What are Velin Velikov and Georgi Boykovski, from Restaurant Gotvarnitsa like? – Part 3
placescases.com and the FacesCases blog section present Chef Boykovski and Chef Velikov, the chefs of Restaurant Gotvarnista “Juniper and Raven”.
In the first part of this interview with Chef Velin Velikov and Chef Georgi 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.
We will now learn more about them as individuals. What they like, what inspires them, what is the formula for their personal success.
(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 intere
What are Velin’s and George’s personalities?
How did you decide to do gastronomy?
Velin: It just happened. I am from Varna, tourism is developed there and many people work in restaurants. I was raised in the kitchen.
George: I didn’t decide it. When I finished 7th grade, my parents gave me a booklet to choose where to study – a guide. I lived in Ovcha Kupel (Sofia) and chose Kirov technical school, which was next to us. I chose 3-4 technical schools all around us. My father said, “Okay. Great, but let’s go to Bankya, to TOH (Professional School for Cooks). ” I weep and shout, “How come, I have to travel by train there.” I remember the first school day crying in the car because school seemed so far away. When I went, I saw 300 girls and 300 boys and I said to myself that this is my place. So, my folks pushed me. Also, from an early age I helped my mother in the kitchen, mixing in the creams, I tried things. If I didn’t have an affinity for that, I’d probably be a woodcarver, I don’t know. After Bankya, I became a cook. Then, when I was a soldier, I was chef in a unit with 2,500 men. When I left the barracks I went to Spain. I cooked and cooked, and cooked, but I also graduated from the University of Professional Chefs in Barcelona, and that opened all the doors for me. I started cooking at a higher level. Then I said to myself, I’m not a chef if I can’t make desserts and that’s how I ended up at Espai Sucre (According to George, Espay Sucre is the best confectionery school for restaurant desserts in the world). When I touched the desserts, ordinary cooking seemed low to me already. In 2014 I returned to Bulgaria and started in Te Quero. After that the Bee, Cosmos…
…. And from there straight to Antarctica.
George Boykovski: Well, they offered me and I went for 6 days. I did a pop-up with Filip Zahariev (a traveling photographer and chef who writes books about his travels). We presented a 10-course menu with Karakachan sheep. It was an adventure to go there with all these dairy and other products.
Doesn’t anything stop you? There is no impossible task for you.
George Boykovski: I have Olympic photos from there with the thermoboxes.
Who are the teachers with capital letters for you, the people who have taught you the most important things in this profession?
Velin Velikov: I don’t have one. I studied on my own.
George Boykovski: Jordi Butron and Xano Saguer – the creators and teachers of Espai Sucre. I was taught by Ferran Adria, Carme Ruscalleda and Miguel Sanchez Romera. I learned to cook, but when I got home, it turned out that I had nowhere to sell my desserts. I incorporated what I learned from Espai Sucre into my work. This school changed my life, my system of thinking and creating things. If someone understands it, they will recognize this style. That’s why I’m better than the others, because I can do this thing. I apply the way of thinking of the confectioners – from the arrangement on the plate to why to use a product. Confectionary even pays attention to the fact that we write from left to right. For the confectioner, in the perfect way of arranging things like a cake, this fact is used. You try everything you want with your right hand. This can be applied in a salt dish, but others do not get it.
And is there a world chef who inspires you, you follow him/her, you read about him/her, you watch what she/he has done, you are interested in their techniques?
Velin Velikov: The techniques I use are not from one chef, they are many, not one or two. I read constantly, I watch constantly.
George Boykovski: David Munoz – he is my guide. For 10 years I have been trying to shake off what I learned in Espai Sucre, but his way of thinking stays with me. I was the main pastry chef in his team for 2 years at the DiverXO restaurant in Madrid. We won the third Michelin star together.
(Looking at the site of the DiverXO restaurant and the artistry of David Munoz, it becomes clear why George defines him in the last, 5th part of the interview, as a bright personality, that is the reason for winning several Michelin stars. It is no coincidence that NH Collection is behind this project, I told about another project of theirs in NH COLLECTION CHECKPOINT CHARLIE – IMPRESSIVE CITY DESIGN IN THE CENTER OF BERLIN,GERMANY.)
Favorite cooking technique?
Velin Velikov: I don’t have one
George Boykovski: Crème Montee. This is a relatively new technique. It is made on the basis of Crème Anglaise, but not with milk, rather with cream. Leaving it to sit for a night, the next day you can beat it as if it were Crème Chantilly, as if it were cream. You can add various tastes to the cream as your wish and you have the feeling of rich full taste in the mouth. It’s in the pumpkin pie here. This is the cream on the side where you feel like you can bite it, and it’s super light and fine. I made it with saffron for savory dishes. This technique is vast, it can be used anywhere.
What do you cook for your children?
Velin Velikov: I rarely see them, they are not with me all the time.
And when you make them breakfast?
Velin Velikov: They love eggs, pancakes, pies.
George Boykovski: My little girl loves pasta, rice, eggs.
What did you eat for breakfast last Sunday?
Velin Velikov: Nothing, coffee.
George Boykovski: Bread with lyutenitsa and cheese. I was with my daughter and we made bread slices with lyutenitsa and cheese.
Great! Is the leek pie you serve as a complimentary starter made by Velin?
Velin: We did it together, quickly.
What do you like to eat and drink?
Velin: Whatever I have, something quick. We are like shoemakers. Very often we do not eat… all day. Last night I made sausage…. at 12 o’clock
George Boykovski: Cocktails for sure, but to eat – tapas. All kinds of tapas.
When will you open a tapas restaurant?
George: Karmare was such a thing, only we made it as a tasting menu. This is a great thing for me. We Bulgarians do the same- we order from everything…
…. and we eat from each others plates to try everything. (laughing together)
George: But the Spanish tapas are awesome! That’s why I made a tasting menu in Karmare so that one can try everything.
I also always want to try everything. I like the concept that Ambar and Toro Latino Gastrobar made in Belgrade. They have an endless dinner, with tapas from the entire menu and you eat until you are full.
What do you prefer – salty or sweet?
Velin: Both, but more salty.
George: Sweet (laughs at the expected answer from a confectionery specialist)
Veline, what is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
Velin: To be honest, I don’t know.
Do you have a case that you like to tell, it was a big challenge for you, but you found a way out.
Velin: There are thousands of such cases. I have had a case, for example, in the evening I have to prepare dinner for 120-130 people, and in the morning I still do not have a kitchen – I have no equipment, I have nothing, because the same day the restaurant opens. The kitchen is assembled by the evening and everything is ready. Fellow friends helped us. I open in Sunny Beach, I have to go 5-6 times to Varna, for products. Such things happen more than once or twice.
How many years does it take to become as good as you?
Velin: It depends on the person. Some may in 2-3 years, others may never, some 10-15 years.
And for those who have a gift, how does it happen?
Velin: With reading and chance.
Reading. And learning from another great chef and working with him?
Velin: That too. It was reading for me.
Do you think others read too?
Velin: Yes, a lot of chefs read.
Even great accomplished chefs, do they all go through reading?
Velin: To be good you have to read. You can always learn something new. A school like Le Cordon Bleu helps, but one should always read. An idea can always come to you.
What are you reading now when there are no culinary secrets for you?
Velin: I read everything. I read according to the restaurant I make a menu for. For this Gotvarnitsa and Krachmarnitsa, I read old books and recipes. We also should read about management.
I am very excited about neurogastronomy. What do you think about that? Is it too detached, from reality or, on the contrary, very useful?
Velin: There is something true in everything.
Chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria make were mocked of their molecular cuisine.
Velin: Yes, that was 20 years ago.
Do you use molecular cuisine with you?
Velin: What does molecular mean? Molecular cuisine is about understanding the aromas of food at the molecular level.
I understand it as the chemistry and physics of food?
Velin: To know how to change the food, to know what happens to it at any moment while cooking. Many people make jellies and smokes without knowing what they are doing. They do it without knowing why. They should read.
(The video shows the lyophilization technique, which uses a scientific approach and knowledge in the physics and chemistry of cooking. For other such techniques, some of which are used by our grandmothers in traditional Bulgarian recipes, you can read in the publication “Is gastronomy a science or an art?“)
What inspires you about the food you create?
Velin: It depends on what the restaurant is, what menu we want to show. I look at the products for the menu and I make new things from everyone. Nothing and everything. I try to make the dishes simpler, more traditional.
George: Everything can inspire me – from a song to a landscape or a walk. The last time it happened was with Vitosha dessert, which we made here in Bagri, where we baked it on stones, remember, you wrote about it. We were on Vitosha mountain with the team, they were making kebabs on the fire, and I said “how can I not make a dessert”. Stuff like that.
Why do you want to keep a more understandable level of food here?
Velin: Because we want it to be easy to understand, to be simple. This is my decision, not the owners’. In a pandemic, we are betting on probably more.
But whatever you do, you are not an ordinary level.
Velin: We made our menu in 4-5 days, but we have our secrets. We are constantly striving to make things right.
What did you fix last time?
Velin: The octopus with beans from Kurtovo Konare.
It was perfect, the best octopus I’ve ever tried in our country, what did you change in it?
Velin: It’s the same, but we changed the products around it. We substituted the beans on his side with potatoes and Petrohan. It was a little heavy with the beans and it was not going well with the octopus.
But the Greeks also serve it with bean garnish – fava.
Velin: There is a difference between fava beans and beans from Kurtovo Konare.
And how did you know it was heavy, did customers complain?
Velin: We tried and came to this conclusion.
Do you have a desktop, important book?
Velin: Pauli’s culinary textbook. In the 90’s, it was hard to find information about anything, even if you were in the Professional Cooking School in Bulgaria. But now HRC and the academy in Varna have changed the situation a lot.
Which food and cooking movie is your favorite?
Velin: There is no one in particular who has impressed me much.
The movie with Bradley Cooper, how do you find it?
Velin: They did it with chefs, so it’s good.
And the series for chefs on Netflix?
Velin: Yes, they are interesting.
Do you borrow ideas from them?
Velin: They’re just interesting.
A sequel follows in Part 4, where Chef Velikov and Chef Boykovsky talk about the industry, how to make a career in it and what the life of a good master chef is like.