Yuriy Priemskiy is the chef of ODESSA and Spicy NoSpicy restaurants (Kyiv). In the framework of the “One Day with the Chief” project we talked about his philosophy, development as a chef and plans for the future.
— Have you always wanted to be a cook? How did you start your way to a professional kitchen?
— Initially, I was a football player. In 1998, it was only the beginning of it at a professional level. At that time I had a “transitional period” as a player — and youthful disappointment happened to some extent. Then came the moment of choosing a profession. I had the opportunity to enroll immediately in the Trade and Economic University, but I decided to start with a cooking school. I graduated from the University later.
I was lucky with my first job — I started learning English there. It was Benihana restaurant, my first chef was Japanese. And then I realized that without English you cannot go anywhere. The guys and I kept asking him about the recipes. At one point, he couldn’t stand it and sent us to the Japanese consulate: “There is a section of cooking books, check out and study!”
— What countries did you work in? What experience was the most memorable?
— I had a year of work in Italy, two and a half years in Moscow, six months in London, a month in Riga. I came to Moscow thanks to Benihana. The Russian company bought franchising for five restaurants. It was planned to start first in Riga, because the restaurant there was already prepared. We went there, taught the guys but came back because it was decided to start the Moscow one first.
It was incredibly interesting and dense in Italy, of course. But the most striking for me was London where we also worked in Benihana. There happened a story with Filipinos who received a work permit and then demanded to review their salary. But they were refused to have the salaries overviewed. And there was a shortage of staff, so I flew to London. It was a golden time for me: I received a salary in Moscow, travel allowances and tips because I worked on the service.
Since the shift was from the opening until one in the afternoon, and then from five to six in the evening, I had three free hours. Almost all the time I spent in bookstores, in the “Cookery” department. There, in fact, I left my pocket money. I studied techniques, combinations. After all, Benihana is a standard but I wanted to expand horizons. When I returned to Moscow, I realized that I wanted to change something, to experiment.
In general, if we talk about educational travels, Spain is the only country I haven’t visited. But the trip is already scheduled. Personally, I’m more interested not in techniques and tastes, but in organization matter. Timing, economics, kitchen ergonomics.
— If we talk about the European experience, they have an easier situation with economy as everything is usually under reservation. Gastronomic dinners and tasting menu as in Europe, will it work in our country?
— We can do this if the middle class develops. Until the middle class grows or the flow of tourists increases, the culture of consumption will not develop. At the moment, 10% of the guests are the middle class, 5% of which go to restaurants more than twice a week.
— How did you get the idea of creating the Spicy NoSpicy restaurant?
— Everything is very simple. Near the restaurant ODESSA we had a banquet hall with 70 seats. Once we realized that it was kept idle in vain. At first we wanted to create a city cafe with breakfast, brunch and pastry. In the process, the designers suggested making a big bar and put something like a folding screen. Thus, in the evening the format of the etsblishment would change to a cocktail and musical one. But then it turned out that it would be very difficult to successfully combine two such formats in one room.
We sat together and thought what was important for each of us. We agreed on Asia. We decided to develop the topic in this direction, and move on. Having made a decision, we immediately changed the task for the designer. While we were working on the design, we flew to Asia for a month. We had two weeks of Bangkok and two weeks of Hanoi with the surroundings ahead.
— What did you remember about Asia?
— I was in Thailand eight years ago and two years ago. So eight years ago I liked it more. It was a big disappointment for me that there was less street food.80% of the points in the street were a failure. And Bangkok has become too commercialized and cosmopolitan. You even have to pay money to come up and ask for something.
Finding a “tasty” place also became a problem. We hired a guide, ate both in unknown places and in tourist establishments relying on guidebooks and ratings. But this is all such a convention. For example, the 6th number in the Best Asia’s 100 is frankly strange and tasteless. It was tasty in BoLan but you should be ready to wait for 40 minutes.
Then there was Vietnam. It was a place with a lot of street food. It isn’t that spicy compared to Thai, even sugary-sweet. Its base is fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice. But the variety of food itself is small, pho soup was sold at every third point.
It’s very difficult to be in Vietnam without a guide because almost no one speaks English there. We hired a guide for $70-100 for three hours, he drove us around the markets, street food spots, establishments, and talked about specifics.
— What do you bring for Spicy NoSpicy from Asia?
— We do a lot of things ourselves basing on local products. About 70 sauces, tom yam paste and curry paste.
We brought about ten basic components from Vietnam. For example, pho globally needs three components. First, the broth, and secondly — rice noodles. But, unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to make fresh noodles in our conditions. You need a special machine for this. The third point is a good fish sauce with palm sugar. And the fourth, for me personally, is good Vietnamese ginger, it is less aggressive than Chinese one which is used in Ukraine.
In Vietnam, by the way, you’ll never eat pho in a restaurant, it’s only street food. As soon as the pan is sold out, the spot closes.
— How similar is the taste of your dishes to those you ate in Asia?
— It should be noted that initially the concept of Spicy NoSpicy was built on conveying all tastes through the prism of spices. There is one dominant spice that characterizes the dish. If we talk about Thai, the first difference is that our dishes are not so spicy. We made a warm, acceptable for our receptors sharpness. Vietnam is closer to us, since it isn’t spicy but more sweet. And our people love sweet.
— If you had to choose which product to work with all your life, what would it be?
— Despite the fact that I had a meat restaurant, I think that would be fish. It’s very interesting.
— What kind of food do you prefer in everyday life? Do you have a favorite dish?
In everyday life, I eat ordinary comfort food. And my favorite dish is potatoes with sour cream.
— Could you describe your day?
— I try to arrive as early as possible. In the morning I do analysis of suppliers, I try to find time to read something new, to sketch ideas. Then I give instructions to the team. I realized that the guys in the kitchen need to tune in to work in the morning. So the day will pass in such a rhythm. At lunch and in the evening I get to the kitchen service. We recently introduced a new menu in ODESSA, now I’m there. In a week I can go to Spicy NoSpicy.
— Are you a strict boss? What is your model of communication with staff?
— Yes and no. Everything is to the point. I teach my cooks that this isn’t my image but their image first of all. They must be confident in every dish. If the dish is spoiled, they pay for it and personally apologize to the guest. Periodically you have to bring up, give a good shake. As a rule, it lasts for two weeks in the obedient mode.
I try to educate the staff and send them into the world. The main thing is that a person understands the degree of responsibility and respects themselves and their work.
As for the waiters, every trifle, every detail is important here. In addition to my communication with them, I beg the management to work with them every day.
— Do you often relax? How do you spend your free time?
— Of course, I have weekends. Sometimes I use this time for new knowledge and work. But mostly I try to spend free days with my family.
— How would you describe your philosophy as a chef?
— I have two components here. Firstly, in order to be interesting, you have to be interested, and secondly, it’s better not to do than to do poorly.