If you walk through the historic center of Kyiv, be sure to drop into VaBene Bistro to enjoy authentic Italian cuisine by Matteo Boifava, chef who has worked in different top restaurants of the world as Fat Duck London, Restaurant of the year 2001 by Michelin, owned by Heston Blumenthal. We met with him to learn more about the life of the eminent Italian chief in Ukraine and asked him to share his ideas about gastro-culture and culinary preferences of Ukrainians.
About great chef
I think great chef follows the trend of the moment, tries to guess in advance what the customer can ask. Something can work in one place and something can’t. You have to try different approaches. You must understand the target of your restaurant and its customers. Our guests are businessmen, tourists, some are going to visit opera and want to have dinner here.
About evolution of traditions
We try to combine quality, good taste and traditions of Italian cuisine here. Sometimes it is not so easy, because you have to compromise. My idea is to create something good but at the same time something funny, a little bit different than traditional approach. Nevertheless, I respect traditions. I don’t want to make extreme things, but sometimes it is nice to put a touch of fusion in traditional dish. Within last 12 years I’ve been working around the world, Asia including. That is why I like to put something exotic into my cuisine to make it a little bit different. It is a kind of evolution of traditions.
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About Ukrainian clients
Ukrainian clients are very different. There are 2 kinds of guests. Some of them travel a lot and have been in Italy, they know the taste of Italian cuisine. And there are those who used to eat “Italian” food in fake Italian restaurants. Sometimes they expect more heavy food. But in Italy we are famous for Mediterranean diet, our food is light. This is one of the biggest problems.
I think Ukraine is not so much educated about modern gastronomy. That is why Italy and France are full of Michelin stars, but there are none in Ukraine. As for the restaurants there is really big problem to find a high quality products. We use some from Ukraine, some from Italy. Ukrainians do like a lot food with truffle (risotto, pasta). It is not easy to find a good quality truffle here.
About common features
Ukrainians and Italians are very similar. We create mess everywhere :) We are emotional and noisy. We both like to enjoy the food. It is a relaxing moment to go to restaurant, we like to drink good wine, you prefer strong beverages. We both have a taste for dolce vita.
I did not visit other parts of Ukraine, just Kyiv, so I can’t say a lot. I can imagine that the life outside the city is not as easy as in Italian villages, and, of course, some our traditions are different.
About favorite products
It depends upon season and my mood, it is like music. When it is cold, we don’t feel like eating ice cream. The same is with cooking. I like Burrata cheese made from buffalo cow milk, which is delivered weekly directly from Italy.
It is not as cold as some of my foreign friends think. People here are very friendly - of course, if you find the right ones, as everywhere. We have a lot in common in our traditions - for example, the attitude to family values. It is important for both of us to spend time together with family.
I think less is better. If you want to cook something good don’t use a lot of ingredients but use really good ones. Dish should be simple. Don’t add the extra products but just those which are in recipe. Italian cuisine is simple and thanks to this it is so popular. We came from poor tradition, with not so many ingredients but of good quality.
Read: Hector Jimenez-Bravo: the successful foreigner in Ukraine
Special dish for a woman
It can be duck breath with spicy honey with some strawberry and red onion souse.
About restaurants in Kyiv
I visit a lot of restaurants. Casa Nori is my favorite Italian one. It is very clean with real Italian food. Sutra is a good Indian one. If we talk of Korean cuisine, I like Arirang. In terms of Ukrainian one it’s Kureni. All of them are original.
Time in Ukraine
I don’t know if I’ve changed since I live in Kyiv. I will know it later. Before coming into Ukraine I lived for more than 1 year in Singapore and that time I did not realize my changes until I left that country. Every three months I visit Italy so I have no time to miss my home place. I don’t think I’ve changed a lot.
Interviewed by Anna Vishtak
Photos by Yulia Kurta