or champagne - this all can be realized in gastrcook. And I assure you, these subtleties are very palpable.

- You have an interesting hobby - making perfume compositions. Where does it come from?

- I started experimenting with vanilla, celery and grapefruit. These smells are clear, like perfumes. And I began to develop perfume on their basis. I started with women's, but now there is a man's series. While they are not particularly persistent, they stay for two hours, but I am improving the product. Now the casino produces an exclusive line of fragrances under its brand, and we will present them to valuable players.

Brunello's kitchen is one of the most modified in the country

Brunello's kitchen is one of the most modified in the country, photo © zaharov._ilya

- Where are your places of power?

- House, kitchen, market. And gym, where I drop the negative and give a load that allows me to feel confident and attractive.

- Your ideal "I"?

- In general, I'm an idealist. I do not tolerate stupidity, uncertainty, unjustified economy and criticism without a construct. I appreciate the quality in everything - from food to music, and I go to such an ideal, although I am afraid of my own requirements. Starting a business, I will fulfill it qualitatively or I will not do it at all.

In the restaurant business there are a lot of details. Every note is important in it, as if in an orchestra. While I'm not an ideal conductor, I folow this and  I am very demanding to myself.

- What is the dao of life?

Respect for parents and fear of dishonoring them. It's like a detector. I used to be very conflicted and at times I was ashamed of my actions before them. And feeling shame, you will not do bad. It's important to respect your work, and then it gives results.

You also need to be able to correctly prioritize and shape your environment from real friends and those you want to grow up for.

Anna Kharitonova, Russia, Sochi Анна Харитонова

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