Alexander Erin – a young head chef speaks about Crimea, personal achievements and life experience
Alexander Erin, known as one of the youngest Executive Chefs in Russia accomplished that status at the age of 19. He is a member of the Gastronomy Club in St. Petersburg, a member of the Gilde des nationalen Gastronomieverbandes and a member of the French guild “Chaine des Rotisseurs”.
Alexander Erin – A Chef’s portrait
Alexander, did you always want to be a chef?
Yes, I think it was a conscious decision. After my graduation from my high school for the arts I decided to attend a culinary college to learn the trade. To me it seemed as creative as drawing and it is also a type of art, just on a plate. Additionally, my great-grandmother was a head chef in a dining hall in the U.S.S.R. I’m pretty sure that the passion was passed down in my genes, and I was interested in the subject from childhood onwards and I remember how much fun I had watching culinary programs on T.V. So, experiencing all of that, kind of answered the question of where would I end up in the future.
I moved to St. Petersburg and entered the College of Economics and Technology for Gastronomy and began my 5-year journey in becoming a chef.
Which culinary school did you attend and what were your most valuable learning experiences from that time?
I attended the Economic and Technology College for Public Catering in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, I haven’t been abroad yet, but I definitely plan on making up for that in the future. My experiences are based on my perseverance and my failures, and there have been a few. Even though I have some mistakes behind me, I’m not afraid of making more.
In 2013 I worked on the ship’s restaurant of the frigate Grace under head chef Johnny Salizhanov. We had a large operation going at the time with products I had never seen before. Johnny taught me so much, however there came a time where I felt constricted professionally so I moved on from the restaurant to find something even more exciting and interesting.
I am continuously in the process of finding the biggest or most valuable experience in my life because in this job everyday brings something new and interesting, be it new technology or some new approach. The old adage, don’t try and reinvent the wheel is often tossed around, but in my opinion, our line of work is the best proof that this indeed possible. It’s only a question of which techniques to use.
You have traveled a lot in Russia. Which city impressed you the most?
Yes, I have traveled a lot in Russia, to cities such as: Rostow am Don, Omsk, Grozny, Veliky Novgorod, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Orenburg, Tyumen, and Crimea. I really like the Crimea. Every year I try to visit or set up a dinner a masterclass. The Crimea is so full of soul and vitality. I can only recommend it to everyone! The hospitality of the residents, restaurant owners and hoteliers leaves an unforgettable impression. A huge advantage to the markets here is that the product assortment is not inferior to markets in Moscow and here in the Crimea it’s truly local. I have seen for myself, on many occasions, fisherman taking fresh fish right to the restaurants or the market. On top of that, you can have fish cut to your specifications so the workload is much less at home or in the restaurant. Just as in many European restaurants, the majority of products here are local. That is why I am continually drawn to the Crimea.
What sets your culinary style apart from the rest?
As I mentioned, I have not been abroad for work, and that is an experience I still definitely would like to have. I had an amazing teacher, my good friend Johnny. I worked a long time together with him which allowed me to pick up a lot of great experience and lay down a solid foundation to work on. Over the years I have improved my skills, through daily work, reading and excursions to seminars and master classes. In my line of work, you can learn something new everyday. I strive, like many chefs to utilize quality and seasonal products. Additionally, I experiment with products through techniques such as brining and fermentation. My experiences in the Russian and French cuisine have made a huge impression on my current cooking style, which is even more apparent now just a few years later. I look out for interesting literature to read and sometimes I learn techniques from new colleagues. It’s valuable reading things from abroad but I believe the opportunities and choices of product in Russia are more abundant than anywhere else in the world.
You are a member of the French gastronomy guild “Chaine des Rotisseurs”. What is your part in this organization?
I recently joined the guild on the 14th of September 2017. Joining the guild is a big honor and conveys a high level of quality that must be maintained. As a direct member I don’t work in the guild but I actively help to popularize the guild and participate in events that are set up through the organization.
Where are you working at the moment?
At the moment I am on Sabbatical and study at a business school for management and administration. It’s turning out to be a very valuable continued learning because I am beginning to understand better the management and managers that I worked under previously. In my free time I am looking for my next place of employment, somewhere that can really fill my expectations.
What do you enjoy eating more, fish or meat?
Wow, what a hard question. I love fish just as much as meat. At home I like to cook steaks and bake fish in the oven. Recently, I have gotten into oysters. I try them anytime I get a chance if possible. Almost all oysters in Moscow are delivered by Dmitry Shengersky (RTNautilus), known for the best seafood around. As I have been answering this question I come to the decision – Yes, I guess I prefer seafood over meat.
Could you share with us an easy recipe?
My pleasure, Dumpling with creamy bisque, mushrooms and shrimp.
- Dumpling mass – 80g
- Creamed bisque – 80ml
- Shrimp meat – 90g
- Oyster Mushrooms – 70g
- Shallots -10g
- Garlic – 6g
- Sea salt – 1g
- Olive oil – 10g
- Butter – 10g
- Pepper – 1g
- Parsley – 10g
- Borodino Bread – 5g
Simmer the knödel in salted water until it floats and cook for 3 more minutes, strain the water from the knödel with a sieve and set aside to cool for a bit. Saute the the shallot in a pan and when it has sweated add the oyster mushrooms. Saute on med-high heat for 3 min and then add the chopped garlic. Turn up the heat and deglaze the pan with some fish stock and add the creamed bisque. Add the fresh shrimp meat and continue to cook for 4 minutes. Shortly before you remove the pan from the stove toss in the chopped parsley. Finished, you can now serve the dish. Serve the dumplings in a deep dish with Borodino bread and red caviar.
For the dumplings:
- Flour– 150g
- Egg yolk – 150g
- Salt – 2g
Bring together all ingredients, stir it smooth and let rest for 30 minutes so the dough becomes more elastic and holds its shape better. Roll the dough by hand into cylinder form, cut into pieces and form dumplings from 2×2 or 3×3 centimeters.
For the creamed bisque:
- Fish bones – 1kg
- Shrimp shells -1kg
- Cognac – 70ml
- Cream 33% – 500ml
- Onion – 200g
- Carrot – 200g
Saute the fish bones and shrimp shells in oil for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cognac and flambe (optional). Saute the vegetables and transfer everything to a pot with water. Simmer for 5-7 hours until ¼ of the water is left over. Season and add the cream, cook an additional 5-7 minutes until thickened,
What are your plans for the future?
I can map out my plans for the future in the following parts:
- Find an interesting place to work, where the people there really care about the restaurant and not just about costs and profit. A milestone would be to open a restaurant, but till I don’t have the experience for that.
- An externship abroad, exactly where is not decided but perhaps in Spain or France.
- Work in my own dairy, creating my own interesting products which are high in quality and at the same time not too expensive. What you could call a recognizable market brand. Even though most cheeses have been invented, this profession is so unique is constantly gives you opportunities to experiment.
Thanks a lot, Alexander!
What is your plan for your future as a chef?
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