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2023: An Exciting Journey from the Kitchen to the Global Culinary Stage

Тake a look at some of the most exciting moments, successes, and awards for HRC

05/01/2024

We talk to Yoana Mileva, Director of HRC Academy, about the value of culinary excellence today, participation in key competitions, and preparing students for a community with high standards and unlimited possibilities.

Hello, Yoana! On the eve of the holidays, we will take a look at some of the most exciting moments, successes, and awards for HRC. What will you remember about 2023?

HRC is an educational institution, and for us, after the students, accreditations are the most important – the year has been very successful in that regard. One of the big news is that at the beginning of 2023, our academy was accredited by the World Association of Chefs’ Societies – WORLDCHEFS. Thanks to this accreditation, HRC teachers will have access to a variety of training, including sustainable practices – an important topic that we have already incorporated into our educational program. Our instructor, Chef Victoria Baltutyte, is the only certified teacher in Bulgaria for ‘Sustainable Practices in Culinary Arts,’ and we are very proud of her achievement. More and more top restaurants are focusing on green practices, and knowledge in this area is highly valued. We hope that the individual certification provided by WORLDCHEFS to each of our students who successfully complete the course will help them achieve even more success in the future.

In addition to acquiring new accreditations, the renewal of existing ones is also a challenging and complex process that requires an exceptional volume of documentation, verification of all standards related to hygiene, equipment, training quality, and many other factors. This year, we successfully renewed our accreditation with the American Culinary Federation without any remarks. In Europe, there are two schools with this recognition – one is us, and the other is in Switzerland (smile).

Meetings with guest chefs from abroad also deserve to be highlighted as a major success of the academy. The various masterclasses we conducted with renowned chefs from Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Greece, Vietnam, turned into a real experience that enriched the lives of our students, providing them access to different cultures, new knowledge, and techniques. This had an extremely positive impact on their overall motivation, and personally, for me, it’s a warm and standout memory from 2023.

Are new opportunities opening up for students in 2024?

Absolutely. Since 2023, our partnership with the largest culinary school in France – École Ducasse, has been in effect. We have reached an agreement for the diplomas of our students to be recognized, allowing them to complete the school’s bachelor’s program in shorter periods. For HRC, this is a great privilege, as Ecole Ducasse is a highly prestigious institution that generally does not make exceptions.

We have also entered into a corporate partnership with Barry Callebaut and their Chocolate Academy. Together, we have started organizing numerous pastry courses. Our students are now privileged to attend additional classes at the Chocolate Academy after completing their training at HRC.

Our culinary academy consistently participates in various international competitions. One of the significant events we participated in this year, where we returned with an award, was the International Young Chef Olympiad in India. In 2024, we have the ambition to actively participate in European culinary competitions—a prospect that will broaden the horizons for our students.

What was the taste of India? 

Every year in late January, the International Young Chef Olympiad is held in India, and we have been participating since 2020 at their invitation.

The event is grand – gathering between 50 and 60 different countries. Typically, participants land in New Delhi, where they are divided into teams and then compete in various cities throughout India. During the final round, each country has its own stand where they present a national dish. Participants are required to bring a product or spice from their home country – the first time we brought a traditional Bulgarian spice mix. We also have a funny story – someone kindly placed the Panagyurishte-style eggs with yogurt in the oven for a bit, and in the end, it turned into a delicious soup that visitors eagerly tried!

At the finals, all teams gather in Kolkata, and the top 20 compete for the Olympiad trophy. The competition takes place in iconic hotels and is attended by thousands of people who welcome the participants with flowers, wreaths, and flags. There is a lavish award ceremony. All of this is very impressive. If I have to summarize the experience – an incredible diversity of foods, aromas, and emotions!

Every year we come back with a medal, and this year, the award was for cutting techniques. We have also won an award for sustainable practices, the best crème caramel, and the Plate Trophy, which is essentially the cup for the second best. Currently, we are preparing a contestant who will travel this time in the company of Chef Viktor Svetoslavov, in the role of a mentor. The tickets are bought, and we are expecting the medals!

What is the value of a culinary award today?

Firstly, it creates a tremendous sense of excitement, and secondly, it provides a goal for not only the students but our entire team to strive toward. It allows us to allocate additional resources, showcase new approaches, techniques, and innovations, and teach them beyond the regular program structure. Of course, the aspect of traveling, making new contacts, and forming new friendships is undoubtedly thrilling.

Tell us, what are the leading criteria in a world competition?

Hygiene in the workplace is always evaluated, along with the chef’s skills, both in the kitchen and in terms of creativity, techniques, and speed. Stress resilience is extremely important – the pressure is significant, and most of these individuals are still young and not as experienced in such formats.

It seems that mentality is crucial, much like with athletes…

Mentality remains a significant component, as in most cases, competitors have no idea what they will face and must be prepared for various challenges – unfamiliar products, for example. Communication is also crucial. Sometimes the decisive moment is related to how you charm the judges. We’ve seen charismatic contestants winning the judges over with a story about themselves or the presentation of their dish.

What were the most important moments for the academy in Bulgaria over the past year?

At the “Restaurant of the Year” ceremony, our training restaurant won in the “Tasty Place” category. Talents Restaurant is open to external guests but also presents many challenges with a continuous flow of training students changing every 6 months. It’s not easy to combine all of this with high standards and consistency in the kitchen. For us, this award validates that we have managed to achieve the necessary quality.

This year, we also received an award at the Culinary Cup of Bulgaria in the “Grill” category. Although the category is for professionals, three of our students decided to participate and won fourth place.

In 2023, Bulgaria gained more visibility on the culinary map of Europe with the joining of the first three chefs to the JRE-Jeunes Restaurateurs Association. Our academy also partners with JRE in the direction of internship programs for students. This year, we hosted the first of its kind special dinner with the participation of top chefs from the Netherlands and Bulgarian chefs who are already official members of JRE. The dinner was attended by the Dutch ambassador and important guests in the culinary world. We hope to create such events more often and are already planning the next visit of JRE to Bulgaria.

If you had to dream big, what award would you like to win?

Although it’s super ambitious, I dream of Bulgarian chefs winning the Bocuse D’Or. Every chef in the world would want to possess it. Or perhaps the IKA/Culinary Olympics award, held in Stuttgart, and for now, we plan to participate only as curious visitors.

What’s ahead for HRC in 2024?

We eagerly anticipate our new pastry program starting right after the holidays. It features new instructors, completely updated trends, and a different structure. We hope it garners significant interest and achieves success! At the end of January, we have the Olympiad in India, and we have planned trips and visits to several schools in Europe, including École Ducasse, where our teachers will conduct masterclasses, exchanging experiences on trends in professional education.

This year, we plan to send a large portion of our students to restaurants that are part of the JRE network. The standards and requirements there are very high, as is the attitude toward interns. In April 2024, the association will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a grand event in Paris, to which we are invited to participate. And that’s just until the summer! I think an extremely dynamic year full of new experiences lies ahead.

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