RUSLAN ZAKIROV – A SUCCESSFUL JOURNEY TO COSTA RICA
Ruslan Zakirov, executive chef of Kuznya House Restaurants in St. Petersburg, talks about a restaurant opening in Costa Rica and the experience he gathered there.
You have a background in engineering and marketing, how and why did you decide to become a chef?
Cooking was always a hobby of mine, and I’ve always been fascinated with cooking new things, researching new products and trying them out. When I take trips I always search out the local food and product, take it home and cook with it.
You were busy for several months in Central America. What was your objective on that trip?
I lived in Costa Rica for over a year and have traveled through Central America extensively. I learned Spanish and became acquainted with the local foods, traditions and technologies.
What special knowledge could you gather during that time and was there a moment that left you with a lasting impression?
In Central America I studied many traditional cooking methods (smoking, fermentation) and sampled numerous products that I had never heard of before. I became very well acquainted with harvesting cacao beans for chocolate, vanilla bean preparation and working with real Costa Rican coffee.
Could you describe for us the preparation of real Costa Rican coffee?
The process is pretty simple, the coffee is washed until it becomes larger in size, put into a special filter and then doused with hot water between 75 and 85 degrees celsius. It’s important that its a local coffee and you know the region it’s produced. Don’t forget to be in good company and have tortillas and chips on hand from the local platanos.
You opened a restaurant in Costa Rica, could you describe for us a bit about the experience and the concept behind the the restaurant?
The restaurant was opened next to a small boutique hotel. The concept is about bringing traditional dishes to the table in a modernized fashion, where only local product is used. This concept continues on in other aspects of the restaurant, the decor is natural wood and right in the middle of the restaurant grow three trees. I’ve learned many traditional dishes from my cooks who got their recipes from their mothers and grandmothers, together we have come up with a wonderful cooking style.
What was the biggest challenge in all this?
The biggest challenge was learning how to work on a completely different continent, trying to find a common ground with the team and motivating them.
What type of guests do you recieve in your restaurant?
Most of the customers were of course guests of the hotel of which more than half came from the U.S. However, we also had many people from France and Spain and often residents from the capital that just came to experience our restaurant.
How would you describe your culinary style?
I try to cook interesting and modern food while combining product from different countries.
Currently you work as executive chef at “Kuznya House”. What is the culinary direction and concept of the restaurant?
Everyday we strive to prepare interesting and comfortable meals, it’s a bit in the style of current French Neo-Bistros.
Do you have a favorite product you love to work the most with?
There isn’t a specific product that is my favorite, I love to work with seasonal products in general and I search out the best in any given season as much as possible and work with them in different ways.
Are you interested to work overseas again?
Yes, definitely. working in other countries is always an amazing experience that expands your horizons and you learn so very much.
Which chefs would you like to work with if you had the chance?
The list of chefs I would like to work with is long but at the top would be David Chang, Alex Atala, Albert Adria and Marco Pierre White. I think it would be an amazing and unique experience to work with each and every one of them.
Could you share with us a simple, delicious and seasonal recipe?
The artichoke season is about to begin so I’ll leave you with a cool and delicious salad recipe. Remove the hard leaves from the artichoke, cut the artichoke into thin slices and toss together with fresh arugula and spinach leaves. Add a splash of olive oil, lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Top with young pecorino shavings.
Do you have any future plans you care to share with us?
For the foreseeable future I will be working in the “Kuznya House” restaurant. It’s still a great crazy project with many things to do. Of course there might be things like opening my own restaurant or more, but time will tell. 🙂
Thanks a lot Ruslan!
What is your plan for your future as a chef?
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