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Restaurant Industry News spoke with The Head Chef of The Soak, Chris Zachwieja

Have you always wanted to become a Chef?

Surprisingly, no. I had always thought I go on to be a politician and studied Political and International Relations at university in Poland. After three years, I decided it was not for me and realised I would have more fun working in the kitchen.

You have worked in some of London’s top hotels and alongside Michelin starred chefs, has this helped you expand your knowledge and cooking techniques?

After I moved to the UK from Poland, I progressed from cooking in gastro pubs to Michelin starred restaurants, including a stint under Tom Aikens. I was then appointed as a development chef for one of the most famous hotels in London, The Ritz and for the last three years I have worked at Boisdale of Belgravia, a stone’s throw away from The Soak. The opportunity to become the Head Chef at The Soak and develop the soaking concept was one I could not pass up. I am excited to embark on this chapter see the vision come to life.

Talk us through what ‘soaking’ is

Soaking is one of the food techniques I grew up with and a staple of Polish life. Soaking techniques allow flavour to absorb deep into food and enhance its tenderness.

Does soaking enhance flavour?

Steeping and preserving are the best ways to develop deep, bold and strong flavours, in meat or vegetables, or even when preparing fruit for use in desserts. It’s all about creating taste through longer periods of time, using methods that soak and steep food and drink with long-lasting flavour. Not only are we enriching a food’s taste, but we are also using techniques that provide many health benefits. For example kefir, a fermented milk, can aid digestion.

Describe the menu and what the stand out dishes are

Nothing tastes more like Polish home-cooking than soaked, pickled, or fermented food. Brining and fermenting are the techniques that I was brought up with, and I’ve used this style of cooking ever since I began working.

The Rum Baba is our signature dish, and one of my favourite menu items. It is a traditional dessert soaked in fermented rum, topped with juicy, roasted pineapple. It is a dish that guests can enjoy as an afternoon treat or as a dessert.

We have developed breakfast and Sunday brunch menus, along with dinner and a late-night snack offering. The food and drink menus have specialist dishes tailored to different times of the day, so guests can experienced ‘soaked food’ at any time.

What are some unique features/elements to the dishes?

Soaking, brining, fermenting and pickling food, allows many of the dishes on the menu to stand out, as they deliver bold, strong and long-lasting flavours.

One unique dish I am excited about is the cured venison tartare. We use the haunch muscle, which is a beautiful cut of meat and perfectly prepared through soaking techniques. The result is similar to bresaola, but stands out with unique, beautiful, delicate spices.

Slow cooked Beef Cheek Bourguignon is also extra special and requires an extended brining process to capture all of its flavours, topped off with gorgeous shallots and mushrooms.

Is it important, in your opinion to create an experience with food?

All of our products are carefully selected from our suppliers. As a team we put and endless amount of work in to make sure we satisfy our guests. Nothing is worse than having guests come in, spend their time and money on food and drink, and leave without experiencing something new. Personally, food at restaurants are the dishes you can’t cook at home – because of the equipment required and due to the techniques and time needed to get the dish on the plate

The Soak is very unique restaurant as we prioritise adding extra flavours and richness to the food. We created something the average restaurant guest would not expect. To achieve this, we work to develop the relationship between ourselves at The Soak, and the food.

At each restaurant I have worked at, I have always developed concepts that deliver unique customer experiences. Sometimes it’s been about paring food with the right wine, and hosting special dinners with wine from around the world. Another time, it was the pairing between food and music.

However, the food experience at any restaurant will be altered by the overall service. It’s imperative that the front and back of house work together. The food is the first ‘contact’ guests have with the chef, so the wait staff need to be our eyes and ears to ensure we can create the full experience.

What were all- day convivial Parisian bistros and is it important to remember and revive historic cooking techniques and experiences?

All-day convivial Parisian bistros are local restaurants that have a friendly and lively atmosphere. They are a staple in the city, always full of locals seeking incredible food. At The Soak, we have few staples on our menu that are well connected to French traditional cooking. However, as we aim to use local, British produce, we add our own twist to it. Trying to create all day experience is very difficult as people’s eating habits are different. We need to be able to accommodate all needs at all time. We’ve worked hard to develop menus that can be enjoyed at all times of the day.

The concept of The Soak is a homage to my background. Fermentation continues to be a cooking technique in Poland as many people eat seasonally. Foraging is a popular practice, and that’s why preserving and fermenting is necessary. Continuing these traditions is a big part of my work and it I love it when it all comes together with the right complementary paring.

As this way of cooking is rooted in seasonality and sustainability, it lends itself to modern day techniques and how people are looking to create food experiences that don’t harm the planet. A growing number of restaurants are looking to create menus seasonally and using foraged ingredients. 

Will different aspects of the menu change and new flavours added at all?

The menu will be seasonal, so the dishes will be rotated regularly to reflect the changing seasons. We are also committed to sourcing our food and drink from local suppliers in order to reduce our carbon footprint. 

In a few words, why should people come to The Soak and what can be expected?

The Soak is the latest restaurant to land in Victoria’s vibrant food scent. With the menu designed around fermenting, steeping, and brining techniques, The Soak will immerse each and every guest in an unforgettable experience.

The Head Chef Of The Soak: Chris Zachwieja

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