Igor Bednyakov: “A chef should travel widely”

Igor Bednyakov is the chef of Bochka Restaurant, Andrey Dellos’s pioneer project. Bochka was opened in 1996, offering its guests home cuisine and relaxing atmosphere of a medieval inn. In 2010 Bochka was closed for renovation and reopened as a gastronomic restaurant with differently organized and decorated space and revamped menu concept. Igor Bednaykov is talking about Bochka’s past and present, home and molecular cuisine, ordinary cooks and chefs as well as about the nature of taste.

About the career choice

I always knew that I would become a chef. I enrolled at Vocational School Number 41 and graduated with distinction. On graduation, most students qualify as ‘Grade 4 Multi-Skilled Cooks’. In those times, grades were of particular importance. First of all, it was an indicator of professional growth, then, your wages depended on it. Internationally, references provided by the previous employer are widely used when applying for a new job. And I believe that this is the right approach. You may always contact the chef or the restaurant and clarify details. After graduating, I joined Fantasia Restaurant in Gorky Park. There I made first steps in my profession. Then I was invited to work for The Palace Hotel at Belorusskaya station. The Palace Hotel had a very well equipped kitchen, with desktop blenders, combi steamers and vacuum machines. It was a rare thing for the 1990s. There I received extensive experience of working with the European cuisine and got familiar with advanced cooking technologies.

About Bochka

I was offered the role of sous-chef at the newly opened Pushkin Café where Andrey Makhov was the chef. I worked there for four years before being recommended to fill the chef’s role at Bochka where I opened the door for new horizons for creativity and bringing all my ideas to life. Bochka had already become a superb restaurant. I had to suggest something new in terms of both the dish serving and cooking technology. And I put all of my passion into it! I introduced a new technology of preparing banquet dishes right in the banqueting hall, in front of the guests. One of them was a spit-roasted young bull that has become the restaurant’s iconic dish. In the late 90s, Bochka was in fact the only restaurant which had a huge barbeque in the middle of the hall where a whole lamb or young bull could be prepared. I would not rather say about hits at Bochka. There are traditional dishes at Bochka which our guests have been going to sample for many, many years. And what are hits? A young bull roasted on a rotisserie is definitely a hit. This is our specialty. Tsar cutlet is another good example. One raw cutlet weighs 450 grams, we have created cutlets of four types – lamb, chicken, fish and beef. They all took off. But hits may also change over the time, of course. Today, this dish is a hit, tomorrow you will come up with something better, and this something becomes a hit. The more dishes on the menu, the fewer hits you have. After renovation, Bochka became a more modern restaurant with a gastronomic twist. However, we do not forget about home cuisine. Pike in marinade as well as the Olivier salad are still on the menu. We revamped the serving of some of the old dishes. We changed the style, the tableware. But their taste remained the same. It was a pleasure to see our regular guests coming after renovation and saying: “We have been really missing your cabbage rolls and pies!” Therefore I believe that it is very interesting for the restaurant to have modern gastronomic cuisine and Russian home cuisine going hand in hand.

About the team work

It is essential that cooks in your team know that they have the boss who can stand up for them, teach them something new and spark their interest.Many would agree that it is difficult to find the right people nowadays. Why? We have the profession. The profession of a cook. It is interesting. It is challenging. One should believe in it, one should love it. It is not an easy task to find such people. I have been passionate about my job, it has become part of my life, and I have never thought of changing it. This is the only possible way to success. A chef needs to be a psychologist if he wants to build a good team. You shouldn’t get hard on people or use the one-size-fits-all approach. You need to remain a human being. If you see that a member of your team is not in the mood, try to find out what he is concerned about, give advice and make him aware that he is not alone. It may take a long time. You know – people are said to be corrupted by their school, their parents, their environment. We want our people to be helped by their profession, their restaurant, their job.

About the chef’s job

I am a dedicated worker and deeply respect those chefs who work for one restaurant for a long time. It takes a lot of knowledge and experience to open a restaurant, develop a menu and establish routines. A more interesting time comes in the next years, when the chef ought to maintain the restaurant’s level, keep in step with the industry and look into the future. Our job is like gemcutting We have the menu, dishes, cooking instructions, photos and chef’s tips at our disposal. Nevertheless, the final result is determined by the mood and inspiration of the particular cook who has been assigned to prepare the dish by the chef. And this is crucial — being able to rely on your people’s mastery and loyalty. Creating publicity around the chef is also important for the business. For instance, why not to take part in TV shows or attend chefs’ meetings? This makes you closer to the community, allows learning each other better. Publicity won’t hurt you, but, at the same time, it won’t help in your immediate operations in the kitchen.

About hobbies

As I do not have much free time, I try to spend it diversely. I have lots of interests. I prefer such physical activities as cycling, skating, skiing and swimming in the pool. And I am definitely keen on travelling the world and getting familiar with national cuisines of other cultures. All this helps me in my job.

About responsibility

Nature itself gives us its ideas if you are attentive enough to spot them. I am looking for inspiration in nature – in its sounds, plants and colours. People come to the restaurant not only to have lunch or dinner, but to relax and feel comfortable. And the restaurant’s staff and interior will assist them in achieving this. When we are served a dish, we make our first evaluation of it visually.