FacesCases talks with chef Velin Velikov and chef George Boykovski? – Part 4
placescases.com and the FacesCases blog section present Chef Boykovski and Chef Velikov, the chefs of Restaurant Gotvarnista the Juniper and the Raven.
(on the cover photo from left to right, first line- Plamen, Georgi Boykovski, second line- Velin Velikov, Christian)
In the first part of this interview with Chef Velin Velikov and Chef George Boykovski, we learned what kind of gastronomic projects they started – one mainly on the Black Sea coast, the other – in Sofia. Behind them are many successful restaurants, including those with Michelin stars. In Part 2 it became clear which of the two master chefs is Raven and which Juniper in the restaurant Gotvarnitsa “Juniper and Raven”. They told how they started the project and how this original name of the restaurant came about.
In the third part we learned more about them as individuals – what they like, what inspires them, what the formula is for their personal success.
Now it’s time to find out what they think about the industry and the difficulties they and their colleagues face.
(The interview took place before the second big restaurant closure, before Christmas 2020, and became a bit fragmented because I was never able to bring my two interlocutors together at the same time. They had engagements, clients, but they both shared a lot of interesting things.)
For the industry and gastronomy in general
Is there a career in gastronomy in Bulgaria, why?
Velin: You can make a career, it’s hard, but you can.
What does it take to succeed?
Velin: To be motivated.
… And work hard, I guess.
Velin: Yes, that’s right.
Is there stress and how do you deal with it? How do you catch up with a break, how do you unload?
Velin: I get up very early, at 4-5 o’clock, go to bed at 1 o’clock at night.
Does this lack of sleep affect you? How do you catch up? How do you recharge?
Velin: I’m looking ahead.
It is said that stimulants and substances are used in the industry to withstand the pressure.
Velin: There is rumor of such things, but it is better not to resort to drugs. I don’t use, but I know it doesn’t help in the long run, it works for a while, but then everything goes backwards.
George: The main problem is actually the bad balance between work and personal life in this profession and it is global. I think the first to impose changes in this were the Danish. Now in Denmark the regime of cooks is 4 to 3 and 1 month of obligatory paid leave by the company in order to have a private life. (4 days of work, 3 days off a week)
Ok, do you have enough rest, George?
Well, I think there is an alternative to substances. Meditation.
George: Yes, I have applied it too. I have heard from bartenders that many practice meditation before service. He sits alone for 5 minutes without anyone around him. It’s the most complicated there. You have to know 50 recipes by heart, you need to have movements, you have to be able to think fast, you are to be a psychologist.
Velin, what do you do in your free time?
Ok, it is clear. Velin, at least when do you listen to music?
Velin: In the car.
Are you bad guys? How about the bad guys in the industry? Is the chef a bad boy really?
Velin: In principle, yes.
Why should it be so?
Velin: Some time ago, during a course with Hans Lauer, the supervisor of all the Hilton chefs, he said, “The chef doesn’t have to have a friend in the kitchen or the hotel.” He is from the old school, it was better for them. But things have developed a lot lately, so… And I’ve always been closer. I haven’t had a problem with that.
And how is respect maintained?
Chef Velikov: There must be order in the kitchen. If something is not done properly – goes in the trash bin.
I’ve heard some chefs beat the boys in the kitchen.
Velin: I heard so too, but I’ve never seen it.
A waiter at St. Barts once warned us not to require parmigiano for seafood pasta, because if the chef learned, he would come to fight with us. And Catherine Zeta-Jones’s character in the movie “No Reservations” pulled off the tablecloth when the beef steak was returned to her twice because it wasn’t raw enough. How do you deal with customers who are still dissatisfied with something and without reason? Is there a danger that any of you will go out to scold a client if he does such things?
George: No, we are gentlemen and we serve gentlemen. If someone is not gentlemanly, we will tell him, but not scold him.
Yes, but, George, you know best what the perfect dish is. You’ve made it many times and have been throwing it in the bucket until it’s perfect and suddenly someone starts insulting your work on the plate, how do you react to that?
George: It happened to me recently before the pandemic, an elderly gentleman returned a lamb dish. He didn’t like it, although the meat was just perfectly cooked. I used meat from the same batch, but I presented it to him differently this time, and there was no problem.
… I.e. it is a matter of subjective impressions, influenced by the moment and the environment.
George, you see, I’m starting to write more and more about neurogastronomy.
George: Yes, when I saw what you were writing, I immediately thought of Miguel Sánchez Romera (neurosurgeon and chef, owner of Sanchez Romera Restaurant). He taught me at university and we learned exactly that – it matters what color the wall is, there is research on blue in the plates. For example, I know from Miguel that the color blue reduces consumption by 50% if it is on the plate or in the environment colors. But the main problem is when it’s on the plate.
Yes, a blue gel would repel me, but I think it’s a matter of training. I give the example of blue wine. It became a big hit with its color, not with its other qualities.
George: Otherwise, in connection with the dissatisfied people, in Karmare it happened to my clients to complain: “I have nothing to drink my rakia with, you don’t have such and such a salad!”, Because there was a tasting menu and there was no opportunity to choose different options.
What do you answer then?
George: A little further down the street there is a restaurant that meets such requirements. If this is the case, they can drink rakia there as well. We want to be different. It also happened to me at the caravan in Quartal. I offer horse meat steaks there, and when they want customers to be well-done, I advise them not to want it that way.
Velin: And I had an American who wanted beef from Miyazaki well-done (beef from the Miyazaki area of Japan is with a perfect marble structure, considered but for one of the highest quality meats). He asked for it with French fries. And I thought, there is no problem with fried potatoes, but Miyazaki well-done… At the competitions in Japan for the best beef, Miyazaki meat wins many times. The other region from which quality meat comes is Kobe. To make such meat well-done is a crime.
I’m an educated customer, but I still admit that I don’t like my plate to be drowned with blood from my meat.
Velin: But it can’t be like this because it’s 50% fat and it cooks very quickly.
…i.e. one has to try to trust the chef, as one trusts a hairdresser for example, to find out exactly what he likes.
Okay, how do you know when customers are happy?
George: The fact that there are no tablecloths and a chefs go to the client to explain, ice-breaks the communication a lot and it is ok for everyone to say what they think.
A sequel follows in Part 5, where Chef Velikov and Chef Boykovski share their views on topical issues, George talks about the problems facing the preservation of Bulgarian traditional farm products.