Student Stories

Kaloyan Nikolov: Stay true to yourself and make the food that you love!

Kaloyan graduated in 2015, and we are proud to share his story

10/04/2024

Meet Kaloyan Nikolov – he graduated in 2015, and we are proud to share his story. HRC played a significant role in Kaloyan’s journey from a small Bulgarian town in the mountains to conquering the world and expanding his food palette and culinary skills, all while indulging in one of his favorite hobbies – traveling. We believe that to become a great chef you need to be disciplined, consistent, and hard-working but also creative, adventurous, and a big dreamer, that’s why we strive to help our students achieve the best of both worlds.

Kaloyan, why did you decide to become a chef?

Becoming a chef was not my first choice. After I graduated from high school I went to study Facility Management in Holland. I finished my first year and came home for the summer break, and then I started to think about my future. I just could not imagine myself sitting in a chair all day long, working in an office 5 days a week. My creative soul could not survive that kind of life, so I decided to do something completely different. I went on to pick a profession that brings me joy. I have always loved cooking.

When I was growing up, my parents did not have a lot of time to cook at home, so I took matters into my own hands and started making food for myself. I started with the simplest things, fried eggs, and omelettes. Then this turned into a weekend activity with one of my friends. We would gather every weekend and make dishes from one old cookbook. While doing that we had lots of fun, it was very enjoyable. I feel like this had a big impact on the way I viewed cooking from an early age.

Why did you choose HRC for your education?

I chose HRC because the study was only in English and that meant that there was no limitation due to language barriers. This opened a lot more opportunities for everyone.

The most important aspect of my education at HRC was probably the internships. We had a chance to travel to different places and learn through cooking. HRC gave us the tools and it was up to us to use them in the right way to make the most of it.

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

I met a lot of nice people in my HRC years. People that I am still talking to. The chef’s community around HRC is very strong and you can always count on those people to help you out if you are ever in need. The people I have met through HRC are important to me, we have been through similar experiences, we have worked together with some of them, and maybe we will work in the future as well. The connections that are created there are truly valuable.

In your words, can you describe the meaning of being a chef and working in a kitchen?

Every chef has a different motivation behind their work. We all have different backgrounds and different experiences.

For me, being a chef is an opportunity to be creative, and to explore new flavours and combinations that have not been done before. I have a chance to show people my personal views and opinions through food. I lot of times when you work in a kitchen, mistakes are seen as something very negative. However, you cannot discover new things if you don’t make mistakes. You cannot create something unique if you are afraid to make a mistake. Being a chef should allow you to make mistakes and learn from them. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas.

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

If I say that I have never thought about that, I will lie. I feel like everyone has good days and bad days at work. When you have a bad day, it is quite normal to question your choices, especially in such a stressful environment. It is unrealistic to expect that every job is perfect all the time. However, when you wake up tomorrow, it will be a new day with new opportunities. I always try to focus on the good aspects of the job. I remind myself that everything can be a lesson.

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

My first internship was in Amsterdam, where I was placed in Hotel Okura. This was my first actual job in a professional kitchen. I was curious, always asking questions, trying to understand how everything works. Looking back at it, I was certainly not a very good chef, but I had the energy and was willing to learn. This was the time when I was first introduced to Japanese cuisine. It was a whole new world for me, I was very intrigued. Everything was so fascinating to me. The language, the culture, the knives, the food, all those new ingredients and products. That started a little fire inside of me and it has been growing ever since. I am as interested in Japan as the day I walked through the doors of the hotel. That has made a big impact on my cooking. Whenever I work on new dishes, I always try to put some Japanese twist somewhere. Sometimes it is obvious, but other times it is just a little hint.

My second internship was in the US. We got to work in a resort called Amangiri. It was located on the border between Utah and Arizona. I think that me and my colleague were the first ones that got sent there and we had no idea what to expect. It was new for both of us. The resort happened to be in a very remote place, which was challenging due to the slight isolation.

The kitchen there was constantly busy. From the moment I stepped inside the kitchen, I was treated like everyone else. The fact that I was a student did not matter that much. The people there expected me to work on the same level as them. I did like that, it pushed me to grow fast. I was able to handle everything that was thrown at me. This is where I was under a lot of pressure for the first time in my career. This job showed me that I had to adapt quickly to the environment if I wanted to be successful. I had to be flexible and open to new things even if I was not sure about them. I had to be confident in what I did.

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

One of the most valuable lessons I learned while I was in HRC was discipline. I know that has been a controversial topic in the last few years, but to me, it is very important. More and more chefs are straying away from this strict and disciplined environment. In my opinion, discipline is crucial because it helps people focus and perform better. When discipline is lacking, people get distracted much more easily and can make mistakes.

When I started in HRC, it was still in Dobrich, we had a teacher from Mexico. His name was Eduardo Cortes. He was all about discipline and made it very clear that there would not be any loose ends. In his eyes, we needed to know what to expect from the real world, when we go and work in professional kitchens with other people. I was not sure why that was so important, why we had to iron our uniforms every single day before we went to school, why we had to be perfect all the time. Now, when I look back on this, I can see why. My first job after HRC was in London, in this huge hotel called Shangri–La. We had a very big team and the only way to run such a big place was by being very strict. When I saw how this place was running, it all made sense to me, all the ironing in the morning and shaving before work. I would say that discipline made me into the Chef that I am today. I certainly know how to manage myself and others.

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

I would like to urge all the young chefs to try our new things. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because this is how you discover great concepts. Be open to new ideas and new experiences.  Our profession is very dynamic and changes very quickly, therefore we must always adapt and learn new things. If you want to be relevant, you must remember that you can always learn from other people. Some people tend to fall into this trap where they think that they know it all. This is when people stop growing, they stop developing. Don’t fall into this trap, you will never be able to know it all because the profession evolves constantly. Be curious and explore, regardless of how crazy or unusual the idea might sound.

What do you do now?

I am currently working as a Sous Chef in a restaurant in Denmark. It is called Gastromé and it has earned one Michelin star for 8 years in a row now. One of my jobs is to develop new dishes. I can blend my interest in Japanese cuisine with the Nordic style and use seasonal local ingredients. I enjoy that because it lets my creativity flow. It brings me a lot of joy, especially when the guests compliment the dishes. I feel like I have done my job well. Besides coming up with new dishes, I must make sure the kitchen runs smoothly, and everything happens the way it is supposed to. I am the type of person who likes to do his best all the time. If I am not satisfied with something, I will never send it out. If I know that I can do it better, then I will make sure to do it better before sending it. This ideology has been deeply rooted in me and I don’t like to do things halfway. I simply do my best so that I can be proud of my work.

Can you tell us what your favourite hobby outside of work is?

Currently, I would say that I don’t have that much free time on my hands, but when I do, I like to travel. I am always up for adventures. When I travel, I like to be flexible and plan things on the spot. It makes the trip much more adventurous because you never know what is going to happen next. I am aware that not many people enjoy this type of travelling, but I find it much more authentic. I have done a few big, one in Southeast Asia and one in South America. They were both great, I managed to discover a lot of new cultures and cuisines. I was open to trying everything and this made the experience much more exciting.

Another thing that I enjoy doing is mountain biking. I grew up in a small town called Tryavna, which is in the heart of the Bulgarian mountains. Taking my bike out in the forest was one of my favourite activities when I was growing up. I still ride my bike every time I get home. This freedom comes with it. It is just me and my bike, surrounded by nature. I love the adrenaline rush that comes with the descent as well, it makes me feel alive.

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?

I would like to come back home at some point. The culinary scene in Bulgaria has been growing quite a bit in the last few years. The tendency is to get better and better. People are more curious about food, local food in particular. There is a demand for new and interesting restaurants.

I would advise young professionals to learn as much as they can and to gather knowledge from other people and other cultures. This will shape their culinary career and that will reflect in the food that they create. Regardless of whether they want to return home or not, they should stay true to themselves and make the food that they love. Every person has a different path that they must follow, but if it leads back home, follow it, and show others how passionate you are about your job. Inspire people to love food as much as you do.

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