Interview with our chef Alex Nikolov for Good Food magazine
A few weeks after another new challenge in his career, Alex Nikolov accepted our invitation to present to our audience some of his new dishes in the theme of modern traditional Bulgarian cuisine.
You and I have met many times at culinary events and forums, but this is the first time we are in the kitchen to cook. Tell our audience how you decided cooking was your thing?
How about, even as a kid, hanging around my grandma and mom, especially when they were making cupcakes! I loved trying the raw cake batter (laughs). And now it’s my favorite. That’s where my curiosity about the kitchen came from. I had already decided that I wanted to be a chef, but I had no idea what was waiting for me and how difficult this profession was. But I’ve been doing this for 25 years. After completing my education, I did an internship at what was then New Otani. After the barracks, I worked in the Italian Ciji, and then I went to the National Theater, where my development as a chef actually began. There I met one of the best Bulgarian master chefs – Petar Vodenicharov, from whom I learned some exceptional Bulgarian recipes, such as tripe soup with beef shank. Then I went to Cyprus, where for 7 years I worked in a luxury hotel, where I learned a lot about Mediterranean cuisine. Then I worked with Andre Tokev, who revealed to me the concept of haute fine cuisine. A trip and work in England followed, after which I became the head chef of the Vega Hotel, where I could apply all the knowledge I had gained so far. During this period I also published my first book, “A Culinary Journey with Alex”. Then I worked with Dimitar Damyanov, from whom I also learned many of the secrets of Michelin-starred kitchens. Before taking over Moma restaurant, I was the head chef of Novotel Sofia for a year and 6 months.
Are you currently doing something completely different, after fine dining and hotel restaurants?
Yes, we are currently just after the launch of our new project, Moma Restaurant. It was conceived as a place for modern Bulgarian and ethnic cuisine, where you can try authentic and traditional recipes, but presented in a new and modern way. In fact, there is no purely Bulgarian cuisine, our recipes are borrowed from all our neighbors and from all the nations that have passed through our lands. What I want to do is show how some completely traditional dishes can be prepared, but using modern techniques, without affecting their taste in a negative way.
Всъщност националните и етно кухни имат доста общи неща, с какво се опитваш да си различен и да привличаш публика?
I am trying to develop a line of recipes with Bulgarian products from small producers, masters in their craft – for example, the sausages with which we make the grill, sudzus, sausages, babek, baburka – more ancient and rare recipes that cannot be found in the wide store network. We also have suppliers of cheese, dairy products. For me, this is a big challenge because my personal bias is more towards French and Mediterranean cuisine. In fact, it is quite a difficult path with Bulgarian dishes – I try to include my good experience from abroad, but without spoiling the taste and authentic appearance of the recipe. So that the customer, seeing the dish, can say “Wow!!” – like with this recipe for Chicken Porridge – you didn’t expect it to look like this, did you? (laughing).
Where do you get ideas, inspiration from?
By all. I read books, watch TV, the Internet, colleagues, my experiences, from everything that surrounds me. You can’t just make something up like that. Even the interior of the restaurant I cook for is of great importance to me. It can immediately give the appearance of the menu if it is well done. The location of the restaurant as well – you can’t serve kapama and casserole on the sea in a beach restaurant, right? Like serving breaded squid in the mountains.
What’s the most important cooking lesson you’ve learned so far?
You should always taste the dish before serving it. Even if you have cooked it many times, you should always make sure that it is well seasoned before it reaches the table. Just because there’s salt and pepper on the table doesn’t mean you have to present yourself as a characterless cook. Let the last pinch you put on the plate be your personal imprint on the dish.