— Richard, a couple of words about yourself, please.
— I was born in Austria in a town some 60 kilometers away from Salzburg. In 1986 I moved to West Germany to my wife’s place. Prior to that I had learnt to cook for four years in one of the best schools in Salzburg. I never stayed for long in one place, I always learnt from the best German chefs.
— How come you came to Minsk?
— It was accidental, I guess. I saw an advertisement in a German paper last autumn that the International Educational Center in Minsk was seeking for a chef for its restaurant “Westfalia”, a chef that knows the cuisine of Nordrhein-Westfalen. I got interested and called them. The financial aspect was appealing and there was a good chance to see a new country, get to know its traditions, including the cuisine of Slavs.
— What did you know about Belarus as of that moment?
— Very little. Those were widely spread unfavorable and often untrue clichйs about the life in a former USSR republic. I knew Belarus was between Poland and Russia and some other general facts.
— So the trip to Minsk was a sort of adventure, wasn’t it?
— Yes, it was. On the other hand, I though about it as a sort of cultural exchange between the people of Germany and Belarus. For me it is of extreme importance to learn more about your food, recipes, local cuisine.
— What is the purpose of your visit?
— The restaurant is called “Westfalia”, so the menu should be different from other places. It should be distinguished by the dishes of the region Nordrhein-Westfalen. My task is to offer Belarusians the cuisine of Westfalen, something they won’t have in any other place. This is market approach: I attract as many clients as possible.
I think any first-class restaurant like “Westfalia” is to have its own strategy: there should be a regular menu and some additional culinary campaigns, or actions. We had 10 days of a Christmas duck during the New Year week. In the near future we plan to present some lighter dishes, like salads. This summer Germany will host the World Cup, and we will time a special action to the football happening.
— What are your impressions of Minsk?
— I arrived here on November 20, and I liked the city at once — it is clean, cozy and hospitable. I work six days a week and have little time to look around. I see lots of things, though. I was really impressed by your Komarovsky market: I’d never seen such a large meat, poultry and vegetable market before. In Germany they buy large amounts of food, you do it in a different way. I was particularly impressed by your fish stands: I’d never seen such a variety even in Hamburg, a seaport.
— What about the Belarusian cuisine?
— Many impressions, too. In the west they use semis a lot, and you tend to keep cooking from scratch.
— Are there any similarities in the German and Belarusian cooking styles?
— You use potatoes quite a lot, same as us. In the German cuisine you can find something like your draniki, or potato pancakes, or grated potatoes in pots. Belarusians seem to like pork a lot.
— What is wholesome food to a German?
— Europe and Germany are getting crazy about fitness and healthy foods. People tend to eat more salads, especially salads with exotic fruit and avoid fat food, including the all time favorite — pork.
I haven’t noticed anything of the kind here, I guess many people are involved in physical work and can digest calories easily. In Germany, most of workers are desk-bound: they come to offices and move very little during the day, in the evening they prefer television to active pastime, hence problems with health.
But at the same time I believe man should eat enough to feel comfortable, and not depend on the struggle with permanent hunger.
— I’ve been to Germany several times, and I have a feeling that Germans like to drop in a bar for a beer after work or some nutritious dinner on weekends. Are Germans really giving up traditional beer-drinking habits?
— I wouldn’t be so certain. Germans still love bars if they have a free minute, but life requires adjustments. The German economy does not feel so well now, and Germans have to save and cut on bars, restaurants and cafes in order to have at least two sacred and untouchable things: a car and a trip abroad every year. As for beer, it is traditional only for some areas of Germany, like Bavaria. In Frankfurt they drink apple wine, in the north they prefer bread vodka, or korn. They also drink wine in the regions that have vineyards.
— Richard, your profession is rather popular in Belarus now. New cafes, restaurants and bars open nearly every day, so there will always be a demand for a good cook. The question is: is talent absolutely necessary, or can you train to be a good cook?
— I guess you cannot be trained to become a chef like a painter or woodworker. Because if you build a house, you should follow technical standards and never deviate. In cooking there should be harmony for each particular dish, and even if dishes are made to the same recipe they will still taste different. You have to be flexible and your intuition must help you with ingredients rather than knowledge. It is not a job for anyone. The key thing is that you have to love what you do. When you are in a bad mood, your dish will hardly please the client.
— What new recipes did you learn in Belarus?
— I like the way you cook your borsch, soups. We have them, too, but they taste very special here. I love your famous draniki, fish dishes. I was pleasantly surprised by the Belarusian cuisine.
by Irina Trofilova
Fish stands of Komarovsky market richer than those in Hamburg
Chef from Germany Richard Gschwantl believes his work in Minsk is a continuation of cultural exchange between German and Belarusian peoples at the cooking level