Dmitry Zotov became a chef at age 20, barely graduating from a culinary school. After working for five years in a large restaurant Syndicate holding, Dmitry opened his small gastropub Wing or Leg, which began his career not only as a chef, but also as a restaurateur. Today, Dmitry heads the kitchen in more than six projects, including the recently opened Buro restaurant on the fifth floor of the legendary TSUM. We met Dmitry in a new restaurant and talked about how to become a chef, having just graduated from college, about pizza and about what is more important than feeling.
About the culinary school and the first pizza
“Do you spend most of your time here in Buro?”
- Yes, basically I'm here now.
- Was it a surprise for you that you were invited to head the restaurant? As far as I know, for a long time they could not find a chef, there were various rumors, at first they said that Regis Trigel would head the kitchen (Chef at Sixty. - approx. ed.), and then announced that you will lead the restaurant.
- In fact, we have been discussing this project for a long time. I have known Dina and Vitaly for a long time (restaurateurs Dina Khabirova and Vitaliy Shimansky. - approx. ed.), we have been working together for a long time and we understand each other well. I was immediately attracted by the concept, the location itself, but I generally love everything new. I cool off quickly enough, I have such a trait, and I need to constantly switch, do something new in order to maintain interest. Therefore, I agreed with pleasure.
- You are here a brand chef, and then you chose the chief, Vladimir Chistyakov, together?
- We were very lucky with Volodya. It so happened that we already knew him, but just humanly, I’m not going to know him well. But somehow I felt that he was exactly the one we needed.
- So there were no tastings?
- No, we somehow immediately realized that we would converge, through some kind of molecular transfer of information.
- And what is the general difference between a chef and a brand chef, it seems that many still do not really understand.
- In fact, everything is simple. The brand chef is involved in several projects, and the chef should always be in place. It’s unfair to say that you are the chef of a restaurant if you are not there all the time and you do not control every plate. When a person comes to a restaurant, he must see the chef in the kitchen, and if the chef begins to engage in several projects, then he can no longer be the chef of any one.
- And you generally initially wanted to be a chef? After all, ten years ago, the cook was not such a stellar profession at all.
- It turned out this way: I was bored to study. I told my mother: I do not want to study, and that’s it. She did not know what to do with me, took my hand and took me to a culinary school. She said: "If you are a cook, you will not be lost." So I got to school. The practice began, and my friend called me to the Central House of Writers, where he then worked. Of course, I was lucky because I immediately got to a normal institution, where my love for all of this began. And of course, I wanted to become a chef.
- From the school - to the Central House of Writers, then to the "Academy" in Kamergersky ...
- I went through the practice at the Central House of Writers, and I came to work at the Academy, although I was still a student. I was generally the first person to make pizza at this restaurant. Then I worked at Mon Café, managed to work a bit at Poison, even worked as a personal chef ...
- At the same time, you started making pizza at the Academy, having no idea how to cook it.
- Yes, I did not know how to do it. When the "Academy" was opened, the boss was Max Montiroli. He asked: "Who can make pizza?" I say, "I." We went up to the oven with him, kneaded the dough together, he showed how to roll pizza, and, in general, everything turned out. So I became a pizza maker. But everything is clear here, pizza is a very specific process, in principle, consistent, and I was always interested in what is happening in the main kitchen. Therefore, I always came there, watched how they work, said: "You are doing some kind of nonsense." He began to shift their dishes, redo the sauces ... Max saw this and invited me to work at Portofino.
How a wrecked car helped become a chef
- And yet you very quickly became the boss, almost immediately.
- Well, not right away, but yes, at 20. It actually turned out like this: I was about 18-19 years old, summer, my friends and I walked, had fun, and, well, we broke a car. It was necessary to get a second job in order to earn money, because I was driving. I was then offered to work as a personal chef, and since they paid well there, I agreed. He left other establishments and began to cook. But a month later, I realized that I hadn’t come there: because I came to work at nine in the morning, left at one in the afternoon, cooked only lunch for three leaders and three secretaries. Because of boredom, I knew all the programs that go on TV, but I always wanted to invent, cook, do something complicated. I thought: “Why don't I become a chef?” Opened the Internet, "Work.ru", I see - the vacancy of the chef. Calling, they say hello, I'm on the vacancy of a chef. They ask me: "How old are you?" “Twenty,” I say. "So maybe you should be the director right away?" - "I will not refuse." Sent. Well, in general, I called, called - and in the end I was invited to an interview at the Oblomov restaurant. They then had a cafe "Plate", where they were looking for a chef. I came, conducted a tasting, just met Dina and Vitaliy. We talked, and they told me that they would call. I have already forgotten about this whole story, and in two weeks I’ve got a call: “Come, we’ll have another tasting.” That's how I became the chef of the "Plate" cafe.
- So your career began with your perseverance?
- When you really want to, you can roll mountains.
- But you learned to cook, obviously, not at school.
- No, of course, everything is in practice. But I constantly worked somewhere, studied, in principle, it was easy enough for me. At the moment I absorbed everything, understood, felt how and what to do. Here it is not so much a matter of being able to. To be able to, for example, beautifully wrap napkins, and when you cook, you need to feel: when to put salt, when spices, when pasta toss in sauce, when to wait. This is some kind of inner flair.
To be able to, for example, wrap beautifully napkins, and when you cook, you need to feel
- Is this some kind of overlook?
- Including. For example, pasta. When I worked at Portofino, for me, working with pasta was mega-interesting, because there are a lot of dynamics, movements: water is pouring, the pasta is boiling, then stir, add salt, put the sauce in the sauce. I always came, looked. I watched who was doing what, at what moment, reading, studying.
- And how did your Silver Triangle and San Pellegrino Cooking Cup contests influence your career then?
- I have a gold medal at the open championship in the art of cooking!
“She probably didn't really influence ...”
- Not really. In fact, when I saw the Andoni Luis Aduris on the Silver Triangle (Chef Michelin-starred restaurant Mugaritz. - Approx. ed.), who was always my favorite chef in general, my legs gave way. Here he is, sitting and appreciating me. And he said: "Whoever did the quailing won." But my quail was.
- Then there was San Pellegrino ...
- Yes, I won the Triangle and went to the contest. I can’t say that he opened some doors for me, but he definitely broadened his horizons. There I met Massimo Bottura, Carlo Kracco ... Such things, of course, are small fruits, but they give. Maybe if I won, something would change, but then I took fourth place.
About how to open your own pub and what people lack
- And then you opened your little gastropub “Wing or leg”. Wasn’t it scary for your money? You already well understood at this point that the restaurant business in Russia is complex.
- There was fear, but there was more desire.
- Just work in the kitchen was already boring?
- When I worked at Restaurant Syndicate, I did not have the opportunity to make such a concept as Winglet or Leg. And when the concept appears, it needs to be implemented, plus I always wanted to do something different. Your money, your efforts, all responsibility is on you. Need to try. My wife and I sat down and quickly felt on a napkin: if we fly, then we fly, the probability of screwing up with us is such and such, well, we have to try.
- The pub was the exact opposite of the Restaurant Syndicate, where you worked then.
“So that was the whole point.” In general, there were many pubs then, they are still there, but the food everywhere was plus or minus the same. The idea was to make cool, tasty food for beer. And of course, this was primarily for people, for the people. Because in order to open an expensive restaurant, you must have at least 150 people in your notebook who are ready to come to your restaurant and spend 5 thousand rubles in it. I have so many rich friends. Then there was just a wave of gastronomy, gastropubs, Ragout, Delicatessen appeared, and I also clung to them. Therefore, relying on our capabilities and ambitions, we made such a democratic small project. We’ll be celebrating five years soon.
Because in order to open an expensive restaurant, you must have at least 150 people in your notebook who are ready to come to your restaurant and spend 5 thousand rubles in it
- After “Wing ...” you already wanted to do something different?
- I wanted to realize my ideas. A year later, Haggis appeared, followed by Zotman Pizza, which we opened already with partners.
- With Sergey Krylov and Rinat Kuzin. And with them you opened the Chinese Madame Wong. The chef usually specializes in a particular cuisine, but how did you decide on Chinese?
- As for French, Italian, English cuisine, they are all alike, the techniques are the same, layered on top of one another. But in Chinese, of course, much needs to be studied - and I still do not know much. It is complex, and it is important to work with professionals: for example, so that a Chinese man makes dumplings. Technically, I don’t know how to make dumplings, but I know what they should be. I know how to make the dough, what the forcemeat should be, but the molding itself is a completely different process.
- And what kind of food do you like yourself?
“The one I’m not cooking.” I adore ramen, I go to KU for it, go to Georgian restaurants, and here are nice verandas at Odessa-Mama and Khachapuri.
- In general, all your projects have been successful, and why did Carmel close in Kalashny so quickly?
- Oh, I don’t want to talk about him at all.
- Was this the reason for your separation from partners?
- Well, as parting, I'm still a partner in restaurants, but I do not deal with management. At the legal level, we are still together, and nothing more.
- In general, one gets the feeling that the closer to the people, the better you manage to come up with these projects. Do you initially think about what people in the city need, or are you starting from your feelings?
- First of all, of course, I think about people. When you create a concept, an idea, you always think about the consumer first. There was no such pizza, so you have to do it. Always at the same time you think about what you are interested in and what is missing and what people need.
About sauerkraut and Russian food
- And Russian cuisine, the main theme in this year’s gastronomy, is that for you?
- Modern Russian cuisine has a rather ornate story. There is ancient Russian cuisine when they baked in ovens, languished, leavened ... Now the meaning is this: old techniques are taken, and dishes are invented anew. That is, it turns out, in fact, re-invented, the same applies to the Nordic cuisine. Therefore, all that is happening now is the tremendous efforts of everyone involved in this: cooks, restaurateurs, the media, and society. This is a collective work that requires even more serious support in order to bring Russian cuisine somewhere upstairs. For example, fermentation in Russian cuisine still seems to be from the time of Yuri Dolgoruky, if not earlier, and in Europe it is only just beginning to appear. And when they eat sauerkraut, they are surprised: “Wow! This is Korean technology, we only recently found out about it!” Therefore, if you set the tone right now, you can really make a breakthrough.
- At some international level?
- In general, to the world, so that they know more about us, about our culture. Not from the point of view of museums, artists, writers, composers, but also from the point of view of food. So I always discover a country for myself primarily through food. Someone immediately runs to the museum, and I first go to the restaurant, see how the city lives, what they eat, what they cook from.
- Now the football championship will begin, thousands of people will come, where would you send them to get acquainted with Russian food?
- They should probably see two sides: on the one - “Dr. Zhivago”, “Pushkin”, and on the other - Twins Garden, Chef's Table, necessarily “Northerners”. In general, I send everyone to the “Northerners”, just look at this phenomenon: style, atmosphere, food ... A very non-Moscow restaurant.
- And here, in Buro, if you look at the menu, then this is a collection of all the win-win positions, to please everyone at once, there is both fashionable and classic: a lot of raw, crudo, ceviche, crab cake ...
- This is a place for every day, so you have to please everyone. Crab cake is all Dina(Khabirova. - Approx. Ed.) asked, I generally already forgot what such a dish once did. And the food should be simple, all the great cuisines are very simple, and the idea was to make a modern daily kitchen.
- And "modern" - what does it mean? Taste, trends, technology?
- Not technology, but purity of taste.
- Is everyone gradually moving away from complicated food?
- Everyone has played enough. There is, for example, a device called suvid, it used to be used as needed and not before. And now it’s just an aggregate that performs several functions, without which it would simply be worse. But it’s still cyclical, so we constantly return to what has already been done, just take some of the new technologies with us.
- What are your plans for this year?
- There are several projects that we are currently working on, there’s just nothing to talk about. When they are a little more formed, it will already be possible to tell something, but for now we are thinking about how to make our life and the life of society better, more pleasant, tastier and faster.