An Interview with our head chef Alex Nicolov for “Good Food” magazine
We invited Alex Nicolov to show to our public some of his new recipes in the modern traditional Bulgarian cuisine.
-We’ve seen you many times at culinary forums, but it’s the first time we are meeting in the kitchen to cook. Please tell us how did you decide that cooking is your thing?
Since I was a young boy I was around my mother and grandmother while they were cooking, especially when they were baking cakes. I used to love trying the raw cake mixture (laughing). I still love it. That created my curiosity towards cooking. I knew I wanted to be a chef but I did not know how hard being a chef was. But I am working now for 25 years. After my graduation from school I went on a work placement in the then called New Otany. After I finished my military service I was working in the Italian Sedgy, then I went to work in the National Theatre where I really started to develop as a chef. There I met some of the best Bulgarian chefs, like Peter Vodenicharov. He taught me some of the best Bulgarian recipes such as Pork belly soup with veal shank. Then I went to work in a luxury hotel in Cyprus for 7 years. There I learned a lot about the Mediterranean cuisine. After that I was working with Andre Tokev, who showed me what fine cooking means. Following to that I went to work in the UK, then I become head chef in Hotel Vega in Sofia, where I could use the skills I had learned. In this period I wrote my first book “ A culinary travel with Alex”. Then I was working with Dimitar Damyanov. From him I learned a lot of the secrets of the Michelin star kitchens. Before I started working in MoMa, I was head chef in Novotel Sofia for a year and a half.
– At the moment you are doing something very different after the fine cooking and the hotel restaurants.
Yes, we have just started our new project- restaurant MoMa. This is a place for modern Bulgarian and ethnic cuisine where authentic and traditional recipes are served in a new modern way.
In fact there is no pure Bulgarian cuisine. Our recipes are “borrowed” from our neighbouring countries and from the nations passing through Bulgaria. What I am trying to do is to show that we can prepare traditional recipes using modern techniques without reflecting on their taste in a negative way.
– In fact the national and ethnic kitchens all have a lot in common. How are you trying to be different and to impress your customers?
I am trying to develop a line with recipes using Bulgarian products from a small farms, which are great at what they do. For example, the sausages we use for the BBQ are mostly traditional and rare recipes and we can not find those in the conventional shops. We also have distributors for the cheese and dairy products. For me, this is a great challenge as my personal preferences are towards the French and the Mediterranean cuisine. In fact, it is difficult working with the Bulgarian cuisine- Im trying to incorporate my experience from working abroad but without interfering with the taste and the authentic look of the dish. My aim is that a client would say “Wow” when they see the dish. Like the recipe for the Chicken Mash- you didn’t expect it to look that way, didn’t you? (laughing).
– What inspires you?
Everything. I’m reading, watching TV, using Internet, talking to colleagues, my experience, everything that surrounds me. You can’t create something out of nothing. Even the interior of the restaurant I am working at is important for me. That could give an idea of what the menu should be. The location of the restaurant is also important to what food should be served.
-What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?
Always taste the food before serving it. Even though you’ve prepared it many times, you have to make sure it is well seasoned before it gets on the table. The fact that there is salt and pepper on the table, it doesn’t mean you can present yourself as a weak cook. The last touch of seasoning has to be your personal signature to the dish.