I have been planning to start this rubric Faces Cases for a long time now. Finally it became true and I am very glad that the first person on its microphone is exactly Chef Sidonia Radeva.
Faces Cases is dedicated to the people behind the most outstanding restaurants, hotels, bars, all kind of spots that placescases.com seonsographs on the scale of the 5 human senses. These establishments offer not just food, accommodation, drinks or any service. They offer unforgettable experiences. I was always curious to learn more about them but behind the stage.
So I took the liberty to open for you the curtain of Constantinoff RestoBar, one of the newest and most impressive places in Sofia, offering good cuisine, fine drinks, wine bar with well-selected wines and mostly unforgettable experiences, as Joseph Pine and James Gilmore describe them in their Experiences Economy.
I present to you the playwright in the kitchen of Constantinoff RestoBar– Chief Sidonia Radeva.
Bulgarian TV audience remembers Sidonia as the participant who won the prize in the first TV show for culinary mastery- Lord of the Chefs. She is a graduate of the first class of the HRC-the academy for restaurants and hospitality in Sofia, but actually cooks from very early age. She has worked at Michelin restaurant in Napa Valley, California. She was inspired by Paul Bocuse, the guru of nouvelle cuisine, whom she had the pleasure to meet personally. She admires also the famous restaurateur and cookbook writer Chef Thomas Keller. We talked in more detail about the Michelin stars, and generally about the recognitions for the restaurants’ work. We also discussed a bit the dark side of the industry industry.
But with the utmost and true passion, Sidonia talks about Constantinoff RestoBar project. Her partners are the owners of the restaurant chain “Shtastliveca”, the first of which was and still is on the main street in Veliko Tarnovo. She feels happy to work together side by side with them.
You will see further below when and how she cooked her first meal, which her favorite cooking techniques are. If you remember or never heard of Balkantourist, you will read what role it plays in her dishes. If you continue until the end of the interview, you will also know how the famous TV talk show host Slavi Trifonov influenced her career.
My kids and I are big fans of the book “Rebel Girls”? It tells short stories about real personalities, girls and women who have fought the status quo, have had major challenges mainly because of their gender, skin colour or some disability, but never gave up and had outstanding achievements. Are you a rebel? What are the biggest challenges you encounter most often in life?
Yes, definitely. Especially as a woman in the professional kitchen. It can even be said that to date the women in the kitchen outrival men with orderliness.
Why do you think so?
Because of the urge. For a very long time, women were underestimated as chefs. A woman would pick up the huge cauldron, she wouldn’t wait for anyone to help. Personal ambition, too. When someone says, “It’s not going to happen because you’re a woman”, it’s already turning everything upside down, giving me the ambition. It’s like someone’s lighting my fuse. This is exactly the personal gust to show that women can succeed in this profession as well. I fight on a par with men. At the same time, I have extremely good professional contacts with men cooks, friends with common understanding, with whom I share ideas, and we help each other. I do not understand the struggle for dominance in Bulgaria of the type “I am the best!” Everyone has a personal style; everyone has his/her own view of the food. In fact, customers who enjoy the food want to see different styles.
How did you start cooking and where did you learn to cook?
You’re taking me back to my childhood because my great-grandfather gave me the first impulse. During the summer holidays I was at my grandmother’s village when this old man, 94 y.o., weeded the whole garden, then cleaned 2 sacks of walnuts. After finishing his work, he said, “You’re a girl and you’re going to make my lunch.” I was 10-11 y.o. and I had never cooked before. He wanted me to fry eggs and he explained how to cook them. In our Dobrudzha region, we do something like eggs Panagiurian style, only fried with a topping of homemade yogurt with garlic and braised red pepper.
So, my first dish, which I prepared for another person were our Dobrudjan fried eggs and yogurt topping with garlic and paprika.
My great-grandfather was the first person to say “You’re a woman and you have to be able to cook delicious.”
How does it sound nowadays?
To me it means that as you cook, you have to taste and use your intuition. This, however, leads to difficulties in the calculative description of the recipe in the restaurant, but you cannot do without it, you need to have the correct calculation, so that at the end of the day to manage the finances.
When did you decide that this is your professional path, to cook delicious for people?
We’re a huge family. On holidays, we gather with all our relatives. We were circa 20-22 people at the table and we organized a culinary parade. Everyone cooked something, decorated and literally our big table was overloaded with dishes. Even men cooked. They were always dealing with meat. My grandfather was a butcher. I learned from him how to cut the meat properly. My grandmother taught me how to slaughter a hen –something very few people know I can do. I had learned that animals should be bred with care and approached with respect. So, you carry your good attitude to the final product-the dish you serve to the customer. Even the way you massage the meat with the spices makes a difference to its taste.
Some say that it is actually the energy that is being invested in food.
Yes, and it’s felt by the client. Things that are cooked without desire are tasteless.
So, when there are scandals in the kitchen, the food won’t be good…
… that’s right, and the bread is not going to be good too. One shouldn’t make “angry bread”!
Then why are chefs massively building up an image of angry boys who just shout?
To show how tense they are, busy, working around the clock, no personal life- it became fashionable.
Is that really true?
It is, but everyone has to find a way to control their stress.
How do you do it with your team?
When we work, we work seriously. When we have a break, if there’s a live camera in the kitchen, you’ll observe the most spectacular show ever seen, with severe censorship. We’re joking sturdily and if one cannot stand the jokes, they would hardly survive in the kitchen. All people from my team can stand spicy jokes. Naturally, everything is within the limits of normal. Another practice for unwinding after work is to gather together and everyone to pour a drink they like- beer, wine, prosecco. This thing helps us relax. But at work we do not allow it, because I believe that the slightest blur of consciousness interferes. We must be clear-minded all the time, and that keeps us at a high level.
There are rumors that some of your colleagues use stimulants to withstand the load.
Yes. Some people even say, “Is there a chef who is not a junkie?” About some chefs people talk that they use and this is the reason they are energetic.
But the truth is that the real energy comes from our clients. This is the strongest stimulant – a full restaurant with satisfied customers.
Of course, not everyone is happy. There are two or three that may unsatisfied.
I was curious to see what the people in the industry think.
Do you remember that movie with Catherine Zeta Jones, “No Reservations”, in which her character brought raw steak to the client’s table, angry because he returned several times his beef, claiming it was not enough rare?
Yes, I’m just like her.
Does it ever come to you to “pull the tablecloth” off the client’s table? 😊
I’m in control, of course. I have had clients who have had said “put less water in the ice cream”. My ice cream is homemade and there is no water in it-only milk, cream, sugar, yolk. I would rather try to understand the customer’s desire. What he feels like eating today, for example. Sometimes clients even give us ideas, what to cook for lunch, for example. If someone says “Oh, how I feel like having stuffed sauerkraut leaves”, I immediately start thinking how to add them to the menu.
When can customer behavior be irritating to you because it’s unfair?
Demonstrating superior attitude right from the entrance, looking for an outlet of his accumulated anger.
“How long will I wait for this menu?”, “Will you pour my water or I will be forced to do it myself”, “These fries are nasty- if there was a schnitzel to them, it would be probably nasty as well.”
With this demonstration and pose on the table, the work of 20 people in the back is erased. In order to deliver something out of the kitchen for 20 minutes, we put so much effort.
Yes, but these clients come in with a problem in their head, not because you are creating it.
That’s why it is important for me to filter the constructive criticism, because it matters to me.
And what do you do with clients that no matter what you do for them, they’d still stay unhappy?
It doesn’t bother me that someone like that could come in. Sometimes we send a compliment dessert, to make them smile.
That’s a pretty good approach by the way. In the Experience Economy, there is such a trick for disgruntled customers. You surprise them with something nice and things get better, they keep good memories of you.
To be continued …