Anton Abrezov – Chef from St. Petersburg about following the dream and constant self-development
Anton Abrezov is a chef from St. Petersburg who loves to experiment in the kitchen and believes that education, training and continuous improvement of professional skills should take an important place in the life of every chef.
Anton travels and studies a lot, he has recently taken a pastry course at the International Culinary Center in New York, and in the same year he has completed a course on baking bread at famous international school Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, he has studied at Brightwater in Arkansas and has even managed to work there as a teacher.
We talked with the chef and found out why self-development played an important role in his career.
Anton Abrezov – A Chef’s Portrait
How did you get into the chef profession? We know that you studied economics and planned to work in marketing after graduation. What influenced your decision to change everything so drastically?
I was born in Stavropol and came to St. Petersburg, where I entered the economics department of St. Petersburg State University. In the fourth year of study, I unexpectedly became interested in the profession of a cook. I was interested in the fact that in this profession there were various chemical and physical features that could no longer be found anywhere else. I began to study special literature, I began to like restaurants, I also began to write term papers about marketing in restaurants. My teachers were dissatisfied because they said it was not related to international marketing, but I disagreed. I wrote about new technologies in international marketing in restaurant business. At that time, it was too modern and action-oriented paper work.
In addition, I always wanted to be able to do something with my own hands. Marketer and economist, in my opinion, are not producing professions. My whole family always do something with their hands. Mom studied microbiology, dad is project designer who creates stunning projects in the field of residential or commercial construction. I also wanted to be able to produce something. I had gone to culinary courses, after that I got an internship in famous restaurant La Marée.
At the one moment, I had to choose and chose cooking, even though all my family was against it.
Why the family was against your choice? And at what point did they change their attitude to your work?
When I was six years old I wanted to be a marketer and, as a student, I got an internship in a large company Global Point Agency. But at the same time, I received an interesting offer to work in the kitchen and therefore I concentrated fully on working in the restaurant. I have never been ashamed of the cook’s profession, even though many cooks and waiters are very ashamed of their professions. I always tried to focus on my successes, because they helped me to move on.
My father stood against my choice most of all. My aunt, on the contrary, supported me because she was a cook and worked in the restaurant. At first, my family did not see the perspective of being a cook, for them the marketing profession was more prestigious. Over the years I managed to prove to them that their doubts were vain.
Working as a top manager of a large company, I could probably make a career here or abroad, but at the same time I would be completely dependent on corporate rules. Being a cook, I can work anywhere over the world and feel myself completely free. I travel the world almost for free, share my knowledge with people, earn enough money, I can work on myself. This is a great happiness. Now at the workshops I share with people my experience, how to get a lot of pleasure from work, even more than from life and entertainment.
Seeing my passion and the fact that I had already achieved some success, my parents accepted my choice. They saw that I was happy that I could earn money for myself and my family. My mother was in my restaurant, my parents read my publications and know everything that is going on with me. Recently, I was very pleased when dad, watching a video about the restaurant Noma, said that my restaurant would be cooler. For me it means a lot. Now they ask me about my work, they are proud of that, of course, I am happy and it motivates me to grow further.
Several people worked with me in the position of cooks, waiters, managers who were in similar situations. Once, a guy came to work at my restaurant who saw an article with my story, he was in the same position and therefore wanted to work with me. As a result, he became a good manager.
I believe that this is an important problem of our generation. We were born in the 90s and parents told us that we should get a stable and prestigious job. But we graduated from the university in such time, when it was normal to change your life and to do that you love. The point is not that we are so freedom-loving. We realize that when you love your work, you are successful, earn enough money and completely satisfied.
Anton, at what point in your career did you feel that you achieved the success?
I will not dissemble. This moment has not come yet. The more I travel around the world and communicate with different chefs, I understand that no matter how many people follow me on Instagram and consider me a good chef, I still didn’t do anything important. My life consists of micro goals. In just two years being a cook, I received an offer to head the restaurant. At that time, I understood that I was not ready for such a position, but it was an offer that was stupid to reject. You can always go back, so why not to try? I tried and I did it. It was the wine bar Prosto Vino, and there I made a name for myself. In the next project, I was offered a brand-chef position and this was already a new challenge. After that there were places like Mechtateli and Gras.
I think that I fulfil the expectations of the guests and professional community. But I still do not fulfil my own expectations. During my career, I managed to work in several countries, in the top restaurants of the world. I saw what and how they did everything, then I understood that I was far from great.
When I left Gras restaurant, I had a feeling that I didn’t know anything. And I went to study further. A whole year has passed, and now I should work in some restaurant in order to understand how I can apply my knowledge gained during this period. I believe that I will be able to reach a new peak, to rise to the next level.
I have never set big goals, for example, to be the first and be the best. I try to work for my team and for the guests in a restaurant without any big goals. My life consists of small goals, which ultimately line up in large.
You have already mentioned that you spent this year in training and traveling. Please tell us about it. What have you learned during this time? Where have you been?
I went to study, having understood that I need a new inspiration and new knowledge. I have always been weak in pastry art. I went to New York for a confectionary course in basic techniques at the International Culinary Center. Basically, here I systematized most of the knowledge that I already had. In order to earn money for training, I did consulting projects and traveled around Russia for three months. I saw many people, many restaurants. After that, I did a course in baking bread in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu.
After France, I made a trip to Italy, took a car in Venice and drove through small villages to Rome. I met people, stopped by for tastings and just enjoyed this trip. I celebrated my birthday in Prague, where my friend Sergei Fokin (Sergei’s story on Cook Concern) invited me to go. Then I went to France, to Provence to my pastry friend, went to Gastreet festival in Sochi and at the end of August I went to work to USA for two months. I was teaching students at school and in the same time I was studying there. Few people know that in March I enrolled at Swissam, they offered me a basic education, and as a result I received a diploma from Northwest Arkansas Community College.
Is there any difference, in your opinion, in professional culinary education between the USA and Europe?
No, there is no difference at the highest levels. This is especially noticeable in Brightwater in Bentonville, Arkansas – this is just a top school with amazing equipment and the environment. I will give an example. When you pass a beer course, you go on a tour to brewery, which is located at this school, you see the whole production process and taste the whole line. This is just fantastic. At the same time, the cost of the course here in Bentonville, six times cheaper than the same course in New York or Paris.
Tell me more about the Brightwater School. What is the mission of this school? Who comes there to study?
This school belongs to a large Community College. It is a separate building. This school makes researches. In fact, this is a very new school, they have just started, but they work at a very high level. This school was opened to develop its region, Arkansas, so the price of education there is very affordable. There are students from all over the world, including North and South America. This school is less than two years old.
This time I managed to travel a lot around the USA, and I was convinced that a few Americans want to live in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. In smaller cities, life and housing are four times cheaper, and at the same time you earn as much as in a large city. And here you do not understand why you should go to the big city. This is what makes Russia different, since we all dream of living in Moscow or in St. Petersburg, and only recently such cities as Yekaterinburg, Rostov, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk, Sochi have been added to the list. We want to go to a big city, because there is happiness. Americans want to go to a small city, because they all can create everything they need.
How has the gastronomic world of St. Petersburg changed during your absence?
Nothing has changed dramatically, but there have been several important openings. For the first time in ten years, I made a list of eight restaurants that I wanted to visit. They are great, I hear a lot of good reviews about them. I have already been in some of these places. For example, I liked the Israeli bistro SAVIV. It is evident that the city is actively developing.
What will be the restaurant industry in Russia in the next few years? What do you think about it?
People start going to restaurants, the consumer market is growing, while people working in restaurants do not want to study and improve their skills. Cooks copy and do not go anywhere to study, that is why the quality of services suffers greatly. This is a big problem. Everyone needs to learn, because we have just started to develop our market, we still have everything ahead.
Thank you very much, Anton!
Chef Anton thinks of education, training and continuous improvement as important basics for every chef.
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