Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Welcome to Indonesia

As a chef the further away you step from actually pulling a carrot from the ground, the more difficult it becomes to use that product with understanding. Being able to somehow connect to those ingredients just seems to make sense if it is your job to cook them.  Most chefs today, however, have no connection with the actual origin of the ingredients for the food they cook: meat, poultry and fish come pre-portioned in plastic bags with no bones and no unsightly remnants of its living, breathing past; fruits and vegetables are picked inedible and ripened along the way losing out on those last weeks of sunshine, rain and fresh air that allow its natural flavor to develop; spices have lost their shape, now ground and packed in beautiful shiny tins and colorful labels with aromatic descriptions, and dairy surely misses its cow.

Traveling throughout Indonesia, a country that is rich in both culture and natural resources, has given us the most intimate connection to every ingredient we use in Cuca and reminded us of so many amazing ones we have foolishly ignored. Products that are so packed with flavor and character that our job is less of being a surgeon trying to bring dying broccoli back to life and more like a tailor simply putting good quality together well.

Drinking coffee in the mountains where people are handpicking ripe cherries and the smell of roasted beans perfumes the air, spotting cashew nuts cling from their maturing fruit that hangs high up in old trees, watching locals stripping bark from young shoots that when dried becomes cinnamon, video-recording golden rice stalks being smashed against wooden ramps to shed them of their grains of rice and attending a traditional ceremony where within an hour a massive buffalo walks in and soon becomes sticks of BBQ satay. This isn’t a summary of the last five years we spent in Indonesia, this happened last week. Welcome to Indonesia, where those products (except for the buffalo for now) have become part of Cuca’s recipes. 



Thursday, 27 April 2017

Learning from Legends (part 4): SERGI AROLA

From the moment I woke up to the moment I arrived at Michelin 2 star La Broche restaurant in Madrid, I felt sick. Putting on my uniform I often threw up and entering the kitchen I would be shaking with fear. A small team of 5 cooked for a full restaurant every day, lunch and dinner, and there wasn’t time to eat, drink water or pee.

The day started at 8am and finished at 1am with 1 day off a week. It was hell. Just when you figured the menu, Sergi Arola would change it and just when you thought you were ahead, someone quit and his work became yours pushing you farther behind. You washed your own dishes, did your own ordering, prepared your own food, cooked it and plated it. You became a machine, a jack of all trades, a soldier fighting in a war that was surely not to be won. Despite the madness, the food was brilliant with technical dishes that required clinical precision and amazing products that reflected each season and formed staples of Sergi’s style of cooking.

Working at the now closed La Broche sure as hell toughened me up and the few who stuck it out and survived left with a masters degree in efficiency and determination and the feeling of really accomplishing something. The worse it got, the more us, the surviving zombies, wanted to stick around to see what happened next.

The intensity of service and the focus required to deliver great food regardless of what may be going wrong is a lesson I will never ever forget and try to teach to my key guys in Cuca. Just minus the fear of death, of course.

Kevin and Sergi Arola

If you enjoyed this entry, do not miss the previous one here!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Learning from Legends (part 3): JUAN MARI ARZAK

The grandfather of Spanish cooking, Chef Juan Mari, absolutely adores food. When he eats his eyes light up and at 74 years old he still has the curiosity and amazement of a child when it comes to cooking. Every lunch time he becomes excited with the event of enjoying tasty, well cooked food.

Arzak restaurant believes food must be first of all delicious. Sure they are inventive and playful with presentations, menu wording and ideas but my god do things taste good! You don’t leave Arzak hungry and you don’t leave without the feeling of warmth from an old school family-run restaurant. This one just happens to have 3 Michelin stars, but all the glamour that Michelin brings along has not diluted any of the friendliness and attention they pay to every single diner and every single staff member. If you are working in Arzak, you are part of their family and are treated and loved as if you were a blood relative.  

Juan Mari’s principle of loving the people he works with and taking care of them is something we believe in and have implemented since day one in Cuca. The result is not only an amazingly warm environment to spend the long hours this industry requires, but also our guests feel genuinely welcome and cared for, not visitors at a party they don’t belong.

Kevin Cherkas with Juan Mari and Elena Arzak

If you enjoyed this entry, do not miss the previous one here! 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Learning from Legends (part 2): DANIEL BOULUD

When people ask me “Who is the greatest chef on planet earth?” I do not hesitate to answer Daniel Boulud.

During my years working for him, he was like a French Batman. If you made a mistake, Daniel would surely find it, he was incredible at being everywhere and seeing everything, no one was safe, any day could be your last. It was the Olympics of cooking and no one gets a medal for participation.

Restaurant Daniel
in New York City was tough. With incredibly long hours, physically exhausting days, huge quantities of customers to serve and the constant demand for perfection, this was the most difficult place I have ever worked. One thing is cooking a few pieces of fish for a cute 20 seat restaurant; another is cooking over 100 portions of fish at different times using different methods that all demanded precision. And let’s remember fish doesn’t come in nice square little pieces… it has to be gutted, cleaned, scaled, filleted and portioned, plus it needs sauce and garnishes to become a dish and we are only talking about the fish station here, you still got canapés, cold kitchen, soup, rotisserie, vegetables, meats, pastry and bakery.

Daniel’s drive for perfection has led him to make everything from scratch to be able to control the quality each step of the way. In Cuca we have adopted the same thinking: if we serve it, we make it and we make everything from scratch every single day.


If you enjoyed this entry, do not miss the previous one here!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Learning from legends (part 1): FERRAN ADRIA

Ferran Adrià was like the Wizard of Oz crafting fascinating new ideas with food from behind the curtain of El Bulli.

Formerly known as the world’s best restaurant before serving its last meal on July 30th 2011, El Bulli remains a mystery to many. Working there was really like being Charlie in The Chocolate Factory. The thought and effort that goes into creating a meal is absurd and what made the restaurant magic was the philosophy behind everything they did.

Let me share with you how every season at the famous restaurant began: the new team arrived in the morning, had a brief overview of the restaurant (the kitchen, the dining room and the gardens) and are introduced to the senior staff. We were then told to come at 8am the following day in jeans and t-shirts. We all arrived and the Chef explained that the job for the next 7 days would be gardening. If the gardening concept to the well-trained internationally selected chefs and service professionals wasn’t strange enough, we were asked to remove, wash, polish and place back one by one the thousands of beautiful river stones used to cover the garden. After this was explained we all looked at each other waiting for the hidden camera to appear but, sure enough, this was no joke. Why not just clean them quickly and throw them back? Questions like “What the hell are we doing?” were in everyone’s mind as none of us expected gardening and professional stone polishing the path to become a world-class cook or waiter, right? Wrong, the Jedi mind-training was in the message.


If on your first day you didn’t care about the garden or the stones or the thousands of little details that made El Bulli the best restaurant in the world, you certainly did by the time you left.

As a matter of fact all the big name chefs I have worked for have one thing in common: the smallest details done incorrectly result in the biggest possible punishments. The lesson is clear: notice the most basic of minute details because your customers do. Every day we apply this to Cuca and have become obsessed with the many small things that remind our guests where they are and why it’s different.