Melissa Manche, Peruvian Chef and Co-Owner of Tams House in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Peruvian Chef and Co-owner of “Tams House” in Plovdiv/ Bulgaria, Melissa Manche, studied at the Paul Bocuse Institute, trained in various international Michelin star restaurants, in love and married to a colleague shows us which interesting stories the life of cooks can write and what can develop from it. Her culinary journey that started in Peru, criss-crossing different borders, training and working around the world and finally opening Tams House in Bulgaria with Chef and husband Todor Tanchev.
How would you describe your cooking style and the philosophy behind it? Do you have a motto?
My style is contemporary fusion, with a background in classical French cooking. For me, cooking is never about single recipes, but the technique behind the work, which allows an infinite amount of possibilities.
Which easy recipes could you outline for us (ingredients, preparation) that represent your work that you think we should try?
One of my classical desserts that I can recommend is the Egg cheesecake. Basically, you make a coulis with 10% sugar by amount of Mango pure, then freeze it in sphere molds. Aside you prepare a simple no bake cheesecake – usually cream cheese, a crème anglaise, and heavy cream. Fill the egg molds (Easter egg molds can work, but I recommend silicon ones) up to 2/3, insert the mango “yolk”, and finish filling up the mold, then freeze for at least 6 hours. After that, remove the “eggs” from the mold. And cover them with a thin layer of white chocolate, immersion method works the best for me. For extra texture I repass each egg with a hard brush.
The ending result, is a dessert that when cut in half resembles a 5-minute boiled egg.
Which culinary trends do you see going on in the world today? How much do trends influence you or inspire you?
I see a Visual trend that is making headway in many new restaurants and social media networks, where decorative elements like edible blossoms tend to overwhelm the dish. Meanwhile, I do believe that eyes are the first consumers of a plate, I think there should be a balance between flavor and visuals. Nevertheless, in between these photogenic trends, I feel inspired by the use of color contrast and either extreme symmetry or asymmetry, it helps me improve my own plating skills.
What would you do as a chef if money was not an issue for a year?
I would definitely finish the restaurant with all the details that we are missing. Tams House project was initially developed without an investor, or company financing by a bank. We renewed the building and designed the concept between my husband, our business partner, and myself. For that reason, we had to finish “one wall at a time”. This past year has been helpful to start polishing the missing details, but there is a lot of room for improvement in my eyes.
If you were to write a cookbook, what would it be about?
Product research, how to use sustainable investigation to improve your restaurant’s fare. Not only by using unusual products, but also how to use your local seasonal ingredients in a different way.
You currently work as… How did you start out as a chef, which culinary school did you attend?
I currently work as Food and Beverage manager of our restaurant Tams House, developing both the wine and food menu with my husband and Co-owner Todor Tanchev.
I started at the Institut Paul Bocuse – Lyon, with a degree in Culinary Arts, and then finished a double Bachelor at the University San Ignacio de Loyola in Gastronomy and restaurant management.
I trained in different restaurants and hotels such as the 1-Michelin star restaurant Solage in Napa Valley, the now 3-Michelin starred restaurant Abac in Barcelona, the restaurant Saisons and the restaurant L’Institut in Lyon, the JW Marriot in Lima, among others. I believe it is the mix of different concepts and types of service that gave me the culinary vision I have today.
What brought you to cooking as a profession?
I remember even since primary school, I used to sell my own variation of the New York cheesecake to my teachers and friends, just to have a small profit for my snacks. It made me realize how much I actually enjoyed the time in the kitchen, how happy people were with my product; and the best part, I was even paid for it!
What will you never forget from your first year as a chef?
How bad I was at this. I remember one of our first classes we had to recognize aromatic herbs, sort of like a competition game in teams. I couldn’t guess a single one correctly, not even basil. I was so frustrated by my lack of knowledge that it just gave me that push to force myself to be better, learn more.
Many careers begin with hard times where some think about giving up. Was there also such a moment in your career, and how did you overcome that? What would you do differently today?
The hardest time was the year of construction of the restaurant. With Todor we used to have days that we just wanted to give up and find a job somewhere else. As I mentioned before, without proper financing, making your own restaurant can be one of the most exhausting and frustrating projects you will ever do. It felt like nothing was moving forward for such a long time. We even lost a partner in the way! But finding the right people that believes in your concept helped us overcome that situation. That’s when our new partner Yordan Dingilski came in, and helped us finish and polish the concept of Tams House.
This is when we took the project into our own hands, together we finished the electrical system, the insulation, and painted the walls. In culinary school they don’t teach you how to install outlets but for sure we learned a few things on the way. I remember for the first months washing service towels at home, so that we could save some money to finish the restaurant. All I kept saying to Todor was “don’t worry, this is not forever!”.
How you ended up in Bulgaria, what were the main reasons? How was the process of starting a new project in an unknown place for you?
After much discussion with my husband, we decided that Bulgaria, and specially Plovdiv (European Capital of Culture 2019), was the right fit for a business with our view. The city is developing a great market for foreign concepts, and with it also being Todor’s home city, we would have a better understanding on legislations, market study, locations, etc.
Which situation helped you in your development as a chef the most?
Every special event entrusted to me by my employer helped me realize how much I HAVE to succeed. For example the Tasting dinner for the King Felipe VI of Spain that we made with the team of Abac; or the private dinner for Joel Robuchon with the Saisons team.
What is the best and worst aspects of working as a professional chef?
The best for me is the unconventional routine. Technically every day we come to work, prepare the mise en place, then the rush service, and finally cleaning and ordering. But in this standard shift, every day is always completely different, new ideas come, new problems to be solved, new projects to do; you will never get bored in a kitchen.
The worst is the hours, working in a kitchen usually means very long, underpaid, and over exhausting shifts. Leg and back pain, for sure. However, the passionate work will always pay off somehow.
How does the job change people?
Gives you a thicker skin. Cuts and burns hurt less, yelling is never personal during rush time, and you have no tolerance when people waste your time.
What are the most misunderstood aspects about the job of a chef?
The main ones we have encountered in the restaurant, that I wished our friends and family would know:
– Yes, it makes a huge difference ordering off the Menu, we prepare the dishes a certain way for a reason, and we don’t have the mise en place ready for your “simple salad with extra something”.
– No, we cannot just go to summer vacation next week. Holiday times usually just mean extra work for restaurants.
– No, I will not cook at your next event, and of course if I do, don’t expect the same quality as in a restaurant. Honestly, most of the times, we don’t even want to cook at home.
What does your work mean to you and could you give some insight to the younger generation asking themselves if becoming a chef is for them?
My work is my daily challenge. Everyday better, faster, cleaner, smarter. It’s what I do even on my spare time.
My advice is, do this job for the love of it. Not because you cook good at home, or it’s fashionable, and please not if you are just a “Foodie”. Don’t choose according to salary only, it will come eventually, but do it for the knowledge, despite where it comes from. Wash your pots, say “Yes Chef”, and learn.
What do you value most in the kitchen when it comes to technology?
Aside from the usual ones, I use the most the dehydrator. I find it very versatile for different techniques; like papers, croquants, leathers, meringues, puffed crisps, soils, etc.
Which ingredients and materials do you use the most?
One of my favorite challenges is to use simple everyday products – like cucumbers, cauliflower, chickpeas – and transform them into something unique and with great texture and flavor at the same time. Anybody can use truffles to upscale a dish, but try doing it with a tomato!
How important is the team and what intrical part do they have?
I learned that NOBODY, not even the Chef, is vital for a working shift. A good team should be able to carry on by itself, that’s how important it is.
Which values count for you the most when working in the kitchen?
Efficiency. It’s ok to work well, it’s ok to work fast; but it’s even better to do both. Curiosity, it is the root of knowledge. Passion without curiosity just limits your creativity.
Tams House is a small restaurant in the district of Kapana in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Our team consists of around 15 hard working members. We were founded in 2017, and opened our doors in August 2018. Since then, we have been awarded for “Best New Restaurant of Bulgaria” by San Pellegrino and Aqua Panna in partnership with Bacchus magazine. We have been featured in several articles by local and International media such as the Capital Newspaper – Plovdiv edition, Maritsa Newspaper – Bulgaria, Independent Newspaper – UK, among others.
Where is the gastronomic scene developing best? In places you don’t have on your screen. Plovdiv in Bulgaria (Europe’s cultural capital 2019) is such a place. In the absolute scene quarter, called “Kapana” (Trap) you will find the “Tams House” which serves Bulgarian and South American cuisines. Take a look before it becomes even more famous and the waiting times even longer: www.facebook.com/TamssHouse
You are an internationally open-minded and somewhat crazy cook; then just get in touch with us, maybe we can work together or develop something together. “Kapana” is booming and still has room for ideas / new concepts: www.facebook.com/TamssHouse