Twenty-nine-year-old Andrey Volkov moved from Moscow to become the sous chef at the Astana Marriott Hotel alongside Executive Chef Heri Sudarmanto.
The Astana Times recently interviewed Volkov about his journey as a chef and culinary experiences in Astana.
Did you plan to dedicate your entire life to cooking?
To be honest – no, I did not. My mother is a confectioner, she cooks very well and that was enough for me. But at the same time, I can assert with confidence, that from the very childhood I was very sensitive to food and cooking. One of the possible reasons of this is that my grandfather was a Georgian. And as a real Georgian, he was proud of Georgian national cuisine and he honoured it very much. I remember how he approached dishes with special trepidation and taught me that all ingredients and proportions should be strictly observed and controlled. On every family holiday, we always had a sumptuous feast with a huge assortment of Georgian dishes. From that time, my favorite dish is Satsivi.
When did you realise you had an attraction to cooking?
I think I realised it quite late, when I worked at a hotel in Moscow. I gradually found time for self-realisation, time to cook something by myself. I got inspired and enthusiastic by the process and took inexpressible pleasure from the process of cooking my own fine cuisine. That time I felt a vocation to cooking and realised that I should further develop in this direction.
How do you start your day in the kitchen?
I think that breakfast is the hallmark of success for every hotel. It is very important that our guests start their day with positive emotions. That is why I start my day overseeing the quality of the buffet breakfast line in order to make sure that everything is prepared according to the highest standards of the Marriott Hotel. Then I do an inventory of the kitchen. I carefully keep under control the cleanliness and tidiness of the kitchen. This is the first thing that catches my eye, so that my kitchen must always be clean. I am very dedicated to my work and I consider the kitchen as my territory, as it is my full responsibility.
How often is the restaurant menu updated at the Marriott Hotel?
Usually, we update the menu every season, we compose the menu that corresponds to a specific time of year and we also conduct an analysis of the current menu. Updating the menu is a complicated process, which includes several stages.
We involve the whole team in this process, we provide every team member with an opportunity to express themselves and share their ideas. Our Executive Chef Heri Sudarmanto and I compose the main menu. After making a decision on the menu, we conduct final tasting with the general manager of the Hotel. If the tasting was successful, we establish pricing.
What is the key to creating a successful dish?
Working at HoReCa business for more than 11 years, I realised that the key to successful and tasty dish is not the recipe, but the cooking process! If you get real pleasure during the cooking, then the dish will 100 percent be delightful and tasty! Further, if you add skills and learned behaviour, obtained from experienced master-chefs of high cuisine, the result will be a real culinary masterpiece!
It is widely known that cooks are creative personalities. Does the working in a business hotel with high and strict standards somehow limit your creative desires?
There is no limit in any way, there is still a wide field for creativity and self-expression and area for self-development in a classical cuisine. For example, I very much like cooking at our Vista restaurant and bar where haute cuisine dishes are presented. In addition, Executive Chef provides an opportunity to develop my creativity and express it. I try to cook non-standard dishes, combining different cuisines, textures and tastes. Such experiments create not only good taste, but also a pleasant tactile effect.
Have you ever faced difficulties creating dishes here in Astana due to a lack of ingredients or the complexity of delivery?
Lack of ingredients is a problem that exists not only in Astana, but also in many other countries and regions. But in Astana, there are special companies that operate in delivering such hard-to-reach products, for example fresh oysters. For our Sunday brunch, we order oysters which are delivered super-fresh despite the fact that there is no sea nearby, and they are very tasty!
Could you please tell us a little about the traditional Sunday brunches at the Marriott Hotel? Sunday is a wonderful occasion to switch from daily routine and spend time with friends and family, in an atmosphere of comfort, live music, gastronomic pleasure and, of course, service at the highest level. Brunches, first of all, require organisation and concentration from the whole team of cooks. This is a highly important event for our hotel, so we are making every effort to compose the menu and come up with new dishes.
Brunches at Marriott hotels are famous for their assortment of seafood, such as royal prawns, fresh oysters, mini squid and mussels. These are the most popular and important products at any brunch, and, as a superior world-class hotel, we strive to offer our guests the best of such wide assortment.
Do you have your own recipe book? Yes, for sure I have my own recipe book, and in the near future I will definitely share it. How do you feel about criticism? Criticism, if it is adequate, is an opportunity for improvement. I highly appreciate feedback from the guests, so I pay attention to the plates that come back. If the plate has returned full or half-empty, then I will definitely ask for feedback, in order to understand what the guest did not like and how we may improve our services. Do you have a music playlist you like to listen to while cooking?
Music for cuisine is like a coffee for an early Monday morning. Before I started my professional career as a cook, I played in a drumming band. We even achieved some success in our genre. Now I do not play anymore, but I return to music all the time. There are compositions of different genres in my playlist, the choice depends on what I am preparing, so I listen to certain music anytime. If I need to concentrate in rush situations, then I listen to American punk rock, while I get into the cooking – then something sensual and deep is the perfect choice.