Who is Juniper and who is Raven in chefs Velikov and Boykovski tandem from restaurant Gotvarnitsa in Sofia?- Part 2
placescases.com and the FacesCases blog section present Chef Boykovski and Chef Velikov, the chefs of Restaurant Gotvarnista “Juniper and Raven”.
(on the cover photo from left to right, first line- Plamen, Georgi Boykovski, second line- Velin Velikov, Christian)
In part 1, in this interview from the FacesCases series, I told who Velin Velikov and Georgi Boykovski are and about the solid projects they have created in their careers. Not that they need much introduction, but lately with these pandemic emotions, we seem to have forgotten what we did before Covid-19 and what we knew before. It became clear that they both have a hand in starting one of the most successful restaurants in Sofia from the new era of Bulgarian gastronomy – Cosmos, but they did not meet there, rather much later, until they finally make a fantastic tandem in the most interesting phenomenon from the end of last year in the restaurant business – Gotvarnitsa “The Juniper and The Raven”.
In this second part it becomes clear who exactly is Juniper and who is Raven in this duo and how a new restaurant like Gotvarnitsa, meaning the Cookery in Bulgarian, and its cousin Krachmarnitsa, meaning The Pub, opens during a pandemic.
(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.)
About the Covid-19 pandemic and the opening of the new restaurants – Gotvarnitsa and Krachmarnitsa.
What did you do during the first lockdown because of Covid-19?
Georgi: Nothing, I was staying at home. That’s when the problem with Bagri happened.
(At the first lockdown, many restaurants closed permanently, one of them, unfortunately, was Bagri. At the moment, Gotvarnitsa is at its place.)
Velin: I was preparing the new project. Krachmarnitsa is almost ready.
(Krachmarnitsa is the other restaurant of the same owners, planned to start before Gotvarnitsa.)
In fact, how did Gotvarnitsa become the first to be ready?
Velin: It took time and effort there. Here in Govtranitsa, we have made almost no repairs.
I see that there is refreshment, blue color has been introduced, new upholstery… and the mural with the juniper and the raven. Who is Juniper and who is Raven and why did you decide to name the restaurant like that?
Juniper is a coniferous shrub of the Cypress family. It is also called raetam, juniperis, birch and blaeberry. It has strong healing and wellness qualities, it is also used in cooking.
Velin: I’m Juniper, George is Raven.
Velin, why are you Juniper?
Velin: In general, my cuisine is a bit more classic, more traditional and as George and I said, I am the roots, and he is the flying element. (We both laugh.)
This is interesting. George really flies high with ideas. And does he listen as you try to land him?
Velin: We communicate constantly and understand each other.
You are older than him. Maybe life experience speaks for itself with you. It rather depends on what went through your head.
Velin: It all went through my head, but he traveled a lot, all over the world. He knows many things. We thought we should have named it (the restaurant) the Seagull and the Raven (We laugh again, because of the reference to his hometown Varna)
George, why did you chose the name “Juniper and Raven”?
George: There were completely different ideas for the restaurant, a name was even chosen. But I had a other view of it. One evening, late at 10 pm, I quickly began to think of some things. I saw that juniper is a protected species. By 2 am I was ready with a concept. I introduced it to the owners the next day, but they did not agree to be named just Juniper, and then it occurred to me to call it Juniper and Raven. No, it was the Owl first. Within 5 minutes, in a table discussion, we decided to call it Juniper and Raven Cookery.
But you know that the raven is a mocker, i.e. imitates sounds and is one of the most intelligent birds.
George: Yes, and the magpies too.
In addition to mimicking sounds, ravens can memorize and mimic words, and some research has shown that they even have the ability to plan, which is thought to be a priority only for homo-sapiens.
Source: National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/07/ravens-problem-solving-smart-birds/
(In Gotvarnista the cuisine is based on traditional Bulgarian meals, with additions from Italian, Asian, Mediterranean cuisine, but nothing is ever as it is in its traditional form, but with the author’s featuring style.)
In Gotvarnitsa I see a distinctive feature – using Bulgarian products, mostly from small farms. Bulgarian music sounds, many Bulgarian wines are offered. Is this the basis of the concept?
Velin: We try as hard as we can. And yes, that’s right. That’s the goal.
What measures have you taken to face a possible lockdown again? How did you prepare to face the new challenges of the pandemic? Everything is with a time-span 5 minutes, things change dramatically.
Velin: We are currently considering the ideas. The options are deliveries or take away food.
(Currently, both Gotvarnitsa and Krachmarnitsa make home deliveries)
Already all quality restaurants have made deliveries.
Velin: Yes, that’s how we keep the staff busy.
I understand that you also develop brunches – the other fashion in the business?
Velin: Yes, I’ve been making brunches for 15-20 years, so it was expected.
I go to brunches a lot and I usually describe them in the blog.
Velin: We do brunches every weekend. You are welcome to try them.
The next weekend I tried the Brunch at Gotvarnitsa. It was very tasty, as expected, and very interesting. There were things from the traditional Bulgarian breakfast, such as a cheese pie, tripe soup, and somehow it was different and full of pleasant surprises.
Other activities which you plan to develop?
Velin: We think of tasting dinners, cocktails.
Do you have a mixologist already?
Velin: Yes, we are already developing cocktails in Gotvanrnista, there will be in Krachmarnitsa.
Who does what in your tandem with George? How do you distribute the functions among yourselves?
Velin: It comes naturally. Everyone knows what to do.
Are there any dishes on the menu that are only yours or only his?
Velin: We both do the menu. For the first menu, we both sat down, we did it in 4-5 days. Everyone has their own opinion about each dish.
… i.e. every single dish is a mix of your ideas?
Velin: We are constantly striving everything to get better and better, because we always want to improve something. But in general, George is a confectioner and desserts are his creation. I only give him some ideas sometimes. But mostly he creates them.
Who is your sommelier?
Velin: Evgeni Prodanov is a sommelier, he was in HRC, then in Zornitsa Estate. Our manager Nina Filipova also helps.
(HRC is a culinary academy that we are fortunate to have in Sofia, where students from all over the world study, taught by internationally recognized chefs and very well prepares staff for the restaurant business)
How did you choose your team? I guess you’ve worked with these people before.
Velin: Everyone worked for me or for him.
How do you train the waiters, those who stand between you and the customers and take care to present in the best way what the team in the kitchen has invested their skills and soul?
Velin: The waitress we have, Vessie, is prepared, we tell her all the time about everything that comes out of the kitchen. But the chefs also explain the food themselves to the customers, they like it. We try to have as much contact with people as possible. When we’re both on duty on Friday and Saturday, I’m more in the kitchen and George is more out with the customers at serving the dish.
And how do you motivate the team to do well and give their best? This is a very difficult task.
Velin: When we are together in the kitchen, they are motivated by us.
You mean they are motivated by your energy, yes?
Velin Velikov: They were born motivated. For example, Evgeni was a complete chef, but he was interested in wine and is now a sommelier. He was also a manager for some time.
Yes, in the same way, Ivo Petkov, when he was with Chef Victor Angelov, at the dawn of Chef’s restaurant, he communicated a lot with the customers. He explained the food in such tempting way that we always had our mouths watered and ordered all the meals. He is still like that. He likes to communicate and talk about his food with pleasure.
(Currently Chef Petkov is a chef at Spoon, another very interesting place, in the heart of Sofia, on Vitoshka Street).
Velin Velikov: It’s like taking all positions in a restaurant, you only grow further.
Well with such great chefs like you, people want to achieve your success, they must be happy to have the chance to work with you. Is there yelling in the kitchen, is it necessary?
Velin Velikov: Almost not.
I can’t imagine you yelling.
Velin Velikov: I used to be very bad. (laughing)
In total, how many people is the whole team?
Velin Velikov: 10-12 people.
Catch up with part 1 of the interview.
A third part of the interview follows, where Chef Velikov and Chef Boykovsky talk about the industry, how one can make a career in it in Bulgaria and what the life of a good master chef is.