Victor Beley – head chef at Russian cuisine restaurant Uhvat in Moscow
Victor Beley has been working as chef more than 10 years. Since September 2018, he is heading the kitchen of the modern Russian restaurant Uhvat. The restaurant was named thanks to the main tool for working with Russian stoves – the grip.
Victor, tell us about your current project, the restaurant Uhvat. What is the main idea of this project? Are there any interesting features?
Restaurant Uhvat is a project with modern Russian cuisine. In the heart of our restaurant there is a space with three large Russian wood-burning stoves. We use modern technology together with the age-old Russian technology of cooking in a wood-burning stove at low temperatures. All dishes are simmering in the oven, namely they are cooked on a slow fire from 6 to 18 hours.
What are the specifics of working with the Russian stove? Have you encountered any difficulties while working with this equipment?
It definitely has its specifics, since it is very important to learn how to work with a Russian stove. In general, we can say that the stove is similar to the oven in characteristics, but the quality of dishes cooked in the oven is much better. We have made few experiments. We took one product and cooked it in a Russian stove and in an oven at the same temperature. In the stove this product was much softer and melting. But it is very important to correctly calculate the temperature to work with the Russian stove. That is why we use special thermometers to measure temperature to avoid mistakes.
Are all the dishes in your restaurant really cooked in a Russian stove?
Now we cook only a part of the dishes in the stoves, the other part we cook in the ovens and with pans. Soon I plan to launch a new menu in which the ratio of dishes cooked in the stove and with other equipment will be 50/50. Cooking in Russian stove is rather laborious and time consuming process. Of course we will focus on the stoves and in the future we plan to cook more than 80% of dishes in wood-burning stoves.
Do you cook desserts in wood-burning stoves?
Yes. For example, now we are cooking Guryev porridge in it. Soon the baked apple and varenets will appear in the menu. Varenets is yogurt, which is being prepared in the stove during three days.
What dishes are the most popular in your restaurant?
The most popular dishes are halibut, porridge, fish soup that are cooked in the stove. Classic Mimosa and Olivier salads are also very popular, I make non-standard serving for these dishes. We cook Olivier salad with crayfish and quail, and we put smoked salmon in Mimosa salad. The taste remains authentic, but the serving is especial. We try to cook such dishes, which guests can order every day.
How often do you change the menu? Do you follow the principle of product seasonality?
Yes, of course, we use this principle. In September when I launched a new menu, we had such a dish as halibut with chanterelles, as these were seasonal mushrooms. Later we replaced the chanterelles with porcini mushrooms. Also in September we made desserts with raspberries, but now there is a season of persimmon and tangerines, so we also replace the ingredients with these seasonal fruits. Following the seasonality is not only a universal trend, but also an opportunity to reduce the food cost of the dish, which is very important for us.
Where do you buy food for the restaurant?
We buy most of products from our suppliers that are specialized companies. At the same time, I go to the market, study new products there and then I order it from our trusted suppliers. It is very important for us that all products are supplied with quality certificates and we can account for them. There are many interesting products on the market, but Rospotrebnadzor has questions to these market products.
Do you work with farmers?
We have farmers who bring us products from Krasnodar, Lukhovitsy, nearby Moscow, as well as from backcountry districts. We bring various fish from Sakhalin. Duck and goose are brought to us from Kabardino-Balkaria. We also try to track quality working with farmers.
How do you invent new dishes? What is the source of inspiration for you? What and who inspires you?
Inspiration usually comes during trips and travels over Russia, the CIS countries and of course abroad. I also get a lot of inspiration when I communicate with my colleagues, with other chefs. We attend various events together and visit each other restaurants. In the process of communication, we learn about new products, cooking techniques.
Also, many suppliers introduce us their new products. The more you travel, try something new, communicate with other people, the more experience you get. Then you analyze this new knowledge, impressions and you can already experiment and invent something on your own. I believe that you should not copy anyone, it is very important to rethink everything in your own way and generate your own ideas, to cook food in your own style.
Are there any foreign chefs and restaurants that inspire you?
Of course there are some people and places. For example, it is Spanish chef David Munoz (Street XO, 3 *** Michelin, Madrid), Christian Puglisi from Denmark (Relæ, 1 * Michelin, Copenhagen). I am also very inspired by René Redzepi (Noma, 2 ** Michelin, Copenhagen), Massimo Boturra (Osteria Francescana, 3 *** Michelin, Modena), Rasmus Kofoed (Geranium, 3 *** Michelin, Copenhagen).
In 2016 you completed an internship in Madrid, in the StreetXO restaurant with the chef David Munoz that you have already mentioned. Tell us about your experience. How did you get on this internship and what did you learn there?
At one moment I understood that I need to develop myself. I began to look for an opportunity to go abroad. My first foreign trip took place in Estonia. I traveled there to work with chef Dmitry Khalyukov. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, gastronomy is better developed in Estonia. Secondly, Dmitry Khalyukov has the experience of participating in several Bocuse D´Or competitions. We cooked together and talked a lot, it really inspired me, and I realized that the internship is what I need to move on.
Then on Facebook I found Svetlana Belousova, thanks to whom I got an internship at the StreetXO restaurant in Madrid. The internship gave me a lot of useful experience, I saw the result. After that, many told me that I was very lucky that I worked at StreetXO, as this is a very high-level restaurant and it’s not so easy to get there.
Last summer you took part in the Russian qualifying round of the famous international culinary championship Bocuse D´Or. What impressions did you get regarding this event?
In 2014 I went to Stockholm to watch the qualifying round in Europe. Igor Sus presented Russia at that round. After that, I went to Lyon to watch the final. Then I took part in the Russian qualifying round of the championship in Moscow and took fourth place. During the preparation to the championship, I was very worried and stressed. And when you cook at the competition, these emotions fade away and you get only positive impressions.
Bocuse D´Or is the most famous and prestigious competition among chefs in the world, so I really wanted to try myself. If you want to take part in championship, you need a lot of preparation, re-study, learn new technology and develop. Therefore, after the contest, you understand that you are moving to a new level.
Do you plan to participate in Bocuse D´Or next year?
Any competition is a serious financial investment. When I participated for the first time, I thought about the things that help you to get to the final. Now I am working out the issue of financing. If I find sponsors, I will go to this competition. In fact, the competition lasts for three years. From the beginning you participate in the Russian selection, then in the European round and then in the world final. It is very expensive. In other countries participation in this championship is sponsored by the state and allocates a certain budget for it. In Russia almost all costs are borne by the cook. If you do not have funding, then initially you are in hard conditions.
For comparison, in America chefs are given one million dollars for training. In Russia you can get only 10 000 dollars and this amount is not enough. This is a big problem. In order to prepare for the European qualifying round, you have to travel abroad during the year, go on internships and trainings in foreign restaurants. If you do not do this, do not travel to other countries and do not show yourself and your skills, then by the time you participate in the European qualifying stage no one will know about you. New chefs always face difficulties with their self-presentation. People from abroad know very little about Russian chefs. That is why it is very important to travel, show yourself and cook your food there.
Also, most of the costs go for training. You need at least 12 trainings. The total cost for that will be approximately 9 000 dollars. During the training you work out the cooking time, because in the competition you have to do everything, you should use every minute. Therefore, during preparation, the cook should repeat the same operations about 30 times, bringing this process to perfection.
Now it is the time when I need to decide whether I will participate or not. In the nearest future I’ll make this decision for sure. I am one of those people who constantly set new goals for themselves and strive to achieve them, but still it is necessary to keep a cool head. This is the case when it is very important to properly appreciate your strengths and capabilities.
You have already participated twice in the project Discover Russian Cuisine. A year ago, you’ve been with this project in Berlin, and at the beginning of November in Shanghai. How was it?
The main aim of Discover Russian Cuisine project is the development of Russian gastronomy. A group of cooks led by Narine Bagmanyan travels around the world and organizes a series of master classes, speeches, dinners in restaurants abroad to talk about modern Russian cuisine and show other people what we can do. We also talk a lot about our products, farms, our production and we introduce it to a foreign audience. It attracts great interest, since many people have no idea what is happening on the Russian market.
For example, in Shanghai people were very surprised by the taste and quality of Russian products. Due to the fact of imposition of sanctions Russia has new opportunities and free markets and we use it. We began to actively develop and promote our products. Thus, we show to the whole world the level of development of gastronomy in our country.
Do you have any hobbies that help you in your work?
I am a sports person, and in my free time I play football. Chef’s job is very hard and tough, so it’s important to keep fit. I also have family and children. I try to spend more time with them, because time is the most precious thing we have. We have to work very hard, so I try to keep balance.
Thank you so much, Chef Victor!