Fair, calm and happy – three main characteristics of Alexey Shemenkov – Chef in a meat restaurant BEEF meat & wine in Kyiv. Alexey is the first participant of the new set of interviews for Creative Chefs Summit.
— You are a master of perfect meat doneness, connoisseur of wonderful steaks, one of the top Ukrainian chefs. What made you choose cooking as a metier?
— I have always been interested in cooking. Coming to the butcher’s, watching a variety of knives, numerous processes, bearded men working (laughs).
— Being originally from Odessa, it’s no wonder your development as a cook was influenced by the mother. Has she passed family recipes or culinary secrets on to you that you might use in the work?
— In Odessa, when we celebrate an occasion or await guests, we usually hold a great feast. We used to buy the best and the freshest products in two locations: the only grocery store on Derybavsivska street and in Privoz Market. I remember when I was 7-8 years old we would go to a café, parents sat around the table and I would go to the kitchen. I perched on a tiny stool and watched all the processes.
The region itself is famous not only for hummus. It is also Black Sea sprats, borsch, cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, eggplant caviar, roasted eggplants … This cuisine is understandable for many of us. Recipes are passed from one generation to the next. There are dishes that I cook according to my mother’s recipes but adding my individual interpretation. In fact, there is a great variety of recipes. Danube herring in its season alone is really something. I’ve even brought it to Kiev a couple of times and my team had no slightest idea of this fish. But in fact, in order to savour it to the full, you just need to slice the onion and dip some bread into melted butter.
— We are instilled taste since childhood, but to get knowledge we seek help of professionals. Where and how did you study? What foreign internships did you finish? And which ones would you recommend? What did you remember most?
— I originate from Odessa, so I graduated from Odessa culinary school where I learnt the basics and received the 4th grade having passed an additional exam. Then we had practice. Everyone was eager to get to a restaurant, but I was willing to enrol in a Soviet canteen, the only place where I could witness zero-waste production. It was an incredible experience, which I remember in vivid details. We used to come to the canteen at 7 pm and worked the whole night long. There were three of us and we managed to deal with so much work that had been done by seven people before.
In addition, I trained at the Basque Culinary Center, San Sebastian, Spain. After that – with John Nocito, president of the Italian Chef Association. They also have their own Institute, which I highly recommend to those who are in search of new knowledge and culinary experience. Unfortunately, we don’t have such schools as the Basque Center, where you can study for 9 years. There’s no distance education neither. You can take a one-year course and break it up into several periods convenient for you, but there’s no way to speed up the process. We need an establishment where one could learn the basics of culinary art, because a diploma is not as important as knowledge you receive.
— How long have you been doing cooking professionally? How did you become a chef in BEEF meat & wine?
— I’ve been into the profession for 16 years, a cook – for 12 years, and 8 years as a chef. I moved to Kyiv 3 years ago. I posted a message on a social networking website “Friends I’m looking for a job”. And everything happened naturally. I became a chef in a meet restaurant.
— What kind of chef are you? What is your management style?
— Calm. I never lose temper or shout. Because shouting is uncomfortable; scandals make no good either and result in nothing but slowing the processes down. I try to point to a mistake to the whole team instead of one person to prevent everybody from repeating it. If something goes wrong I gather the whole team and explain the reasons behind it. I am used to saying “we”, not “you”, so that no one shoulder the blame personally. These are faults of the team, which we correct together and move on. Moreover, I prefer sharing bad meals. If someone makes an over-salted risotto, we eat it together. Believe me, they will never do it again.
— It’s fair. You are a calm and even-handed chef. And the third thing… Are you happy?
— Yes, I am a happy chef. Happiness for me is a lot of work, when everyone is in a great mood. It charges my batteries. Also, happiness is when you come to the restaurant a little sleepy, but you see everything run smoothly and quietly, all processes and communication are well-established, everyone is happy, breakfast is prepared. Another joy is the atmosphere created by the guys from the kitchen and hall. We have a very close-knit team. To celebrate Epiphany, we plunge into icy water together, play football, practice wakeboarding.
— How many cooks do you have in your team? Are they all line cooks or are there station chefs?
— We have 28 cooks in our team, at one shift there are 14. 80% of them are assigned to stations, the other 20% are so-called multitaskers, who have been working in a restaurant for many years and know absolutely all the processes inside out. There are 6 women in our team.
— You work in a male-oriented, meat international restaurant. Why was this format chosen? Are there any positions in the menu popular mostly among men? How often do women visit your restaurant? What do they choose?
— Most of our guests are men. But we are rich not only in meat. The menu offers fish, starters, salads. There are women who love steaks. It’s worth mentioning that fermented steaks are digested better and faster.
— Can you call yourself an experimenter?
— Yes, the BEEF meat & wine menu offers more than steaks. We also make a lot of dry-cured sausages, rolls of pork, beef, game. During a month I try to cook different types of cheese: pickled, blue, with three types of mould. Lactobacilli are found in milk and meat, so all you need is to find the optimal temperature, humidity, and the necessary amount of salt to trigger the right process. If all goes well, we’ll soon have a small “barn”.
— How do you create new recipes?
— Quite often, inspiration comes from traveling. After all, each trip is an opportunity to try dishes from other countries, discover new products and flavour combinations, evaluate other cooks’ work from the outside. The most important is to find free time to visit new countries (laughs). In Ukraine, everyone works according to old recipe books, but you never know what result your get at the end.
— Many chefs create their dishes by intuition. It’s a kind of a confrontation between the old school and the new one. What do you think?
— In fact, nobody ever gets away from the so-called old school. There is a basis that guides us all. A simple example. There exist two main sauces: white and red, but they may be different, the cooking technique also differs. Our country is rich in talented young chefs. We communicate, learn something new, often turn to each other for some advice. This is a purely natural collaboration.
— Who are your vendors? Do you work with farmer products?
— We are not a steakhouse, but a meat restaurant. This allows us to think bigger. Our main supplier is America, the best farm Creekstone Farms: organic marbled beef, black angus, corn fed 120 days. Often restaurants work with grain fed meat. Corn fed is more expensive, but it’s way more delicious, fragrant and sweeter. We also have several local product positions. This is a farm we closely cooperate with. It’s located in Novgorod-Volynsky, and they grow Simmental cattle there. In a month we use about 5-6 tons of such meat: these are premium steaks, alternative steaks, alternative cuts. We make special offers, seasonal offers, also work with offal (calf liver, tongue).
What’s more, we carry on a good tradition of maintaining a famous social movement “from farm to table”. We usually gather with the whole team to visit a supplying farm and see the conditions animals are grown in, explore the way products are harvested. For six months we’ve been working with a large agriculture farm Syngenta, where they grow different potato varieties. In such a way we found “our” potatoes, which I hadn’t seen on supermarket shelves. We never conceal origins of our ingredients from the clients: our good friend delivers olive oil from Spain, Balsamic is supplied by Leonardi Store, Italy. Guests are allowed to come to our kitchen, see all the processes from the inside.
— You cooperate with a charitable foundation “Zhyznelyub”. Tell us the details and the format.
— The participating restaurants of the foundation take turns preparing hot lunches for 70-100 senior people. Monday is the day when our restaurant is responsible for cooking.
— Describe your working day, please.
— I’m at work at 8:30. First, I go around the whole restaurant, examine if everything is in its place. Then I check how breakfast is prepared, taste products for the first serve, then I go to the sausage unit to see how my mould is doing (laughs). All preparations are made during the day, there are no night shifts in our restaurant. Therefore, every morning we fill in all refrigerators with breakfast items, then breakfasts are removed, and the business lunch items are loaded, then go main menu products. Such a cycle allows me to constantly monitor the quality of products. After that, evening service begins. At about 11 pm I go home, but the restaurant is open till the last guest.
Sometimes my working day goes beyond the restaurant when BEEF provides catering service. The biggest outdoor event was Lviv Jazz Festival. We used several 20-ton trucks to transport everything needed: grills, refrigerators, equipment and other appliances. Things were planned down to the smallest detail, from the choice of toothpicks to the tuna, which was delivered straight from the Maldives to the table.
— What is your favourite dish?
—I am an all eater and love meat. But there are two products I could never eat in any form. This is semolina and persimmon.
— What inspires you?
— I find inspiration in my loved person, in a restaurant and my colleagues. Travelling, change of the scenery. One of the last examples – a week in Venice, where I walked 30 km a day. Also, if possible, I try to buy a menu to mark the visit to memorable restaurants. I’ve got about 30 menus in my collection. The most unusual is the one with calfskin cover bound in 4 sheets. I have honestly paid 15 euros for it (laughs).
— How do you spend your days off? Do you take a rest from cooking or is it so closely intertwined with your lifestyle that there is no room for “culinary detox” in your life?
— On my day off I try to spend as much time as possible outside, walk, ride a bike in the nearest park, or escape from the city, pick mushrooms. It all depends on the season.
BEEF Wellington recipe from Alexey
beef fillet (centre cut) — 300 g
chestnut mushrooms — 500 g
porcini mushrooms — 200 g
shallots — 200 g
thyme — 5 g
salt — 5 g
black pepper — 3 g
eggs — 2
sugar — 5 g
Dijon mustard — 40 g
oil — 20 g
butter — 20 g
unsalted puff pastry — 300 g
port wine — 250 ml
demi-glace — 50 g
sugar — 5 g
butter — 5 г
baked plum — 15 g
Prepare the beef fillet, season with salt and pepper, roast for medium rare on the grill over high heat.
Let it cool to room temperature, spread the mustard over the beef to coat. For mushroom duxelles: chop chestnut mushrooms, porcini and shallot into pieces of 5х5 mm, fry with oil and butter until golden colour, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Roll the ready-made unsalted puff pastry into a rectangle of 22cm х 35cm, 4-5 mm thick. Spread half the duxelles over the dough, then sit the fillet on it and spread the remaining duxelles over. Roll it into a sausage shape (use cling film or parchment paper for your convenience), tighten the ends firmly. Chill in the fridge for about 1,5-2 hours to let it form.
Heat oven to 240 C. Remove Wellington from the fridge, spread over the baking sheet (on parchment paper) and brush all over with the egg wash mixed with sugar. If you want, make small notches for some kind of pattern. Bake for 18-20 minutes. When cooked, rest for 5-7 minutes to chill.
When the Wellington is in the oven, make the sauce:
mix wine, sugar, baked plum in a large pan and boil until twice reduced over medium heat. Add demi-glace, butter, strain the liquid.
Serve the beef Wellington sliced, with the sauce as an accompaniment.
Text: Daria Miroshnichenko
The protos are provided by BEEF meat & wine restaurant.