The kitchens of Bucharest’s restaurants harbor a number of internationally renowned foreign chefs. Romania-Insider.com talked to expat chefs about work, food and life in Romania’s capital – check this section as more will follow in the coming days.
German Bernd Kirsch, executive Chef @ the Radisson Blu hotel; before Romania, he has cooked his way around the world.
When did you come to Romania? I came to Romania in 2008 to work for the Radisson. I came one year before the opening of the hotel, employed the staff for the restaurants and helped with the opening.
How many people work with you now? We have 72 kitchen staff and 24 stewarding staff, in four restaurants and also for the banqueting – a capacity of 1,500 people, plus the four bars. I have to run everything.
How does your typical day look? The day starts at 07:30, when I make my first rounds, check everything. I then check emails, if something happened in the guest reports. Then I have the morning meeting with the sous-chefs, and coordinate what needs to be done during the day. Depending on the business, I have to stay in the kitchen. Then comes the lunch, when I do another round for everything. The end of the day depends on what events we have – I may stay there until 10-11 at night.
How often do you cook? Quite often – even if it is not necessary to do it. Every restaurant has a sous-chef and I coordinate with them. The menu is fixed but we also change the menu every three months or so.
Before Romania, where did you work? First in my village – I did an apprenticeship as a baker. Then I had an apprenticeship as a chef. I worked in Bavaria, in Switzerland – both the German and the French parts, Brussels, Norway, Denmark, Spain, London, Abu-Dhabi, Berlin again and finally Bucharest. Most of my work was in restaurants in hotels. If I stayed in one restaurant, I would get bored very quickly.
What sort of recipes do Romanians usually go for ? They like Italian food, as well as steaks and sea food. When I came here and did a banquet menu, people told me I should not put curry on the menu as people would not eat it. For the brunch we also included some Asian recipes. But in the end everyone loved to eat curry dishes, for example. People are more open. You can also see the change in the weddings – initially people went for the traditional food, but now we get more requests for smaller menus but higher quality.
What is your favorite dish? In general I like to eat pasta, but I don't have only one favorite dish.
What about Romanian food? I like the sarmale during winter, sometimes mici, but not too much.
Have you ever tried to change a Romanian recipe, to adapt it? We try to cook some recipes lighter.
What is the largest number of people you have ever cooked for? It was a royal wedding in Abu Dhabi, 8,000 people. Alone I cooked for 30-40 people.
How did you learn to cook? I started an apprenticeship in cookery, after the one in baking. I also learned a little bit from my mother. During the baker's apprenticeship I decided to become a cook – I was sick and tired of starting to work at 2 o'clock in the morning. I spent three years learning bakery – and only two years to become chef, as I had already done the bakery school.
What was the biggest disaster in your kitchen and how did you solve it? In Abu Dhabi – the sheik called saying he was coming with 150 people in one hour and we had to cook for them.
What is your biggest achievement in your career so far? Being the executive chef in the biggest hotel in the world in Abu Dhabi, the Beach Rotana hotel, and also coming here and helping open the restaurants in Radisson, which is the biggest hotel in Romania and became the best hotel in the chain. The activity in Berlin was also among the highlights.
Who are your favorite chefs in the world? The chefs I worked with in the past.
Where are your favorites places in Romania? So far I visited Sinaia, Sibiu, Sighisoara, the seaside resort of Mamaia. I drive a motorbike and every two years I drive home on this bike.
Where did you eat the best food in Romania? In Sibiu the food was good, but in Sighisoara it was rather hard to find good food. If I go to a normal restaurant, my expectations are not so high. But if I go to a place that has a good name, I have high expectations.
What is the first thing you do in the morning in your kitchen? Firstly I check the operations. Breakfast is the most important in the hotel. Many people only eat here only during breakfast and their impression is based on that experience. It is very important in their decision to come back.
What do you like and what you don't like about Romania? I like the country, the surroundings. I don't like the drivers here – even if I go by car, not just on the motorbike. I also like the people here. If I asked ten people for something in Germany, I would hear 'No' from eight of them. But here people are more flexible and they help you achieve more.
Interview by Corina Saceanu, firstname.lastname@example.org