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The famous Bocuse d’Or competition is now in Ukraine. The Drinks + observer spoke with the person who brought the world’s main gastronomic show to our country. Evgeniy Korolev, chef of the author’s cuisine restaurants Winovnik and 4-Tower in Dnipro, founder and owner of the Bocuse d’Or Ukraine brand, told us, how the competition would be held. Additionally, he broached many other interesting aspects.
Drinks+: Evgeniy, you have over a decade of experience in Michelin-starred European restaurants, won the Gourmet Cup in Germany in 2019 and ranked among the top three young chefs, according to JRE Germany; in 2019, you were among the top 3 young chefs in Central Europe according to the international culinary school ALMA Italy; you received the Young Chef Award 2019 and are the Chief Ambassador of San Pellegrino. In 2020, for the first time in the history of the Ukrainian gastronomy, you created Ukraine’s national and youth teams and brought them to the International Exhibition of Culinary Art World aka Culinary Olympic Games (Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung – IKA). And now Bocuse d’Or Ukraine, where you are the founder and brand owner. Which of these steps was the most difficult and why?
Evgeniy Korolev: Frankly speaking, all awards and recognitions are never given for nothing. Any entry into the rating or competition is a result of hard working on a daily basis. Over the past five years, I have managed to take part in eight international culinary competitions, and I can say that reaching the Culinary Olympic Games (IKA) in 2020 was the most difficult task!
Due to a very short period of time allocated for training, my team and I, having arrived at the Olympics, were faced with huge problems in our preparation. At some point, we realized that for technical reasons, we would not even be able to participate or meet the timing. To this day, I don’t know how we managed, but we performed well in our nominations.
As for Bocuse d’Or Ukraine, this is a very interesting and complex project that requires tremendous preparation. The team and I started organizing the competition back in 2020, and at the present moment, everything is going smoothly according to the elaborated plan.
D+: You have worked with such masters as Alain Ducasse and Wojciech Amaro. Tell us about these gastronomy gurus: how are they working, what is the atmosphere in their kitchens, and what is their philosophy? What have you learned from these pros?
Evgeniy Korolev: It is a common practice in all top restaurants that the chef does not always have an opportunity to be in the kitchen due to his or her high workload. Experienced sous-chefs supervise all processes in the kitchen. I had an opportunity to work with Alan Ducasse only a few times; he is very charismatic, kind, and always ready to help and give an advice. Often, he would just stand and tell why and for what reasons it was important to do it this way and not otherwise. We had been working with Wojciech Amaro quite often; I should say that he is strict and demanding. He spoke little, made us think, read and form our own opinion about a product or process. As a result of working at Benoit restaurant, I gained an understanding of the chef’s philosophy and respect to the product and the profession. At Atelier Amaro, I learned how to apply various modern techniques, to deal with product combinations and serving dishes.
D+: What attracts you in the chef’s profession: an opportunity to experiment, you enjoy your food or enjoy teaching others?
Evgeniy Korolev: Of course, I am a lover of good food. I give preference to the restaurants with original cuisine. Experiments in the kitchen are a key to success! Working with a product, combining and practicing techniques … without this, we will stop developing.
I adhere to my own style at Winovnik, and my principles are: working with high-quality seasonal products, using various techniques and combinations and, of course, non-standard serving. In the future, I would like to open a restaurant with the same concept and author’s style, but to prepare a menu in a seven-nine-course set format, without adhering to a la’carte menu.
D+: In January 2020, you signed an agreement for establishment of the Bocuse d’Or Competition in Ukraine. Can you please tell us, how it all started, how this idea occurred to you?
Evgeniy Korolev: It all started with my participation in international competitions, after which representatives of Bocuse d’Or from other countries invited me to apply for participation. Unfortunately, according to international rules, I could only do this from the country of which I am a citizen, that is, from Ukraine, where, let me remind you, Bocuse d’Or did not exist at that time. Later, the German organization introduced me to the representatives of the Bocuse d’Or headquarters in Lyon. For about three months, we were discussing the possibility of my participating in, or holding, the competition in Ukraine. One fine day, the headquarters’ director called me and offered to head the establishment of the competition in our country, however, on the condition that I would return to Ukraine and would never again be able to take part in the competition as a chef. One of the priority tasks was to organize a presentation of the project, including analysis of the country’s gastronomic market, the best restaurants and chefs, prospects, potential and development vector of the Ukrainian gastronomy in the world. The second stage included the project’s defense before the Bocuse d’Or committee in Lyon. Later, the project data were verified and corruption screening was held, as well as a number of meetings in Ukraine, and negotiations at different levels; as a result, Ukraine was warmly received into the Bocuse d’Or family.
D+: Did any significant difficulties or problems arise at the stage of conclusion of the contract?
Evgeniy Korolev: The most difficult thing was waiting for the next answer from the headquarters and a series of new questions. I did not know, what they were paying attention to, when checking the information, and what they were guided by. Frankly speaking, Bocuse d’Or corporation and GLEX organizers were initially well disposed to Ukraine’s joining their family, so the French side did not create any problems or difficulties and always showed solidarity and loyalty. But at the same time, I would emphasize extremely difficult terms of the franchise and the rules of participation for chefs, which are not so easy to adapt to the realities of our country.
D+: Can you disclose a few names of the Ukrainian chefs who applied for participation in the competition, because the applications are already being accepted, aren’t they?
Evgeniy Korolev: We did not expect that the number of applications seeking participation in the first year’s competition will be so huge. According to the regulations of our organization, we have no right to disclose any information about the contestants before adoption of the official decision regarding preliminarily qualified participants, which is to be published on the Bocuse d’Or Ukraine website on June 1. I can say that the names of the majority of candidates are well known to the Ukrainian gastronomic community.
D+: In what format will Bocuse d’Or take place in Ukraine? It will be something like Sirha sites?
Evgeniy Korolev: My team and I are organizing the largest exhibition for representatives of the hotel and restaurant business. We plan to make several zones, one of which will host the final stage of the national selection Bocuse d’Or. Other zones will host an exhibition of official partners, HoReCa representatives, master classes, lectures and seminars, speaker zones, an entertainment zone, a photo zone, a zone of craft producers and much more.
D+: As a chef who has gained an extensive experience, do you notice any qualitative changes in the Ukrainian wine market? How do you feel about including Ukrainian brands into the restaurants’ wine lists?
Evgeniy Korolev: Certainly, I do! If we compare the level of Ukrainian winemaking, which existed five to ten years ago, we may see that by the present stage, some domestic producers have considerably grown. Naturally, it is difficult for us to compete with the wines of the Old World, given their history of winemaking, terroir, weather and climatic conditions, but in the near future, more and more decent Ukrainian wines will have been produced. I can only recommend to be very active in replenishing the restaurants’ wine lists with Ukrainian wines in order to support the local producers and expand the choices available for guests.
D+: Can you please tell the stakeholders, how the competition will be held and what awaits the winners.
Evgeniy Korolev: It is not for nothing that Bocuse d’Or is considered to be the most difficult competition, and the candidate’s preparation time is the key. In other words, as you prepare, so you will perform. Bocuse d’Or is not about improvisation and luck. All trainings, preparation, experience and concentration must be demonstrated during the competition.
The team of participants includes a chef (over 23 years old) and an assistant (under 23 years old). The Competition’s tasks include the preparation of two courses of 14 servings each, where the fish dish is served in portions on plates, the meat dish is served on a special presentation plate, and later served on the plates. The competition will take 5 hours and 35 minutes. Participation in the competition is free, the organizer bears the costs of travel and accommodation for the participants, and also provides all necessary equipment, inventory and products. All participants will receive prizes from partners and the organizer. The bronze medal winner: UAH 25 thousand, the silver medal winner: UAH 50 thousand, and the winner of Bocuse d’Or Ukraine will receive a prize of UAH 100 thousand and will take part in the European Bocuse d’Or final in 2022, where, together with the team, he or she will represent Ukraine at the international arena.
D+: What do you and your team expect from the first Bocuse d’Or in Ukraine? What parameters will measure the success achieved and at what point can you say: well, here it comes, the victory?
Evgeniy Korolev: Organizing an event of this scale requires a huge investment of time, resources and funds, therefore it is very important for us to hold this competition at the highest European level, since we invite an international jury and the headquarters’ [representatives]. I would very much like to hold a Bocuse d’Or Europe Final in Ukraine in the coming years, so we approach each organizational moment very seriously and discreetly.
It is important for us to create the most comfortable conditions for candidates, so that the guys can concentrate only on the processes of cooking. In the near future, we will begin to conduct master classes for candidates in order to prepare them as much as possible for the competition. One of the most important indicators of success will be the chefs’ involvement in the competition and their willingness to participate in the next national shortlisting. Well, the best indicator of success will be the Ukrainian team’s victory at the Bocuse d’Or Europe Final in Lyon!