Student Stories

Asen Georgiev: “Fail as much as you can, as early as possible. It really is a gift”

Asen graduated from HRC Academy in 2019 and his story breaks the industry stereotypes

30/04/2024

Meet Asen Georgiev, who graduated from the academy in 2019. When it comes to him, we can definitely call him a free and artistic soul. His path and story break the industry stereotypes, and for us at HRC, every story is meaningful and important!

Why did you decide to become a chef?

I was tired of jumping from one call center to another every year. I’ve been working as a customer service representative for western companies in Bulgaria for 7 years, but I always knew that wasn’t a real career path for me. After experimenting with multiple hobbies, I finally realized that cooking was the one hobby that not only did I not get tired of after a few years, but quite the opposite – I kept getting more and more obsessed with it. At the age of 25, it was the first time in my life I believed to have found my true passion.

Why did you choose HRC Academy for your education?

Simply put – HRC was the best option. Nearly 8 years later (and obviously having completed the program) I still stand by that statement.

Do you have any key memories from your HRC days that you would like to share?

I’ve got so many I am struggling to pick which ones to talk about, so I will just speak in general, otherwise I will have to talk about all of them and that would take forever.

I will never forget first semester. I was actually working full time night shifts in a call center for the first four months of it, while also attending classes, never missing a single one. It was tough, but that’s how much I wanted it. Meeting so many likeminded classmates, having a community of people who were passionate about food just as much as me (if not more) was amazing.

First semester was one of the best periods of my life and I look back to it with a lot of nostalgia.

Tell us about your internship placements and the biggest advantage you gained from them.

My first internship was at a 5 star hotel in Noordwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands, called Huis ter Duin.

It was a game changer. I had never worked in a kitchen before and once I arrived there, I got thrown into the deep end very quickly. It took me a while to understand exactly what was expected of me, how a kitchen works, what being productive means and how to handle a busy service. The internship worked exactly as intended – you send an inexperienced chef and 6 months later they send him back to you, battle hardened and ready to face the real world.

My second internship was at a very popular and very busy high end Japanese restaurant in London, UK, called Zuma. At that stage I had expressed my desire to fully switch to a pastry chef role and HRC landed me an internship that allowed me to do just that.

After 6 months I completed the internship, got promoted, and stayed seven more months at a new position. Then one thing led to another and suddenly what was supposed to be a 6-month internship turned into me still living in London nearly 6 years later.

The biggest advantage, besides the real life work experience, is the fact that after you graduate, you get to build your own future, the way you want it. The opportunities are endless. The amount of networking you’ve created and relationships you’ve built across the globe thanks to HRC allow you to go anywhere and do anything, if you choose to do so.

What is one valuable lesson that you learned from your journey at HRC Academy that you would never forget and why?

There was one event that I will never ever forget. The third semester’s final exam.

I was elected as the “head chef” for the exam night. We (my group) spent months planning and testing, came up with this super convoluted (and a tad pretentious) menu. We were really proud of what we had come up with.

Night of the exam came and we failed. Big time. I pat myself on the back now because I find it hilarious in retrospect, but it truly was possibly one of, if not the worst final exam of the decade. Certainly one of the worst nights of my life, I am not exaggerating. I never want to experience that again.

The chefs felt so bad for us that they didn’t even reprimand us for all the mistakes we made. They told us to clean up, go home and we’d talk about it the next day. To say that we were devastated is putting it lightly. We flew too close to the sun and came crashing down.

I truly believe that were actually the lucky ones, because we got to experience what a failing kitchen service looks like, in a safe environment, with no actual repercussions. That night, our group learned (the hard way) what NOT to do in a kitchen and why. To this day I still remember what every person in that group was doing (including me) and how much better I could have led the team.

The moral of the story is this: fail as much as you can, as early as possible. It really is a gift.

Did you have any second thoughts about becoming a chef or staying in the industry?

Who hasn’t? It can be tough out there sometimes. But I’m still doing it and regret nothing. This is what I was meant to do. And if you feel the same way, then don’t second guess yourself and dive right into it, the sooner, the better. Eventually you will find a way to get exactly what you want out of it. I am getting closer to achieving my dreams with every passing day.

What would you say to the current students who aspire to become young chefs?

What’s your goal? Make sure you’re not following somebody else’s dream.

Really sit down and think about what a successful chef looks like to you: is it the Michelin star chef who serves the most prestigious and exclusive food to famous celebrities every night? Is it the chef who started out selling burritos out of a food truck and now has his own brand of hot sauces across multiple food market stalls, earns a decent living and finds time for his friends and family? Or is it the former chef who was able to retire early because he now owns a location where he built multiple kitchens that companies can rent for their production needs?

Make sure you have a clear understanding of what that looks like. And if you don’t, then be ready to be flexible with that definition until you figure out what’s a priority to you. Then once you figure that out, make sure you work at a place or at least are surrounded by people that will get you closer to that goal.

Can you tell us what you are doing now, your life in London?

I am still working full time as a head pastry chef/development chef for a shop in Covent Garden. I am also nearly done writing my first cookbook, after which I’ll focus most of my attention on further growing and monetizing my following of social media, which so far has been doing quite well.

What is the meaning of being a development chef and the struggles with “artist’s block”?

I am speaking based on my own experience and interpretation, of course. Chances are that for a big chunk of your career as a development chef, you’ll be working for somebody else. This means that somebody is paying you to make their ideas materialize into the real world. Not yours. You’re kind of like a full time consultant, in a way. You are both working together to make sure that your employer’s vision comes out right. I’ve heard of many development chefs getting fired over this. Put your ego to the side and use your creative energy to do the job you’re getting paid to do.

When it comes to artist’s block, I can’t say I’ve struggled much with it. If anything, I’ve struggled with picking which idea to try out first. Break rules. Question everything. Look at what other chefs do and then do that but make it your own (don’t just “steal”). Get inspiration from other art forms. Read cookbooks and make sure you have fun in the kitchen.

Most importantly, don’t put yourself into a box. There is no such thing as food “not worth” trying or leaning. You’d be doing a massive disservice to yourself and your career by thinking like that.

Can you tell us what your favorite hobby outside of work is? And do you believe in the stereotype that chefs are antisocial?

Well I used to consider my social media content a hobby, but since it started growing it kind of turned into an unpaid second job that I refuse to let go of. I try to go bouldering at least once a week though, so that counts as a hobby.

I don’t think chefs are antisocial, but I have to say that a lot of them have terrible social skills and are really bad at communicating their needs or expressing themselves like adults. The days of shouting and screaming are gone and that mindset will get you nowhere these days, rightfully so. People now value honesty, self-awareness, reliability and accountability way more than skills. Skills can be taught. Attitude can’t.

Would you like to come back to Bulgaria and what advice would you give to young professionals who are not sure if they should return and pursue a culinary career in their homeland? Or the opposite?

I am still struggling to find the right answer myself. Your personal story and circumstances really matter here. Don’t listen to anybody and just do what feels like the right step, then take it and don’t look back.

Personally, I’ve got a wife and a very young daughter. I don’t think London is a good place for young children. I think children should grow up in a village or a smaller city, so that they can experience how wonderful it is to grow up surrounded by nature, have a large community of people around them, get a taste of what freedom feels like, what being carefree feels like, etc.

Big cities, especially massive cities like London, can feel very lonely and this is coming from somebody who is fully integrated, speaks the language and understands the culture. Everybody is busy all the time, constantly rushing everywhere (including me), mostly focused on career, making money or spending money. I don’t want her formative years being in an environment that glorifies these shallow values.

It’s very likely that we will move back to Bulgaria in the near future, even if there’s a real chance that I might miss out on bigger career opportunities here in the UK. Life is more important than career.

What does success mean to you? Are you happy with where you are now in life, do you feel successful?

Not only am I happy, but I am more successful than I thought I would be at this point, so I am very grateful for how things have turned out for me so far.

I don’t care about working for celebrity chefs, the most luxurious hotels in the world, cooking with the rarest and most expensive ingredients or receiving a Michelin star. Nothing wrong with any of this, but this is somebody else’s dream, not mine.

I consider myself successful because I earn a decent salary, have enough time to spend with my wife and daughter while also finding time to socialize and work on my own projects. My job is also quite flexible, so if something unexpected happens, I can get out of work without fear of getting fired or leaving my team in the weeds. All of that while doing what I love. I value this more than anything else.

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