The master chefs Velikov and Boykovsky in a conversation with FacesCases? – Part 5
placescases.com and the FacesCases blog section present Chef Boykovski and Chef Velikov, the chefs of Restaurant Gotvarnista the Juniper and the Raven.
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. In part 4 my interlocutors shared their views 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. In this fifth part, Chef Velikov almost does not participate, because he was called by his duty in the restaurant.)
We delve into topical issues
George, what do you think about all these events, measures, are we coping or not?
Georgi Boykovski: We are definitely not doing well. We are the only ones in Europe where we work after 11:30 p.m.
… I.e you think that should have been limited.
Georgi Boykovski: Yes, and a long time ago.
Velin Velikov: I think that such limitations will not change much the situation. The measures only help to ease the burden on the hospitals. We will all get this virus one way or another.
Did you get the virus?
George Boykovski: He did, I did not. I haven’t been losing my sense of smell.
The Minister of Tourism started making a Bulgarian menu. Does such a thing make sense?
George Boykovski: The first problem with this is that no map has been made of the culinary regions of Bulgaria, as is the case with embroideries and dialects. You have to make a menu from different regions. This is what should be done. Each region has its own embroideries, dialects, traditions.
What do you think is the most representative product or dish for Bulgarian cuisine?
George Boykovski: Krokmach. Also, green cheese. It is a crime that they are forbidden to sell at all.
Why are they banned?
George Boykovski: Our food safety regulation is 70 years old. Small producers cannot register to sell their products. You can’t find Krokmach in the store, and this is the most traditional Bulgarian thing. Nor the green cheese. (Bulgarian green cheese is made only in the village of Cherni Vit, Teteven). And no one else is talking about this thing that we are discussing with you here now, but it is important.
There is also no talk of the Eastern Balkan pig. It is already gone, because of the plague. There are culinary shows on TV, but no one talks about these things. Let what we export abroad be as it should be, with a long shelf life, but why can’t these products be freely offered on the domestic market. I cooked in the European Parliament and talked there about the problem of dairy products. I was told that this is an internal regulation regarding the requirement that the shelf life is to be 30 days. Or, why should cheese be with pasteurized milk? If our government wants the people to be healthy, real yoghurt must be consumed. The expiration date requirement is new, from 2004. But this automatically means that 2 of the healthiest bacteria are not in the product. This makes it easier to export dairy products. The Italians have established regulations for their products and have kept their traditions. That’s what the chefs demanded. In France they do the same.
Are you saying that in order to eat real yogurt, I have to ferment it myself?
George Boykovski: Yes, or to buy it from an old village lady. I think that if yogurt was consumed with our bacteria, people wouldn’t get so sick, including with Covid. It has been proven how important yogurt is for human health. And now you can only buy natural products in farmers’ markets. And krokmach has 900 times more bacteria per gram than yogurt.
How can this be changed?
George Boykovski: With one Michelin star and a lot of talking.
We came up with the topic of Michelin. When do you think the Michelin guide will come to Bulgaria?
George Boykovski: 2022. They said it at the ceremony launching the guide for Portugal and Spain 2019. They announced that they would enter Eastern Europe in 2022. They can’t help but come. One star increases with 25% the turnover 2 stars- 50%, 3 stars-100%.
You have inquired everything.
George Boykovski: I have been working for Michelin stars for 17 years.
And probably the prices can go up if the restaurant has a star.
George Boykovski: Yes, but at the same time, in some of the restaurants you can consume for 60 euros and leave.
Will you strive here for a star?
George Boykovski: There are currently no such restaurants to meet the criteria. Maybe Zornitsa Estate, but I don’t know how they’re doing these days. Karmare was such a restaurant. It could take 2 stars directly, not one.
I’m sure everyone is now preparing for the guide to compete for a Michelin star.
George Boykovski: Yes, but the most important thing there is the personality of the chef. The client has to sense your personal style on the plate. Your behavior, the practices you apply. Also, there should be noise around you.
I.e. not only to be popular, but to have featuring style.
George Boykovski: Yes. I worked for a man who changed the whole guide forever. The toilets in the restaurant were bad, it was as if he had put windows on a terrace in a block. In this restaurant we won the 3rd star. It was clear that it was not about the tablecloths and chairs, but about the chef’s personality. He gained 3 stars in seven years. His first was won in something like this. They look at the chef’s personality, his creative thinking.
I thought they were staring more at the plate.
George Boykovski: No. The concept is the second most important thing. It must always be related to the unwritten social responsibility of the chef, with which he presents the folklore, the territory in which he works, the traditions. Each dish in our Michelin restaurant was related to Spain and Asia combined. This is done in these restaurants. The best products from your region are used and if you are going to use others, they should still be related to you.
As I watched the seasons of Chef’s Table, I was impressed that great chefs, while working in France or Italy, always have a period in which they get stuck. They fall into something like a vacuum, a hole. When they return to where they are from, they do nothing for a while, they recover. And then the inspiration comes to them again, and everything starts in a new, even better way. They go back to where their roots are and everything falls into place.
George Boykovski: I think of Atala as I listen to you. (Alex Atala is a Brazilian chef of Irish-Palestinian descent. His D.O.M. restaurant has been named one of the best restaurants in South America.) Something similar happened to me. When I came back here, I started making Spanish cuisine, working in such a restaurant. Everything was great, but something was bothering me. So first I made Pchela, then I went into Cosmos. In Pchela I made the first Shepherd’s Salad in a new way.
What greetings would you like to send to the doctors and those on the front lines in the fight against Covid?
George Boykovski: My mother is a doctor, my wife’s mother and father are doctors. Everyone around me is a health worker. They are our heroes. I bow to such people.
What’s next after the opening of the restaurants?
At the moment, the foundations of Gotvarnitsa and Krachmarnitsa are already laid and both restaurants are waiting for the lockdown to end in order to delight the gourmands in Sofia.
At the moment, Geroge Boykowski has embarked on new projects – one is related to an experimental cuisine in the heart of Sofia, and the other is again dedicated to haute cuisine, as George sees it, but I will not reveal more, we will wait to see what he mixed for us again.
From my conversations with the people who chose Gastronomy as a profession, I came to the conclusion that it is like sailing – everyone strives for the horizon of great success. One sails in supposedly familiar waters, uses the established recipes from the gastronomic navigation, but still encounters challenges. Some dare to draw new maps and paths, to create their own feature in the kitchen. Others are innovators – they use sophisticated equipment and scientific approaches. Others are traditionalists and prefer vintage fans to old recipes. In the crew, everyone relies on the support of the other next to him, otherwise he does not survive in the ocean of this industry. And the captain, the chef, must always be listened to, because he is the master who knows the ocean whims best. Some sink into a whirlpool of tension, depression, substances, others succeed and get stars, but also many scars from battles. Unfortunately, everyone is somehow far away from their loved ones, more on the ship, traveling in the ocean of gastronomy than with them. But things get even worse when their ships are forced to dock for a long time because of such cataclysmic typhoons as the pandemic that humanity is currently going through.
Master chefs Velikov and Boykovski know the secret of every old captain, that the great success in gastronomy is like the horizon in the sea – you always strive to reach it. You change ships, try new, modern vessels or old and tried boats, but this supreme success seems to be receding, because each subsequent achievement, be it a star or other recognition, sets new goals and stretches even more challenging horizons for their aspirations.
I wish these two captains, Velin Velikov and Georgi Boykovski, headwind, strong and cohesive crews, fewer wounds from battles, always stretched sails, stars, waving flags, all sorts of majestic moments in the ocean of gastronomy and very happy passengers in the culinary journeys that they organize for them.
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