“I am not reinventing cooking; others have the time to do it. I like to combine and get inspired.”
RoChefs: Please make a short presentation of yourself and your career path. How did you become a chef?
Constantin Ghimpu: The beginnings…At the age of 13, I started working in the kitchen, as a busboy, then waiter. I climbed the hierarchy chain of hospitality, and since nine years ago, I am working as a cook. I must have inherited the joy of cooking and having guests from my mother, who was a wonderful host and was also as a cook.
RoChefs: What does modern gastronomy mean to you? Can you tell us some of the current trends?
Constantin Ghimpu: Modern gastronomy means lots of things. I have debated the idea of Michelin star restaurants with all the chefs I know. I have worked in a restaurant that intended to be the first Michelin star restaurant in Romania – Heritage. First of all, modern gastronomy depends on the chef’s technique, and in Romania it is difficult to have a good mentor, so our cooks who leave abroad to work, must try to get a job in a Michelin star restaurant. Secondly, there is the raw material. Because of the geographical location of our country, we will never have direct access to fresh fish and fresh seafood. If we fly them in and put them on the menu, they would be too expensive. This is why I consider that the raw material we have available is not at Michelin standards; and if we do import that raw material, it is too expensive and we do not have clients willing to pay so much for a dish.
RoChefs: How do you see a perfect dish?
Constantin Ghimpu: There are lots of perfect dishes; lots of combinations. Personally, I like the minimalist style, the modern gastronomy, exactly like the one used in Michelin star restaurants who have tasting-menus with tens of mini-arrangements on the plate. I think that is a very good idea because it gives the client the opportunity to try new tastes, new textures and have a complete experience in a single menu.
RoChefs: What is your favorite cuisine, your favorite cooking style?
Constantin Ghimpu: Fine dining is what I love to make. However, we need to find a middle way here. Once I was working for a restaurant manager who told me: “Ah, Cristi, you want glamour dishes, I just want to make a profit”.
RoChefs: Give us a few examples of ingredients or combinations that you think should be found in any menu.
Constantin Ghimpu: There are too many. Some of them would be quinoa or bulgur; I like to combine the Arab gastronomy with the French one, to play with the ingredients. I like to get inspired by all cuisines: Turkish cuisine spices adapted to my dishes, or foods from other cuisines which I like to adapt to local ingredients. For example, once I prepared humus from our plain old beans – using exactly the same technique with sesame paste – tahini. I am using ingredients from all cuisines.
RoChefs: How do you see the penetration of international gastronomy in Romania?
Constantin Ghimpu: It is good for us and great for our clients. If everybody would smart up about hospitality and the restaurants would no longer make compromises – that would be good for the clients and implicitly for the restaurants. The public would change their attitude. In other countries, people love dining at the restaurant because they also socialize and interact with each other. In Romania, the restaurant experience is not always a pleasant one, and this generates the fear of going to a bad place. If the restaurants would focus on the clients, would greet them properly, serve them properly and offer good food, we would all gain from that. Regarding the international gastronomy reaching Romania: this is a normal thing, because Romanians now travel abroad much more often, they dine in other restaurants and they observe what hospitality means in other countries and how a properly cooked meal should taste. Why would we not have that too?
RoChefs: There is an unbreakable link between the management of a hotel or restaurant and the kitchen. Do you consider that the manager should have a minimum of culinary knowledge?
Constantin Ghimpu: Most certainly! They must know the menu by heart. When they are organizing festive dinners, they must know the dishes in order to properly explain them to the client. They must know what they sell in order to sell it.
RoChefs: In the culinary industry, we say that taste can be educated. Do you think that is accurate?
Constantin Ghimpu: I have the best example for this: myself. In ’99 I was working in a French restaurant, and for the first time I tasted a foie gras terrine. It was very expensive and the portion was very small. I wondered why it is so expensive. What is so special about it? At first, it did not seem something extraordinary, but after eating it the third time, I was addicted to it. Taste can be educated. The waiter is the spearhead of hospitality, the image of hospitality. If he does not know how to explain the menu, how to be jovial but also discreet, all of us will lose, because there is a very fine line between recommending an expensive dish or a less expensive one. When I was a waiter, I was paying close attention to the cooks, asking them all the details about their dishes. When presenting them to the client, I knew all about the cooking method of the dish, and I was giving them mouth-watering descriptions of the cooking process.
RoChefs: The education of a cook is an ongoing process. What learning methods does a young cook have at his disposal in Romania?
Constantin Ghimpu: If he is lucky enough to get a job in a good restaurant, if he is lucky enough to work with a good chef and with a good team, he can learn a lot. For example, I am a self-taught person; I have lots of books at home, my employer sends me and my cooks to international gastronomy fairs and competitions, to watch and learn. I even went to Bocuse D’or in Lyon in 2013, together with Chef Catalin Scarlatescu. We also go to Rimini or to Milano to see what is new on the market, and what the latest cooking equipments are. As you know, the cooking technology provides us with countless options, from sous vide to God knows what crazy method.
However, bottom line, I believe that a cook can self-educate too; it depends on how passionate that cook is. In my team, I also have cooks that are a bit mechanical, they do not think or work with passion. I am connected to gastronomy 24/7 and that is not an exaggeration. I am not reinventing cooking; others have the time to do it. All the big restaurants that are always the first in tops have an army of cooks; they have the time to create, to design recipes and plating methods. I am actually working, and when your are stuck on the serving line, it is a bit more difficult. However, I have the advantage of sleeping less at night, so I do get updated, I read a lot.
RoChefs: What moments of your career make you proud?
Constantin Ghimpu: There are lots of such moments. I opened the first bottle of wine for a famous wine house, and I was invited there to cook for three-four days; I cooked for the Embassy of France. I also organized many corporate dinners and even a private dinner for a billionaire.
RoChefs: What are your strong points as a gastronomy professional?
Constantin Ghimpu: I am ambitious. I am connected 24/7 to gastronomy; I love all new things, I read hundreds of recipes, I even bought a book because of a single recipe. I look at many things, I get inspired, and when I see something that I like, I try it too. Like a musician who hears a beat that he likes, adds something else to that beat and creates something new. Cooks do the same, or at least, I am.
RoChefs: Can you recommend a talented cook for the next interview ?
Constantin Ghimpu: That is simple – Catalin Petrescu, a sushi chef. He is an excellent cook in his niche. I recommend him with an open heart.
RoChefs: If you have something to add, something that we did not include in our questions, please feel free.
About the local flavors
Constantin Ghimpu: Many chefs, even Michelin star ones, say that it is best to work with local ingredients and local flavors. Let’s be serious. Looking at our exact location, what local ingredients do we have available? I do not agree with this idea, because the best restaurants buy the best Wagyu or Kobe beef from Japan, the best lamb from New Zealand. Regarding the fish – it is ok if your are located on the seaside, near the ocean, but we are not. Because of that, even a French chef is fighting the notion of local flavor. If we look to the menu of such a restaurant, we can see that the beef is imported from one source, the vegetables come from another and the fish from a different country.
About hospitality, restaurants and cooks
It would be great if all cooks would be on the same page and we would stand up tall, and take care of our guests. At the beginning of the interview, I mentioned my mother, who was a great host and was finding great pleasure in cooking for her guests. If you invite me to your home and offer me something to eat or a glass of water and I see that the glass is not perfectly clean or the food you’re serving is not of good quality, then I would not pay you a second visit. The same happens in a restaurant, and things are more serious here, because the customer is paying for his dinner.
There are many restaurants opening now but they close as fast as they open, because restaurant business is hard. We must be very careful with our clients; we must make them return – for good food, for good service and good ambience. And along these, there are many more factors that influence the dining experience.
RoChefs: All these factors put together must lead to a happy client, a happy restaurant owner, a happy cook…
Constantin Ghimpu: Everybody must be happy: the cooks, the waiters, the owner – everybody working in this industry, because it is difficult to work with people. Let me give you an example: between a highly professional waiter but a bit obnoxious and a less professional one but who is charismatic and pleasant, the clients will always prefer the latter. This is what hospitality means: people come to the restaurant for leisure time – at least speaking about the clients who do not come simply to eat. For me, the restaurant is a state of mind. When I am preparing to go to the restaurant for dinner, I put on a clean shirt, a tie. I am going there to spend some good time. In such a restaurant, you get elaborated food, good serving and a charismatic waiter – all these complete the restaurant experience. It is useless to have a chef that cooks very well if the waiter slams the plate on the client’s table.
It is difficult to meet all these conditions. Most professionals are leaving abroad to work and you can no longer find good personnel here. I do not like when someone from my team is leaving. I want to keep them by my side, to learn from me, to work together as a team, as a family. In the kitchen we are side by side non-stop, we know each other’s problems – this is how you put a team together.