You have to learn the basics, without them you are nothing. You don’t start creating platings or recipes if you don’t know that you can’t mix water with oil, or rather how to do it, because in the end, even water can be mixed with oil.
RoChefs: Please tell us about the beginnings of your career. How did you become a cook/ chef ?
Orlando Zaharia: It’s simple – culinary high school, field practice at the Intercontinental Hotel where I stayed until I was 22.
RoChefs: We know that at the Intercontinental Hotel they still practice ‘classic’ cuisine, they still prepare stocks, sauces.
Orlando Zaharia: Yes, they still do it because there is a chef there, Mr. Costel, who used to be my chef as well. He is ‘old school’ and has been working there for over 30 years, sort of like a Tutankhamon. But every kitchen should be preparing stocks and sauces. That’s the main idea. In my kitchen we prepare at least three types of meat stock, one of them from fish. Without them the only alternative is Knorr, artificial flavours. Our restaurant’s profile is based on healty food, healthy ingredients – we have our own farms and the intention is to expand and work with bio products that we produce ourselves. In time, the investment will pay back, because in the end this is a business.
RoChefs: Please describe in a few works what gastronomy means to you.
Orlando Zaharia: Creativity, most of all. When I think of cooking I always think of it as an art. You need a lot more than a few words to describe it. Words like good quality, good taste are just cliches, they don’t mean anything. You have to be creative and be the kind of person who will always try to outdo yourself. You asked about how I started, my initial motivation was personal need. I come from a rather poor family and like most people during communism we only saw bananas and oranges at Christmas or New Year’s eve. If you’re over 30, you know what I’m talking about. I have always tried to move forward, better myself and, in the kitchen, I think I have succeeded in doing that. And for that, even though you don’t have to hold a Phd, I think you still need creativity, talent, you need a spark.
RoChefs: What do you enjoy cooking?
Orlando Zaharia: I think my favourite was cooking duck. Why? Again, I go back to my origins. My grandparents were breeding ducks, not pigs like most people did in their household. My grandma was preserving the meat by boiling and keeping it in wooden barrels. I was eating duck confit before I knew it was called that way. About 10 years ago, I was working at Noblesse when they opened the place, on Paris ave., and I was preparing duck confit. When I won the Golden Chef of Bucharest Award in 2010 I also cooked duck confit.
RoChefs: You said it was your favourite…
Orlando Zaharia: It was, because I later discovered so many good things – quality, structure, beef fibers – and so many pieces of good meat that people disconsider and only use to mince. But you can do so many wonderful things with them, for instance with beef paves. With beef, or any type of meat, the parts that are in constant motion are the most tender, even though they have tendons. After all, we use knives, we can separate them. The cheeks, for example, are great and since they are in small quantities should be cooked properly to make sure they don’t go to waste. Or duck tongue, or cock comb for example – but, sadly, people are reticent to this new approach.
RoChefs: Traditional or international cooking ?
Orlando Zaharia: Surely international, I have yet to find the identity of traditional cuisine.
RoChefs: What are the current trends in modern gastronomy, in your opinion ?
Orlando Zaharia: For me, modern gastronomy means combining very different things and making them work as a whole, starting from preparing the dish and ending with the plating. Modern gastronomy is not only about new techniques, new tools. I can cook sous-vide in more than one way, not only using a sous-vide machine. But, first of all, you have to use ingredients that allow a modern approach. You cannot use just minced meat and expect something modern. If you only spin some beef on the grill and throw in some random side dish, you can draw or paint on your plate, it will not come together as something special. For example, on our menu, we have a dish that we prepare using seven techniques before reaching the final stage. This is also because we are planning to rename the restaurant Iconic Seven. We braise it, use sous-vide, bake it in the oven, then we rub spices on it, boil it to wash them off and, finally, we glaze it. Only then, you can say you have something special, even though the main ingredient is osso buco, which is basically a bone with some meat on it. Even so, we switched from beef to lamb.
RoChefs: What can chefs do to improve the culinary education of their customers ?
Orlando Zaharia: I have to be honest, I make no such effort. My only thought, my motto, is that taste cannot be judged but it can be educated. But when you try to educate people, you often hit a wall. They are either too arrogant because they ate at “some place in Paris” or just want some blade steak with fries, which is good but can be a lot better, by the way. So, what I try to do is bring something new with my cooking and let the food educate them.
RoChefs: Cooking shows – are they useful or not ?
Orlando Zaharia: I think they are because before that we had a lot of great cooks that were unknown.
RoChefs: What is your advice for a young cook ?
Orlando Zaharia: I have two nephews and a niece, my advice for all of them was to start early. They are now in the first year at a culinary high school. First of all, I would say get schooled in Romania and get as much field practice as possible. Learn to hold a knife properly. Then, leave the country, but not to stay abroad, just to learn faster, because in Romania the learning process is too slow and, on top of it, people are also sometimes very mean. Even I, at 36, still find some communist remains in me when I hire new people and find myself not always willing to share everything I know. But this is also because people are sometimes superficial and are not really willing to learn but just look for jobs so they can drop names later. I think young cooks should go abroad, learn, and come back to build something here. Because you can also earn a lot of money in Romania, but you have to work just as hard to deserve it.