Andrey Kolodyazhniy – famous Russian botanist and chef in Modus restaurant
Hello, Andrey! Tell us, at what age have you decided to become a chef and what has influenced your choice?
In 1996 I saw one culinary show that inspired me. Then I decided to learn to cook. I wanted to be a cook or a farmer, so I applied to the Agricultural Technical School and the Cooking School. I did not go to the Agricultural Technical School, so I went to study to be a cook. At that time I was 15 years old.
What was the start of your career? What was your first workplace?
As a first-year student I worked in a summer cafe in Pyatigorsk and cooked meat on the grill. In The second year I applied for a job in a bistro, where I worked as a cook and at the same time continued to study.
What experience in your career was the most memorable and significant?
Since the 2000s I began to travel actively everywhere, to attend various events and take part in them. I was impressed. The great experience for me was the first time when I made dinner for Vladimir Putin. It was in Kislovodsk, at that time he was not president yet. That day I was at home, repaired the car and my boss called me and asked me to come. I was the youngest cook who participated in this dinner and I wrote a menu. After that, I made dinners for the president about seven times in various places, including one of the most famous restaurants in Sochi “Baran Rapan”.
I also remember the moment when I worked in Krasnodar and my team sent me to cook in Karlsruhe. Krasnodar and Karlsruhe are sister cities, and the Krasnodar chefs went to cook in Germany, and the Germans came to us. Then, quite by chance, I cooked for Angela Merkel. And once I cooked for the Queen of Denmark.
Among all Russian chefs, you are known as the first chef who began to develop such style as botanical gastronomy. Tell us more about it. How this style has appeared, what is it and why have you chosen it for yourself?
This direction was born thanks to the Spanish chef Rodrigo de la Calle. He was the first chef who began to select old plants in a new way. He began to work a lot in this direction. I went a little bit further, because I am fond of wild plants. I took up this idea from Spain. The thing that I am doing now cannot be called botanical gastronomy because I collect wild plants and specialize not only in vegetables, but in herbs.
In my childhood, I often went to the forest with my father and we collected wild rose, nuts, thyme, various herbs that we dried and used to make tea in winter. In 2005, in Pyatigorsk, I made such dessert as raspberry mousse with thyme foam. The idea of this dessert was born when I thought that we all drink tea with thyme and raspberry jam, it was the taste of my childhood. Then I began to collect different herbs and prepare different dishes from them. Later I got into superfoods.
Andrey, how are you making progress in botanical gastronomy? What do you read and where do you get inspiration? How such person like you can develop yourself? The person that has already achieved a lot, but at the same time wants to grow further.
I moved to Moscow, and here I met a professor of biology at Moscow State University of Foreign Affairs (MGIMO), who studies herbs, and now we are working together very actively. I began to give lectures at MGIMO, and together with this professor we make experiments on plants.
Wow! It turns out that you have already begun to apply a scientific approach to your work?
Yes, I want to develop myself in this direction. I also cook beef stroganoff and cutlets, I should do it, but I get inspiration from this new direction that has more scientific point of view. I also buy a lot of different books. I began to learn Latin, namely, how various plants are named correctly in order to speak the same language with my foreign colleagues. In the cook world, everyone who is involved in botanics uses the same Latin names, for example chefs from Mugaritz, Boragó (Rodolfo Guzmán), Noma.
You say that you give lectures at MGIMO. Who exactly is your audience?
I often participate in conferences at MGIMO, I don’t have any degree yet, but I’ve already thought a lot about my thesis on grass and food, and write about what botanics affects. There is no one who has ever done it. The MGIMO university teaches everything from a scientific point of view, and I make presentations to researchers and professors from practical point of view, where and what herbs I add.
By the way, you have already mentioned your move to Moscow. You have lived and worked for a long time in the Krasnodar Krai, where agriculture is very developed. In addition, this region is very rich with its vegetation and there is a great variety of herbs and flowers, in other words, a paradise for botanical gastronomy. I also know that you collected many plants to use in your kitchen. About a year ago you have moved to Moscow. How your approach to work has been changed due to relocation? Where do you find products, herbs and plants for your dishes?
In Sochi the warm season is longer, but in Moscow there are still all products that I need. For me Moscow Region is divided on the south, east and north. For example, the plants that finish blooming in the south, only begins to bloom in the north. I keep in touch with one research institute. There I have small greenhouses and collect herbs. This research institute is more than 30 years old and there are about 500 species of plants, including aquatic ones. We also have a country house, where I grow specific plants. For my gastronomic sets, this is still enough. In the future, I plan to make my own farm, where I will grow various plants, there I will make a cheese factory. Something I grow right in my restaurant Modus, where I have a small vegetable garden.
Listening to you, you can conclude that in any region of Russia you can find your own specialties and use them if you have a small-scale restaurant where you prepare interesting sets.
That’s right. I has recently gone to Belarus to a cook forum, where I had dinner. I went to the forest, where I collected products that I used at this dinner.
Andrey, can you name three of your favorite products? Those that you like to eat and which you prefer to cook.
I love fish, seaweed and all herbs. The most important thing for me is that the products are of high quality.
You have made few traineeships abroad. Which of them do you remember the most and what did you learn there?
Most of all I remembered work experience in restaurants Noma and Geranium. When I had reached a certain level, I went to Noma. I have been writing to this restaurant for a long time, about two years before I was taken on a traineeship. This restaurant uses a different approach, it’s deeper, understandable and correct, since it is on the verge of food and science.
Is there some difference in approaches between organizing work in the kitchen abroad and in Russia?
Yes, of course they are different. The first and most important thing is that cooks have rest. Michelin restaurants usually work 3-4 days a week and all dinners are booked in advance. Secondly, foreign restaurants use family approach to work. I also took it over and began to make informal meeting with all the staff at my restaurant once a week, when we sit down, drink tea and discuss various topics. I believe that you should always take care of your team, your employees, especially those who are very motivated and want to grow.
What trends in Russian gastronomy can you highlight for today, that are going to develop?
The trend for vegetables and vegan cuisine is developing very strongly now. The second trend is a new Russian cuisine, although I personally do not quite understand this trend. I believe that each region will promote its local story, each of them has special products and its own seasonality. Many restaurants in Europe use such approach. In Moscow there is a different story because you can find any product at any time of the year.
Nevertheless, in Moscow I continue to work according to the principle of seasonality. For example, now it is the turnip season and I have added 3-4 positions from turnips in the menu. It is going to be a season for tangerines and feijoa soon. I have a lot of special offers, interesting sets, not just the main menu.
Tell us how you relax and spend your free time. What allows you to relax after a hard-working day?
In my free time, even when I have rest, I still go to the forest and collect herbs. I have recently started to run and play sports, I like it. I also like to read books. In general, almost all my leisure time relates to cuisine and gastronomy.
What is your biggest chef’s dream?
I want to open my small project, there will be a farm with local products, cheese factory, maybe even a bakery, since I have recently been studying bread baking and I like this topic. I also want people to come to the restaurant more often, not just to get some impressions of haute cuisine, but just to eat.
And where would you like to make your project? Would you go back to Sochi?
Although there is high competition in Moscow, I think that it’s easier to make your project here. I probably would not have returned to Sochi. I also can make it in Rostov, Krasnodar, Vladivostok or Voronezh because there are all the necessary products in these cities.
What can you advise to young chef? Give three pieces of advice that will help to develop and achieve success in this area.
Always learn continuously, do not hold head high and go your own way. Never copy and never do what you don’t like. Love entirely the kitchen, then it will love you.
Thank you very much, Andrey!
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