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Chef Viktor Svetoslavov: “Culinary mastery requires constant improvement.”

HRC's head chef instructor on the lessons every chef should learn

10/01/2024

With an remarkable 10-year teaching career behind him, Chef Viktor Svetoslavov stands out in the culinary world with an unwavering passion for baking and sourdough bread.

His diverse career path includes a master’s degree in economics, marketing, and management, combined with experience in human resources. Rich experience in business development and management goes hand in hand with his gastronomic passion, which is a top priority today. Chef Viktor Svetoslavov’s culinary journey takes him to various parts of the world, including hotels and renowned restaurants in the United States, Georgia, Noordwijk, and the Netherlands. He has held various positions in Bulgaria as well as in prestigious Kempinski chain hotels in Germany.

Today, Chef Svetoslavov assumes his role as the head chef instructor, inheriting the culinary mastery of Chef Henri Donno.

We meet to uncover the secrets of well-mixed bread and the lessons every chef should learn.

Who is Chef Viktor Svetoslavov?

Chef Viktor Svetoslavov is an ordinary person who, many years ago, decided that he enjoyed cooking, and later on, that he could turn it into a profession. Over time, it turned out that he combined two of his passions—cooking and teaching. Today, he is a teacher, specifically the head instructor at the international HRC Culinary Academy, as well as a chef. Two in one!

Your professional path is quite diverse. What unites the fields of marketing, human resources, and culinary mastery?

I am a marketer by education, but I have never practiced it professionally. However, this knowledge has always helped me in various aspects of business. I try to apply it in working with the academy and its public image. Human resources came a bit later, mainly in the form of training and specialization for colleagues.

What led you into the kitchen?

I’ll probably repeat what millions have said before me if I say—my mom :)) I guess by observing my parents, one builds a sense for many things that later turn into interests, hobbies, or professions. Somehow, what my mother was doing seemed more interesting to me. I’ve had an affinity for cooking from a young age. I remember a story from my childhood when, with classmates, we visited Dobrev’s huge vegetable garden. People gave us the products, and I came home with a bag of vegetables—I wanted to do something with them so badly, and in the end, I cut them ridiculously, leaving my mother to cook them.

Kneading bread seems like something sacred—we know that to get it right, it must be done with love. What advice would you give to enthusiasts?

In bread, there’s no love; there’s robust kneading—remember that! (laughs) It’s always important to have love in what we do and for those we are preparing it for. Bread has impressed me over the years and continues to interest me to this day. It has always been crucial to remember that we work with living organisms. Bread is a living product, and we should be aware of that. It’s amazing how with just four ingredients, the options for the product are endless!

In culinary art, whether we’re talking about baking or cooking, one should always know that there’s something more to improve—just like the way of the samurai, endless learning. There are still colleagues whom I look up to in the kitchen, knowing that there is something to learn from them. The moment you decide you are the best chef, you stop developing and get off the train.

In Bulgaria, there are places and people who do exceptional things—I know I can learn a lot from them.

What are your priorities as the head instructor at the HRC Culinary Academy?

Essentially, we “deliver” and create education. In training our students, we strive to provide a good initial start in the professions of chef or restaurant manager. The main criterion that guides us is student satisfaction. If that is present, it means we have done our job. It’s important for us not to lose the connection, and perhaps the greatest advantage of HRC Academy is the network of contacts created. Within one semester, students can meet world-class guest chefs and professionals from the industry.

Being part of this community is an invaluable advantage for a successful career start.

Over the years, we’ve had ups and downs, but I believe we’re heading in the right direction. I’ve been here for 10 years, and the school has been around for 15. We continue to move forward.

Tell us a bit more about the Academy’s program in 2024.

The program is packed. Besides the groups we will admit in March and September, guest chefs are becoming more and more involved. This year, many professionals wanted to present their concepts or workshops with us, and we’re delighted that this is becoming a trend. Recently, for example, with Chef Taralezhkov, we implemented an interesting idea for a joint course, which was very successful. There are also participations in international competitions for which we are intensively preparing.

What qualities should a good student possess?

The most important quality is the desire to learn. Increasingly, we notice a readiness on someone’s part to pay for their education and then a lack of willingness to learn. Today, the online space provides instant access to unlimited information, and this makes many people lazy about knowledge. “I read it on the Internet” is a deadly sentence that is challenging to counter, even with reasonable arguments. Therefore, the best student remains the one who has opened up like a blank slate, ready to learn.

In this profession, one must be open to new experiences and, more specifically, to new food. Another good quality for a student is to taste without prejudice— in the kitchen, you can’t set limitations.

At the beginning of the year, you will mentor one of the students at the Olympics in India. How is the preparation for such a massive event going?

YCO is the largest culinary student competition in the world. A great event in which we participate for the fifth time—our small anniversary in 2024 will coincide with their 10th anniversary. So far, we have always received awards in categories for dessert (such as crème caramel) and presentation. The competition emphasizes basic themes and paradigms. What is expected of students are classic elements, although this has a different meaning for representatives from Mauritius or Thailand. In European competitions like Bocuse d’Or, we see high culinary art, while here things are more elementary but with an important focus on sustainable practices, zero waste, and increasing hygiene points—a trend in competitions and here, which gained more serious attention in student training after the pandemic conditions. The main reason we are there is to represent our country, our traditions, the culinary academy, and to create and maintain contacts with schools from around the world. This year, Stelian Ganchev will represent us at the Olympics, currently finishing an internship in the Netherlands.

You mentioned the distinction for crème caramel—why does it become a criterion for mastery in reality shows and global competitions?

I immediately think of Gordon Ramsay, who, before appointing someone in the kitchen, gives them the task of preparing an omelet—something seemingly easy at first glance. Creating something elementary but brilliant in culinary history does not need changes—it satisfies generations of people. Like white bread and omelets, crème caramel carries those magical ingredients. On the other hand, in preparing this dessert, the custard should not be runny, but it should not be set; a smooth surface is expected… So many requirements for something seemingly straightforward!

What does the perfect dish look like?

The perfect dish is tasty, well-cooked food, shared with the right people.

What training are you looking forward to, and why should we not miss it?

Every year we conduct a course for Easter bread (kozunak)—something I do with great pleasure. In March, we will have a new group, and now, in my capacity as head chef instructor, I want to see what else we can improve. I’m excited about everything new and interesting that lies ahead at the academy!

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