- Chef John Dicken perfects his dishes ready for Russia
If you can’t stand the heat….then head to where it’s minus 30 degrees!
Essex chef and KLC client John Dicken is jumping from the frying pan and into the fire as he swaps his own bustling kitchen at Dickens Restaurant, Halstead, for the unknown world which awaits him in Russia.
Fine dining expert John this weekend flies across the vast expanse of Siberia to Sakhalin, an island off the far eastern coast of Russia, to open a restaurant.
Not only will the country and language be new to him, but it will be the first time he has seen the restaurant, Café No1, and met the people who will be cooking and serving his dishes there.
He said: “I was approached by a Russian client who dines at Dickens Restaurant and who runs the marketing for the Sakhalin restaurant owner. I was offered the opportunity to help revamp the place and relaunch the menu.
“The experience will be fantastic!”
John, 53, has been in the industry for 37 years, having trained at the Connaught Hotel, in London, before working in France and Switzerland. Along the way, he has won AA Rosettes and created a name for himself as a highly successful chef.
He opened his first restaurant, Dickens Brasserie, in Weathersfield on 1989 and the White Hart, Great Yeldham, in 2000. Eventually, having sold both restaurants, John took on his next challenge – renovating the Townsford Mill, in Halstead, and creating Dickens Restaurant Café Bar.
However, despite his many years of experience, John has been met with a wealth of new challenges with the Russian project.
He said: “I have helped to design the new kitchen and create the menu. They had very classic Russian dishes on the old menu, but the country is changing and they would like to embrace some European culinary styles. I have kept an element of the old menu as you can’t go in to any business and just kill everything. For example, the Russians, not surprisingly, like soup because of the weather so that will stay. They have requested, however, demonstrations in pasta-making. Sometimes change has to be gradual and we will rely on customer reaction to help make the business successful.
“I have introduced a modern menu with food which is beautifully presented. That said, we have had some difficulty in getting certain ingredients for the dishes. Translation has not always been easy, it has required more than a look in the Rough Guide to Russia! I have had to wonder what fresh products can be sourced. So, when I arrive, I will be going around the markets with the chef and team to see exactly what is easily available.
“Just to make it more interesting, I will be there during one of the coldest months of the year!”
John will then concentrate on training the chef and his ten self-taught team members on how to create the fine dining dishes on the new menu. Together, during the visit, they will serve the new dishes to 300 dignitaries and business people and officially open Café No1.
He said: “What will give me enormous pleasure is taking people, who may not have had a great deal of training, who are hungry for knowledge and being able to share my skills with them.
“But, I need to bear in mind I will have to quickly take on board certain Russian cultural tastes, for example how they like their meat cooked. It will be no good me serving them food they do not want to eat.”
Despite a few nerves, the chef is simply proud of his work.
He said: “My career has done me proud. I get up every day and want to come to work. A lot of guys my age are ready to enjoy what they have achieved, but I cannot resist this new challenge; it is beyond my wildest dreams.”