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A young chef about his cooperation with Gordon Ramsay

Fast Confession - Tomáš Jiskra: Gordon Ramsay gave me a thick skin

Nela Štefanová
24.Feb 2020
+ Add on Seznam.cz
6 minutes to read

He is only thirty years old, but has already gathered such experience that many an older colleague could envy him. Chef Tomáš Jiskra learned from the best. And so he could tell us in detail what it was like to work with a world-renowned British chef and holder of sixteen Michelin stars Gordon Ramsay. He puts his enthusiasm and experience to use not only in the Bistro Medúz in Prague's Arkády, but also in his newly opened fast-food Beers & Cheers. He told LP-Life.cz what he believes Czech gastronomy is missing and what we could learn from foreign countries.

You started out as a cook at La Galeria. How did you get to Ramsay?

I left for London and started working as a cook in a hotel, where I helped prepare breakfast. But I admit that it wasn't good at all, the chef was used to preparing scrambled eggs in a microwave, and I knew I certainly didn't want to go that way. So I thought that since I was already in England, I could as well make good use of it. I chose the best restaurants, sent out my resumes, and I happened to get an answer from Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen.

You must have had an impressive CV, when he noticed you…

On the contrary. Almost everyone who can cook gets a job there. But the hardest part is to pull through. If you manage to handle the first two months, you have won.

What were the first two months like for you?

Well, pretty tough. (laughs) I was going home completely beat, tired, low on self-confidence. You work five days a week, 16 hours a day. You're lucky if you catch the last London subway train, which used to run only until midnight, get to the other end of London and have time for a few hours of sleep. And next morning, it starts all over again.

Prodej luxusního bytu, Praha 1 - Nové Město
Prodej luxusního bytu, Praha 1 - Nové Město, Praha 1

At first, I was preparing sauces, I had a great boss who was overseeing me and who I still hang out with from time to time. Later on, I switched to making side dishes and then I worked my way through the next section and the next one.

How do you remember your first meeting with Gordon?

Every now and then, he would pop in the kitchen, so I had the opportunity to meet him a couple of times. I've seen him angry once, when he rightly scolded someone. But our first major meeting took place during the preparation of the book he was writing at the time. His recipes were photographed in Bread Street Kitchen, I helped prepare everything. I remember that I thought he was very tall, strong and also fast.

You've been working with him for almost three years, that's a long time. What did it give you?

A thick skin. When I returned to the Czech Republic, I was much more resilient.

Were you on the verge of collapse?

Never at work, always at home. It's true that I haven't had a moment when I'd call my mom, crying that I wanted to go back home. But there were moments when I was telling myself I'd go find another job where I would be earning more money for less work. Everyone gives up after a while, because you have a lot of other options. But the fact that you wake up in the morning and overcome yourself makes you stronger.

You mentioned that you've seen him angry. Is he really how he appears on the TV shows?

In all honesty, I didn't have the opportunity to experience him in full working mode, but I'm sure he is. And I admit that I am the same. It's nothing commercial, it's the passion for the thing. You simply want to achieve the best results possible at the moment and you don't mind throwing someone through the shop window for the sake of it.

I've seen a 45-year-old chef with a Michelin star jump up and down like a child with his fists clenched, swearing like a sailor. Democracy simply doesn't work in the kitchen, it's nonsense. If you want everything to work in the kitchen, there has to be dictatorship. And it's your job to tell them how exactly it's going to work. When you're yelling at someone, you're also testing if the person can even withstand it, if they have what it takes.

In England it worked that way, here in the Czech Republic not so much. In the kitchen, you have to be a gladiator and have people around you who're doing it with the same passion and the same zeal. I miss that. I like when people are pulling together. In London you arrive at work at eight in the morning and you're already half an hour late. Therefore, you have to work very quickly, otherwise it will be reflected in all the service. I have the feeling that here, everybody's often doing their own thing in the kitchen, counting the minutes until they can go out and have a cigarette or check their Facebook. That's the sad reality.

And here I would have thought that every young student must initially have this passion for cooking…

No, it's not like that at all. It's very specific. If the owner of a restaurant or a hotel hires you as a chef and you have passion for cooking, it doesn't even occur to you to ask about working hours. Why? Because you're ready to give your all to making changes or variations in the menu and motivating other coworkers. But eighty percent of people in other fields would tell you I'm crazy. They would tell you that they work primarily for money. For me it's more a matter of prestige than a matter of money.

How do you perceive Czech gastronomy? What do you think we should learn from the international one?

Using less flour, and we should also think about the monotony of our meals. In my opinion, the biggest problem of Czech gastronomy is the lunch menu.

What do you mean?

I think we offer only a small choice of meals that keep repeating over and over. And the worst thing is that people expect them. It's been the same for twenty years.

Where do you see the problem? Do you think it would be better to take risks and offer something that people aren't used to in the lunch menu?

It is mainly about people's level of knowledge and about price. The biggest problem is that you get a one-hundred meal voucher at work and you think that that's your lunch money. But it's not, it's not enough. And that's the bottom of it all. You can't expect to have a decent meal in a restaurant, where they have to cook the food, do the dishes and serve you, for one hundred or one hundred and thirty crowns.

But people are satisfied with those lunches.

That's the thing. And then they come to the same restaurant at the weekend or at a time when there is no lunch menu, and they cannot understand the pricing system. Would you order a quality steak with a garnish for four hundred crowns in my restaurant, if you could have a corned beef roll with rice for less than half the price? I am used to the fact that when I go for breakfast and have two sausages with scrambled eggs, it is normal to pay two hundred crowns. My mom would tell you, "Why don't you make the eggs at home?" But I know how much work it was.

Rodinný dům na pronájem, Praha 4 - 359m
Rodinný dům na pronájem, Praha 4 - 359m, Praha 4

But I don't want to teach or lecture anyone. For example, I have also compiled a menu at Bistro Medúz and, and as you can see, you will find tomato sauce or even fried cheese on the menu. It's just that my approach is different.

I see that you offer a Dutch schnitzel or dill sauce here. What makes these dishes of yours different from those in other restaurants?

We make the Dutch schnitzel from our own mixed meat and serve it with a fluffy mash, in which there is ghee and a lot of cream. As for the dill sauce, I serve it together with top sirloin roast beef and we cook the potatoes in a vacuum with butter. Childhood on a plate is about the tastes we know well, but in a modern design.

But don't you think that it's mainly a matter of money? Not everyone can afford to spend so much for breakfast or buy a meal for more than one hundred and thirty crowns in meal vouchers?

Yes, it's definitely a matter of money. Going to a restaurant every day is a luxury that most people, including me, cannot afford. And yet we long to visit restaurants regularly.

Do you keep experimenting with new methods or technologies?

All the time, I enjoy it very much. My apartment is currently undergoing reconstruction, I'm turning it into a mini restaurant for six people.

Do you cook at home?

I haven't cooked until now, but as soon as my home restaurant is finished, I'll start.

Is gastronomy without meat our future?

In my opinion, definitely not. It won't work without meat. It bothers me when someone tells me I should do without it. But I don't eat it every day, I really like fish too.

Which restaurant in Prague do you go to, when you long for good food?

Definitely to The Bistro in Londýnská, I love it there. Now I'm planning to check out the Vallmo restaurant, about which I've heard only good things so far.

Which Czech chef do you look up to?

Radek David.

In one interview, you said you're not interested in a Michelin star. So what are you interested in?

For me, the biggest satisfaction would be a full restaurant, from Monday to Sunday, from morning to evening. Satisfied guests and staff who want to work with you. Right now I have a group of people around me with whom things are working out well, so hopefully it will last.

Do you follow modern trends in gastronomy? Where do you look for inspiration?

I'm trying to follow leading influencers in my field. But inspiration is all around, you just need to look properly.

What food preparation did you find most difficult? What dish would be a real challenge for you?

The preparation of confectionery. I consider it a completely different discipline. I admit that I don‘t trust myself very much with confectionery, but I decided to do better and try to learn something new in this field.

Tomáš, thank you for the interview!

Fast confession:

What did you want to be when you were small?

A chef.

What do you like most about your profession?

Diversity and speed.

What would you never eat?

I honestly don't know, probably a toddler.

How do you prefer to relax?

At home on the couch.

How can people make you angry?

With lies.

Who would you like to have dinner with?

Frankly, I have no idea.

Would you be able to live with a vegetarian?

It would be very complicated.

What three essential experiences did you bring from Ramsay?

Discipline, speed.

What can't you do without in the kitchen?

Without salt and water.

What, on the other hand, you can't stand in your kitchen?

Alcohol.

What is your life motto?

You snooze, you lose.

Who is your inspiration?

I guess I don't have any big idol.

Italian or French cuisine?

Italian.

What Czech food is your favorite?

Sirloin with cream sauce and potato pancakes.
Question by the interviewee for the editor:

Would you join me for dinner?

Sure, tonight!
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