Student Stories

Viktor Zhekov: “Being a chef it’s about embodying a mindset of diligence, orderliness, and self-mastery.”

Meet Viktor Zhekov, a 2020 graduate of our Culinary Arts program.

22/05/2024

Today we are sharing the inspiring story of Viktor Zhekov, a 2020 graduate of our Culinary Arts program. During his studies, Viktor undertook two unforgettable internships that profoundly shaped his approach to the culinary world. The valuable lessons he learned now drive the success of his own business.

 Why did you choose to become a chef? 

I was truly amazed by my grandmother’s cooking skills, and I cherished the countless hours spent alongside her in the kitchen. One day she presented me with a challenge: to bake a coffee cake (keks) for Easter. I think that simple yet significant moment marked the beginning of my culinary journey. Also, my parents had envisioned me continuing the family’s legacy in the field of law. However, I wanted break free from the “planned” future.

Why did you choose HRC for your education? 

Back then I felt like Bulgaria was not enough for me. I was so hungry to experience the world. Fortunately, I found HRC – a combination between a chance for my dream to become reality and to master the thing I love to do – cooking.

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

I remember the intensity of the final event where we served at Talents. It was dynamic brainstorm process, a lot of debates on the flavor combinations and everyone’s aim for perfection. I vividly remember the joyful faces of the people when we served the food and received the positive feedback. I understood that food is love language.

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

Discipline. Being a chef and working in a kitchen requires discipline on multiple levels. It’s not just about following recipes or mastering technique – it’s about embodying a mindset of diligence, orderliness, and self-mastery. It could save your time, career and sanity. Discipline is
the pin that holds everything together.

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

To be honest, after returning from the US to Bulgaria during COVID I was highly doubted that I will stay, but I did. My experiences with Masterchef and Pure & Sense made me realize that the industry here has such a big potential and is looking forward to fresh perspectives, to new
visions, more creativity and ambition.

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

My first internship was at Harry’s, Maastricht. One thing I learned from chef Frank van Thiel is the importance of fresh, local ingredients. I remember him saying “Always go early to the farm markets and become farmer’s best friend.” My second internship was at One65, San Francisco. It was a period of realization on personal and career level. I never wanted to leave. I met mentors who believed in my potential before I even recognized it for myself. Chef Claude Le Tohic challenged me and invited me to learn and train in the fine dining kitchen of O’ by Claude Le Tohic under his guidance during my initial internship at the One65 Bistro Restaurant. Last but not least I made friends that are now trusted advisors and supports me and my business no matter the distance.

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

I learned that teamwork and collaboration are key for success. You can learn a lot for your colleague’s skills and knowledge. Also, it’s always great to have another hand in the kitchen due to the dynamics of the environment.

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

Work on your discipline – that’s your best friend. Be curious, don’t be afraid to ask questions and trust yourself. Acknowledge your creativity and be proud of it. Make experiments, feel the freedom that culinary gives you to express your vision.

Can you tell us what you are doing now?

I am co-founder of By Entrée, a premium food brand that offers handcrafted high-end cookies. What sets us apart is our unique baking process – instead of focusing solely on flour and sugar, we prioritize butter and chocolate. This approach significantly influences the texture and elasticity of the dough. Quality ingredients are the most important thing to me and I made extensive research to source from farmers who share my commitment to sustainable and humane practices in producing eggs, dairy, chocolate, etc. Another milestone for us is the introduction of biodegradable packaging made from vegetable waste.

How did you come up with the idea for luxurious cookies? 

During my internship in the US, I noticed how baked goods could be taken to the next level. I also built strong connections with suppliers. Coming back to Bulgaria, I saw an opportunity in the market for 1. fancy snacks; 2. packed goods made solely from farm-fresh ingredients; 3. high-quality cookies.

With everything falling into place, and with my partner’s sweet tooth as a guide, I spent two years perfecting recipes and methods before taking the plunge into entrepreneurship.

Do you think that the Bulgarian market is ready for such an idea? 

It is progressing, but it requires more time. We still face the belief that products like ours have a short shelf life, often perceived as lasting only three days or even less. Soft cookies are not yet popular dessert choice, but there is a growing demand for alternative of the familiar crunchy tea biscuits and traditional qurabiya.

Can you give some advice to all the young people that would like to come back to Bulgaria?

The community here is excited to have you back! I wish to see that more young specialists return to Bulgaria and use the knowledge they’ve gathered from around the world to enrich our culture. Together we make Bulgaria interesting culinary destination and uplift the experience from it.

We want to thank Viktor for the interview and to share that in April 2024, Viktor’s brand By Entree was proudly presented at the Bulgarian stand during the international JRE congress in Paris.

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