Expat chefs in Romania: Henrik Sebok of Howard Johnson Grand Plaza

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.

Henrik Sebok, Executive Chef @ Howard Johnson Grand Plaza

When did you come to Romania? I came to Romania in September 2002.

What brought you here in the first place? My wife was offered a two-year contract here in Bucharest and we decided to give it a try!

What is your favorite place in Romania? Sibiu is one of my favorite places, amongst many others.

Where else in Romania have you worked before your current position? I was a consulting F&B Manager for Imparatul Romanilor SA. in Sibiu.

What is your favorite Romanian food? A good Easter “Drob”

What is the one food you love to cook? To name one it would be to discriminate against all the other beautiful ingredients that I love to cook. As long as cooking is a passion, you can create wonderful dishes even from the simplest ingredients.

Where did you learn how to cook? I did my first cooking school in Hungary. There I learnt Classical French Cuisine, the foundation for everything in the culinary world. Then I traveled and worked all over Europe in order to widen my knowledge. After that I went to Canada and attended another Hotelier School Specializing in F&B and Kitchen management. For 15 years every summer I went for a month to the best restaurants in the US and Canada to work and learn from the best chefs. Last year I received my Certified Master Chef. Still, after nearly 30years of experience in the culinary world, I learn something new each day. This is the only way to stay on top of the new techniques and the new trends of the culinary world.

Tell us about an adaptation of a Romanian recipe (if you have any). Yes, I did have a chance to “play around” with some traditional Romanian recipes. One of my favorites was ‘Coliva Ice cream,’ which was a real hit with all my friends and guests.

What sort of recipes sell better in Romania, from your experience? Still Traditional Romanian food is leading, but clients are more and more interested in new things.

To what extent do Romanians appreciate more uncommon recipes? Are they traditional or do they like to try new things? You can’t generalize on what Romanians are appreciating! It depends on many factors like: age, education, if they travel, etc… Bucharest and some of the bigger cities in Romania are more cosmopolitan. So there is a higher percentage of guests who are open and willing to try new things.

What is the largest number of people you ever cooked for? 4,000 guest four course seated menu. I was a sous chef at that time, coordinating all the preparation and service of the fish and the meat dish of the event. Every cook and chef should experience an event like this. Great fun but a very hard work!

What was the biggest kitchen ‘disaster’ in your career? How did you solve it? It was an off site catering event for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police-120 km from the hotel I worked for. My sous chef forget to check if the beef for the main course was loaded on the truck. We realized only on location that the beef was missing! After I talked with the chief of RCMP we found a solution to our problem and we had the beef within an hour. We served “flying beef” for that event! Thanks to the RCMP helicopter pilot! 🙂

Who is your favorite Chef (in the world)? Paul Bocuse and Heston Blumenthal.

How many people currently work in your kitchen? My staff currently includes 30 cooks (Hot and Cold kitchen and Pastry)

What is the first thing you usually do in the kitchen at the beginning of the day? Each and every day after I enter my office I start my kitchen tour, checking for the daily events, checking all the fridges for temperature and if the food items are correctly labeled. I check the status of the food production and then I order my morning coffee. Then I check my correspondence (e-mail, mail, etc..)

What is the place in Romania where you ate the best Romanian food? I eat fantastic Romanian food all over the country. Each region has its unique way of preparing fresh local ingredients.

Interview by Irina Popescu, [email protected]

(photo source: Howard Johnson)