Cooking In Moscow with Nicolas Courtois
Jeremy Emmerson interviews Nicolas Courtois - chef of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Moscow
Working overseas can be an amazing experience. It can take you out of your comfort zone, provide life long memories and offer a serious education. This month Jeremy Emmerson chats with Nicolas Courtois, whose position at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow, has the French chef; speaking either Russian or English with his 86 employees, overseeing several outlets including the a three star Michelin Jeroboam Restaurant and cooking with the most delicious Russian Kamchatka Crab...
Can you give us a brief summary of your career and how you came to be appointed as the Executive Chef of the hotel?
I was born in a town call Comines, which is located near Lille in the North of France. I spent my childhood in Burgundy and I went to culinary college when I was 15. My first job was in London at a riverbank restaurant called “L’ Arlequin”. After working in London I went back to France and worked in a couple of places in Paris one of which was one Michelin Star restaurant. I came to Russia in 2001 with the catering company Potel and Chabot.
In 2004 I moved to Baltschug in Saint Petersburg, and in 2005 I was offered a position at the Grand Hotel Europe as a banquet Chef. The main aim of the position was to develop the outside catering for the hotel. I joined the Ritz Carlton in December 2006.
I have worked here in the pre-opening team as a Banquet Chef. In September 2008 I was promoted as an Executive Sous Chef. The Chef left in December, and since them I have performed the duties of the Executive Chef.
Being Executive Chef of the Ritz Carlton Moscow is the greatest honor for me. The Ritz Carlton gave me opportunity to develop myself and pursue my culinary dreams.
How many outlets do you oversee?
At the moment I oversee: Jeroboam restaurant, Caviarterra restaurant, In room dining, O2 Lounge (where we have sushi and a fabulous grill station), Lobby, SPA (we do serve light snacks in the SPA cafe), Club Lounge, Banquet kitchen and the Cafeteria for employees which is the biggest restaurant in the hotel :).
How big is you team?
Our team is consisted of 86 employees in which 36 are female and 50 are male.
How is it set up, do you follow the European brigade system?
Yes we run a European brigade system starting with commis de cuisine, followed by demi chef de partie, chef de partie and headed by sous chef and chef.
What type of training do they have before joining the hotel? Do you train them, do they apprentice or go to cooking school?
All our employees had a previous experience of working in other hotels. The best culinary colleges and universities in Russia send their students for practice to us. The best students get a work placement with us as commis de cuisine.
How many of your team is non-Russian, and what is the language of the kitchen?
The majority of our Ladies and Gentlemen in the kitchen are Russian. So the language spoken is Russian; we as expats have learnt the basics of it in order to be able to communicate in the kitchen, however now the kitchen staff has an aspiration for learning English!
What style of food do you cook, is it global or are you influenced by the location?
Each restaurant has its own concept.
- Caviarterra is an inspired cozy place where Russian and Georgian cuisine is being served.
- Jeroboam is a fine dining restaurant with French influence guided by a three Michelin star Chef Heinz Winkler
- In the Lobby we do serve international cuisine
- We also have a very famous in Moscow grill in the O2 Lounge which is located on the roof top with a miraculous view on the Red Square and Kremlin. Also there is a sushi bar, “Seiji”, with its own Japanese Chef.
I can say with all my knowledge that tomatoes and cucumbers from Azerbaijan are the best in the world!
Where do you buy your ingredients from, how much is imported how much is domestic?
Almost all fish and meat is imported from: Chile, Australia, New Zeeland and the U.S plus some from Europe. Vegetables are also imported but only in the cold season, as during the summer time we buy great local vegetables.
What are the best local ingredients that you use?
I can say with all my knowledge that tomatoes and cucumbers from Azerbaijan are the best in the world! Another awesome product from Russia is Kamchatka Crab, which is very popular here. Venison from the North parts of Russia is also a very famous and good ingredient in here.
What has been the greatest learning experience from your current position?
Generally I have learnt so much since being here, and I have found the position of chef with Ritz Carlton is something special. I have got a great training and experience in managing employees, our goal is to train people and try to develop their skills and talents.
Can you offer a few words of advice to the chef of tomorrow that would like to cook in Russia?
Russia is a very special country. I have worked in France and in the UK but when I came to Russia I became aware of many differences. I had to change some of my attitudes.
If you are a new-comer in this country you must understand the population here. In France people usually go to a restaurant for the Chef of that place. But here in Russia the food concept is the most important thing. The Chef here has to be open-minded for the new thing and be able to build himself to the location, local traditions and food art…