BARBORA ŠIMŮNKOVÁ – ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP RESTAURANTS
Barbora Šimůnková is a woman full of determination who knows the meaning of hard work. She discovered her passion for cooking during her school days. She dropped out of school to realise her dream of working in top restaurants.
The young chef began her career by preparing Asian dishes at the restaurant Sansho in Prague and helping famous chefs at the Prague Culinary Institute. At twenty-four years of age, she managed to visit several top restaurants in the Czech Republic, London and most recently the US, where for example she cooked at the renowned French restaurant Per Se under the direction of Thomas Keller.
We met up with her for an interview to learn more about her professional career and her work as a respected chef.
BECOMING A CHEF
Barbora discovered her love of cooking while attending high school, where she only had general school subjects for your years – none of which she found particularly appealing. During this time, she most enjoyed evening meals and baking with her family. She reconsidered her career path and began to restructure her life. Despite her parents’ protests, she dropped out of high school and began an apprenticeship at cookery school. In the Czech Republic, she says, cooks are seen as being not good enough, because poor performance at secondary school means they are unable to pursue any other profession. Because of these negatives perceptions, her dream job got off to a difficult start. Nevertheless, she got lucky: In the course of her training she met the best chef in the country, attending numerous cooking courses taught by him.
OUR INTERVIEW WITH BARBORA
Did anyone inspire you on your culinary journey?
Well, to start with it was definitely the British chef Gordon Ramsay in his restaurant Hell’s Kitchen. I was always curious to find out how it feels to work in the world’s top restaurants. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, only has one renowned chef: Zdeněk Pohlreich. He was known for his ‘shouting’ and the ‘discipline’ in his kitchen. In reality Dalibor Navrátil, whom I knew from the Prague Culinary Institute, was my greatest source of inspiration. He spent some time cooking in Joel Robuchon’s kitchen in France. France has always been the country that fascinates me the most. But unfortunately I’ve never lived there.
What made you choose London of all places?
It’s a very funny story actually. I moved to London because I knew that the star chef of French cuisine – Alain Ducasse – had two restaurants there. I thought it would be easier to come into contact with French dishes from there, since I only spoke English and I knew someone in London who might be able to help me look for a job. In the end, however, I got lucky again and got the job at the Ducasse restaurant itself.
WORKING AT TOP RESTAURANTS IN LONDON AND THE US
You visited a number of top restaurants in the US and London. How difficult is it to get into that sort of restaurant?
You have to be persistent and always focus on your actual goal. You have to ask yourself what you want and why. Nothing in life is free, so be modest. In my opinion, anything is possible. All you have to do is work hard, be patient and believe in your ability – then it won’t be long before you reach the top restaurants.
Do you see a difference between working in London and the US?
In London I mainly worked with French people. That was the biggest change, being in constant contact with French culture and the conventional working system. We expected an average of about 60 guests each evening.
In New York, on the other hand, everything is bigger: a bigger kitchen, a bigger team and around 30 employees during one shift. In extreme cases, they could easily expect up to 280 guests in one evening at the restaurant Bernardin. The only exception was the Korean establishment Jungsik, where the limited space meant no more than five chefs could work at any one time. Due to the low capacity, it wasn’t possible for us to prepare standard 2-star meals.
Generally speaking, the US was a huge culture shock for me.
I’ve heard that you wrote a book about your years in America. When will it be published and what is it about specifically?
The publishers are currently in the process of publishing it. I hope it will be out soon. Essentially, the book contains exactly what this interview is about: anecdotes about my everyday life in the US and about hectic life in the kitchen. I write about the top restaurants worldwide in which I have been able to gain my experience so far. It is something of a diary, with all the questions many people asked me after returning to Prague.
A RESTAURANT CONCEPT OF HER OWN
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant, what would be your concept?
I would like to work in a place where all my staff would prepare the dishes to perfection and with a lot of love. Of course, that is only possible with a good deal of discipline and order in the kitchen, but I wouldn’t want to overdo it in that respect. A kitchen with no shouting or stress, but with plenty of love. That sounds a little cheesy, I know.
As for the food, I’m a fan of the ‘farm-to-table’ concept. Local ingredients you can find in any garden. I would also find it exciting to incorporate Asian spices and flavours.
If you would like to know more about Barbora Šimůnková, her book promises an insight into her own personal life as a chef.