Igor Katsevich, director of a new restaurant, Kamchatka Local Kitchen, talks to us about gastronomic tourism, emphasising local products, and the catering problems on the peninsula
I had the idea of opening a restaurant 17 years ago. I quite like cooking, I am critical and picky about food, I consider myself a gourmand, and I was dissatisfied with the quality of dishes served in Kamchatka restaurants. I was surprised that we had Chinese, Korean, and Italian restaurants, but none that served dishes made with local ingredients. When guests came to visit me, I cooked at home and made them dinner because it seemed silly to invite someone from Moscow to an Italian place and try to impress them that way. Not to even mention the quality of food or the prices. I dreamt about opening a restaurant and in July 2017 I succeeded.
I made the decision that the menu would include as much local flora and fauna as possible. We can serve up different varieties of fish and surprise our guests as we have access to fresher fish than in Moscow. I had no problems with the raw material since I have been living in Kamchatka since 1974 and used to work in the fishing industry. I graduated from the merchant marine academy. I had some acquaintances, friends in high places; they always met me halfway and provided me with ingredients that almost required no advertising as they would be snapped up almost immediately.
Our restaurant serves food that can't be pinned down to specific nation's cuisine. It's Soviet-Russian cuisine with Ukrainian elements, take borscht, for example. The key is we focus on local products.
I opened the restaurant for Kamchatka locals but it soon turned out that it piqued more curiosity among visitors. Because local residents are not amazed by steamed Chinook salmon, even squid is commonplace, while tourists take pleasure in them. Locals prefer a meat-based menu. We serve it as well, but fish dominates the selection. The main varieties we serve are skate wings, cod, salmon, perch, sea bass, and halibut. The meat we serve includes venison, reindeer liver and heart, and elk meat. Of our specialties, I would suggest you try our solyanka made with black cod. As for our salads — try our calamari salad or warm salad with smelt. I definitely recommend the Chinook salmon or venison tartar. All things considered, there is a lot I'm proud to serve. Elk cutlets were a hit! Or the crab-based Olivier salad. When we cook fish soup, we first prepare a concentrated fish broth that is frozen and later used to boil 5 varieties of fish, 12 grams of each variety per portion, all in all 60 grams of fish — cod, halibut, red fish, black cod and perch.
Guests from other regions also love my restaurant; my friends come and say: "Igor, if your restaurant was transported to Sochi or Moscow, the waiting line would be out into the street". Food lovers are amazed. You won't believe who visited us just this summer: Swedish, American, and Korean tourists. I am pleased that when respectable guests visit, they are taken to my establishment.
I don't allow live music, there's no dancing; our restaurant is a place to eat and talk. We have invested quite a lot in it, our interior is unique. We pay particular attention to how we plate up our dishes. If it is salad, we don't just throw the ingredients together in the bowl — there is an art to it.
In 2017, we participated in the Palma Awards of the Restaurant Business — it is given as a part of the international festival, PalmaFest. Out of thousands of competitors, only 80 were selected, then 10 out of the 80, and we were in the final ten. Our restaurant needed only six more votes to get us to 3rd place. The competition involved real gastronomic powerhouses and we were the first Kamchatka restaurant to reach such heights. We were given the Restaurateur of the Year award.
We, as well as other restaurants in Kamchatka, have a weak spot — waiters and the quality of service. The problem is that they are not interested in learning, the job is not prestigious. It's only abroad that people work as waiters until they retire. We just have students as a rule. If we train them, there are no guarantees that they won't leave for another place within a month or find another specialty entirely. The kitchen is now running smoothly, and I am not worried about it; the problems start when a guest has eaten their salad but the waiters forget to go to the kitchen and say what kind of main course needs to be prepared resulting in the guest waiting for 40–50 minutes — I've known this to happen! We offer a good salary and tips but it doesn't help. I have been in the business for 27 years and I know: if a person has a good attitude towards their job, they will work responsibly regardless of the salary. If not, there's nothing you can do.