It's Great Fun to Be a Chef!
Stephan Warnig; Executive Chef of Café des Artistes
Photos by Denis Manko
How many hours do you spend in the kitchen?
Well, I can say I live in the kitchen of my restaurant; I spend 13-14 hours there. I have to concentrate on everything. It is a fact that a man cannot do two great things at the same time. He can do one thing but do it with greatness.
I thought a chef is the one who does many things at once?
That is true; when I make preparations in the morning I always think about the next day - what I will do the next day! I plan two days ahead to be ready for any unexpected occurrence. When I am working I am like a machine, I don’t think about anything else except cooking.
Chefs are supposed to create and work for their customers and be ready to please them. Is it hard for you?
Yes, it is really hard. But it is fun…work is fun! When I have a lot of work everything seems perfect in the world. When people are happy I am happy too. For me it is a big compliment when my customers are satisfied and they say that they like the beautiful and delicious meal I have prepared for them. And in contrast it is awful for me when I don’t have anything to do!
How long have you been working in Russia?
I came from Germany and I have been here about two years…
You are from Germany; can you say what the German traditional cuisine is like?
The traditional is the one that every foreigner imagines German cuisine to be - heavy, yes. But Germany is not a small country and we have different regions; North, South, and in every region it is different. In the North near the ocean they prefer fish and in the South they like venison. But I think that the quality of the cuisine is high. Now we have a lot of good chefs, and when you here about a new hotel opening with a restaurant you would not be surprised to hear a German name. Now good chefs all over the world are German, not just French or Italian.
I know that some of the products are difficult to get in Russia?
It is difficult yes, but it helps us to vary the menu - we never stay the same. Our menu changes and that is good for the guests and what is good for them is good for us.
How often do you change the menu?
We change the menu about once a month and we have special seasons for some of the products and we want to cook seasonal dishes for the guests. When it is mushroom season we do Chanterelle, or white mushrooms. When it is the time for white asparagus we do wonderful dishes. I can say that some of the guests come only for these seasonal dishes. And of course when the prices for the seasonal ingredients change it usually happens at the end of the month and we don’t want our guests to pay more so we invite them to try other items on the menu. But we always have something exotic every day and those dishes are always expensive.
Does it mean that you try to be modern?
Yes, we do a mix of cuisines, but we mostly have Swiss cuisine. And we serve French, Italian and German dishes.
Did you know anything about Russia when you came here?
Yes, a lot. My father and mother worked in Moscow… for about 15 years and I came for the holidays to Moscow and Saint-Petersburg very often. They became almost Russian as they both like this country. They have a lot of friends here and understand the mentality of Russian people. I, as well like Russia - it is a very interesting country. I didn’t have a chance to learn Russian at school though and I try to learn it now. They were telling me a lot of interesting things about the country, but I didn’t think I would ever get to work here. I saw what this country was before and when I came I noticed many changes.
Do you like to meet the guests yourself when you have a chance?
Yes. I like it but it is not often that I get to do it. When I see the guests myself I usually have the idea of what they would like to eat and what I should do to make their visit with us more pleasant. Sometimes I get to know them and I have a lot of fun talking to them. They invite me to join their table and I do sometimes. My father and his friend come here and always wait for something special from me. And good friends of Dolf come often. I even try to make something that is not on the menu.
You know, you look too slim to be the chef!
I am young, I have a lot of energy and creative ideas, and I work a lot! And you know I have been working for about 10 years and I have seen only a few big chefs. I don’t mean there is lack of creativity and I only do everything by the book - no - on the contrary I have traveled and have taken in much experience but it is probably not evident in my body…
Where did you take the recipes you have here?
We combined our efforts for the menu with Dolf. We discuss every detail and make the final list together. Then we make the presentation, decorate and cook it as for the customer, discuss again, change something if we need to and only then is it on the menu.
Where do you take your inspiration from?
There are a lot of places but mostly the restaurants I go to or even family dinners. The last Christmas, for example, I went to my parents and my father made a wonderful souse. I thought that I could prepare it in the restaurant and now it is on the menu.
What is it like to work in Moscow?
It is great experience and a challenge; the place I can improve my style. And it has a different mentality. Russians like different things and they have different products. There was one thing that kept me amazed during my first two months; Russians like a good piece of fresh meat always “well done.” But it should be eaten medium or medium rare! But now I have gotten used to it, and for me it is not a problem to make whatever a guest wants.