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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.