On the eve of the dinner in honor of the opening of the economic forum, Ulyana Boyko talked with the chefs Arno Donkel and Vladimir Yaroslavsky, who developed the dinner from the Hennessy X.O. Silk Road series.
Arno, the owner of 3 Michelin stars, came to Ukraine for the first time to get acquainted with Ukrainian cuisine. Together with Vladimir, they made a menu of European dishes, in which all products were replaced with local and understandable for the Ukrainian mentality. About how they succeeded – read in the interview.
Monsieur Donkel, gastronomic guide Gault et Millau named you the chef of the year in his 2020 edition. What does this mean for you?
Arno: It's always nice to get recognition. But I am very careful about this. We, the chefs, are still doing art that is ephemeral. My dad always said that at the moment when we think that we are cool, we become bad. There are no restrictions for the development of cooks.
Is it exciting to create a menu for private dinners? And is it more difficult than lunch for guests in a restaurant?
Chef Arno: Speaking, for example, about today's dinner, we had a rather long and scrupulous period of preparation. Vladimir Yaroslavsky came to me in August – this was a key moment. We met at Hennessy. Then there was the second meeting, which we initiated on our own. We were interested in having a high level dinner. Vladimir brought a whole suitcase of Ukrainian products, we all brought it to the kitchen, and at that moment there was some kind of chemistry, a strong emotion. He was able to share his story, knowledge about products, the history of the country, and I, in turn, was able to bring to the development of the dinner menu what I can do myself. We spent four hours in the kitchen in a very light atmosphere, without tension, smiling and laughing. We developed a menu based on Ukrainian recipes for aspic, cabbage rolls and so on. They brought them a little to another level, gave them a special flera. It is important for a cook to open his heart and give all his love to the dish he is cooking.
Vladimir Yaroslavsky: I know that European chefs are always very reverent about their local products and national ones. But Arno did a lot of preparatory work for my arrival: what Ukrainians eat, what these dishes consist of. We replaced langoustines with crayfish – we do not have langoustines. And there were lots of such moments. And we began to introduce Ukrainian products into recipes, it was very cool, the highest degree of respect. Virtually all foreign chefs who cook dinners in the capital bring their products. Here we looked at Ukrainian dishes from Ukrainian products, but with the experienced look of Arno.
How do you manage to not compete in the kitchen? How to find balance when professionalism does not crush and when there is no moment that someone feels disadvantaged?
Arno: Kitchen is primarily an act of love and sharing. This is not a place to conflict. He is not better than me, and I am not better than him. Vladimir and I are working hand in hand over dinner at the Silk Road. And one cannot say here that what we came up with in Saint-Tropez, when the idea of seven dinners arose, is my ideas. These are our ideas.
Vladimir: My experience is that usually in the kitchen, a chef who is higher in rank crushes the team. Next up is the separation of tasks. Chefs can complement each other, work in tandem. Arno gave me the opportunity to interweave my knowledge, thoughts into his dishes. And this is something incredible. For the first time I have such experience, as if with a very good friend whom I have known for many years.
Arno: Initially, the idea was to come up with dinner with Vladimir, to reflect Ukrainian history as much as possible. This was the super task. We created the Ukrainian menu with a light Michelin touch (three stars after all).
What dishes did you prepare for the summit in Ukraine? And how are they combined with alcohol, what is the moment of disclosure of taste?
Chef Arno: One dish is an allusion to cabbage rolls, but it will definitely surprise Ukrainians and those who know what cabbage rolls really are. We devoted a lot of time to borsch. It will be a cold borscht with earthy notes and with diverse work with beets. Then there will be pike perch with sorrel sauce. And the last dish will be a kind of interpretation of our dumplings with the same dough, but with lamb, citrus fruits and lemon are included in the minced meat. Another jellied crayfish. Vladimir then brought a bag of fermented smoked Poltava pear, and it just hit me! Together we created a chocolate-coffee-pear dessert. Globally, we gave a little elegance, lightness and a little different look at traditional Ukrainian recipes. At the aperitif, the first three dishes we accompany Hennessy with ice. We will have a balanced enough menu, not only cognac, but also wine to preserve the harmony of the dinner. The idea is for ice to reveal floral and fruity aromas.
Vladimir: But X.O. cognac is interwoven into the taste of desserts We do not serve a pure product, for example, just whipped cream, we add Hennessy – it gives them a woody, vanilla, caramel flavor. In this case, cognac acts as an additional spice that completes the dish. This is unusual for a guest. Very often, alcohol acts as an additional spice. I first met this in France when champagne was used as an extra spice. And here is the same with cognac.
Arno: It is very important here not to crush the taste of the dish with alcohol, but to supplement it. So that everything plays one symphony. Here, too, an interesting mix of cultures turned out, because in Ukraine many are used to accompanying dinner with strong drinks, the wine culture only develops in you. In France, everything is different. We wait until the end of the meal and only then allow ourselves to digest strong alcohol. Here we also got a certain melange of cultures – mixed French culture with Ukrainian. We will have strong alcohol and wine, and all this will complement each other beautifully.
Arno, in spring you open a restaurant in Paris. What to expect?
Arno: The first sign of this restaurant will be the sauce. There will be about 50 different sauces, they will all be created as a perfume. Everyone will have a certain season-specific relationship – vegetables or ingredients that will be relevant to the season. And each sauce will consist of 10-15 ingredients to have a complete taste. And each sauce will be developed for a certain specific group of products, for example, for a group of a specific fish (this is a vinaigrette sauce) – a dense white turbot and a sanguine. For example, this sauce is no longer suitable for Mediterranean red mullet. There will be sauce for langoustine and shrimp, depending on what will be brought from fresh products that day, but it will no longer fit the lobster, for example. In our restaurant there will be subgroups of products. It is interesting that we turn the logic of restaurants that immediately buy the main ingredient (fish, meat, shrimp, lobster, etc.). Here, sauce will be in first place, then what Mother Nature gives, and already in third place will be a side dish. We want to depend on what nature will give us.
What are the gastronomic trends in the world today?
Chef Arno: It seems to me that tomorrow's restaurants are either at a farm in the city, or a farm that produces products for this restaurant, 30 minutes from this restaurant. The chef of tomorrow is a farmer. To the same extent as the chief. What I now feel from the consumer, the guest of the restaurant, is that he wants to consume fewer varieties of products, but so that they have less pesticides, there is a shorter delivery time. It seems to me that Ukraine, from the gastronomic point of view, has a great future. Your chefs can and should go to the market or go to the villages, find your farmer, sign an agreement with him so that he grows certain varieties of lettuce for him, so that he has access to different types of vegetables. The menu may not be so varied as healthy. The health of the bird, the animal is also very important – how it grew, in what conditions, what it ate. This does not mean that you need to own livestock farms, but you can find a partner who will be ready to grow your chicken the way you want, with great respect and attention to how the bird grows. And then you will be sure of the quality of what you serve your guests. And the guests will not have any doubts when the chef will say that he personally controls the quality of the product that gets to the person on the plate.
Chef Vladimir: I got the impression that the whole world is going to naturalism. In particular, this applies to wine. For example, we grow sunflower every year on the same plot of land and use it together with pesticides from the soil. And in a good way it needs to be grown on one site once every ten years, so as not to reduce the fertility of the soil. Now in France everything is dotted with vineyards, because before this was not like that. That is, there were vines, then tomatoes, then eggplant, then cucumbers, then hens walked on the same site. This is a full-cycle subsistence economy that does not use pesticides. Naturalism, a natural product, natural wine – this is only what is created by nature, and not distorted by man. Today we strive to buy wild fish, wild herbs, because we can judge from a comparison point of view – we tried what was created under the control of man in defiance of the rules of nature. From my personal experience, the guest is ready to receive slightly different dishes depending on the season. Something has grown more, something less. Today there are such roots, tomorrow they may not be. The guest is ready for the fact that the chef’s hand seems to be the same, but the dish can play a little in taste. Today such seafood, tomorrow a little different. We all go to this.
Do you have favorite restaurants?
Arno: I really like simple things, simple dishes. For me, cuisine is like solfeggio, classical music. For me, exquisite cuisine comes from people who know how to do basic things, know how to play basic piano. Because when we are good at solfeggio, we rarely fake it. And when people do less solfeggio, less go to classes, I prefer the basic kitchen, it is much simpler and more understandable. It is important for me that she is honest and that this is not a pure calculation. Therefore, my list of favorite restaurants is very wide – from simple bistros, simple cuisine to restaurants of colleagues, more refined, star ones.
Maybe you liked some restaurants in Kiev?
Arno: Yesterday we had dinner with Vladimir at Lucky, I made him a huge compliment for the ravioli with the rabbit. This great dish is four simple ravioli with lightly fried mushrooms. This is a dish that can be found in a high-class gastronomic restaurant. So far I have visited not enough restaurants, but I need to send a talented French chef of desserts here: there is a great future, because there is great historical potential, you need to analyze it – and it will turn out something good, I believe in it. The haute cuisine is always made up of simple details. If you take a compass and walk 50 km around the circumference, study everything, analyze it, find dishes, refine them – this, in principle, consists of all the great cuisines and dishes. Huge potential in your country!
Vladimir: In other words, we are famous for desserts. I agree that in Ukraine we do not have a single French chef who would review the cuisine of our desserts.
Arno: On the contrary, I get high from the fact that there is this story, because not everyone has it!
Vladimir: But it needs to be reviewed.
Read also: Ridley Scott shot the Hennessy Seven Worlds ad campaign