Kyiv single-dish restaurant chain experiments at brunch club
While many new restaurants in Kyiv tend to overload their menus with dishes for every taste, one two-restaurant chain has gone in the opposite direction, shrinking the options to one type of food per venue.
The Food vs. Marketing chain, launched in 2015, includes ramen diner Noodle vs. Marketing, and Bahn Mi vs. Marketing, which serves sandwiches.
Looking for ideas for its next single-dish restaurant, and willing to let the cooks experiment and learn, the chain’s founder and chef Zhenya Mykhailenko, 33, in July introduced a weekly Brunch Club event. Every Sunday Bahn Mi now welcomes guests to try several new dishes.
“Working with a single ingredient gets boring sometimes,” Mykhailenko says, “so we need to provide our employees with very rewarding work experience.”
Quality, not quantity, is the basic idea behind single-dish restaurants, Mykhailenko says, both in terms of the items on the menus, and the skills of their staff. With a limited amount of products used to cook the dishes, it’s easier to control quality. And with a limited amount of objectives the cooks have to acheive on a single dish, it’s faster for them to acquire preparation skills.
Mykhailenko studied at a U.S. culinary school in Long Beach, California, in 2009, but quit when he realized he learned more from the various cooking jobs. In the following five years in Los Angeles, he worked in 25 places, gaining expertise in classic French, American and Italian cooking. He returned to Kyiv in 2014, planning to open a “fine dining restaurant at a fast food price.”
“Unlike other types of restaurants, fine dining places really make everything from scratch,” Mykhailenko
explains. “With ramen, for example, we make our own noodles, our own broth, we marinate our own eggs.”
But the defining feature of a fine dining restaurant for Mykhailenko is a fine staff.
“To get people who genuinely care about food and understand how much work should be put into it is very hard,” Mykhailenko says.
Instead of searching for like-minded people, Mykhailenko aims to train them. To encourage his cooks, he decorates his restaurants with portraits of the chefs who inspire him: Korean American chef Roy Choi, Japanese chef Jiro Ono, whom he says constantly improves rather than trying to reach perfection, and U.S. chef Anthony Bourdain, whose memoir “Kitchen Confidential” Mykhailenko says changed his life.
Bourdain described a commercial kitchen as an intense and often hostile environment suited for misfits — the way Mykhailenko says he felt himself about cuisine. He says he mostly had bad restaurant experience: horrible bosses, backstabbing colleagues, poor equipment or lack thereof.
So in his own restaurants, he decided to alleviate the kitchen heat. But not too much.
“Sometimes I make my cooks whisk some 60 eggs and five liters of oil into mayonnaise,” he says. “They ask why if we have a machine for that. And I tell them: 'What if the blender breaks, what if there is no blender? I could have given you a fork.’”
Food vs. Marketing is now trying to build a chain of diverse restaurants that will provide employees with a step-by-step education. A cook can learn all the necessary skills at the noodle shop and then move on to the sandwich bar to get new ones. This single dish specialization should provide a controlled environment for improvement.
One employee, Kseniia Makarova, 22, has yet to switch to another branch. She has been working at the Ban Mi sandwich bar for four months and still feels she has a lot to learn.
“I’m constantly learning how else I can improve. This is really a good place to learn how to do everything right,” Makarova says. Food vs. Marketing is working on another restaurant in Kyiv, along with two street outlets with no seating. They are also looking for investors to expand abroad and share their philosophy.
“I don't see what's going to stop us,” Mykhailenko says, brushing off suggestions that increasing the chain’s size might make it harder to maintain quality. “David Chang, a restaurateur I look up to, talks about creating an environment that will allow you to make the right kind of mistakes. This is something we do with our restaurants.”
Brunch club is a play pit to create that environment. The cooks get to experiment, receive feedback and, ultimately, learn.
The next Food vs Marketing Brunch club will take place on Aug. 12 with ceviche appetizer, club sandwich and some seafood on the menu. Hr 150–200.
Call +38095 675 2009 to book a spot at 6/8 Tsytadelna St.
Cooks serve Sqirl toast with homemade sour cream and blueberries at Food vs. Marketing Brunch club in Bahn Mi vs. Marketing sandwich bar in Kyiv on Aug. 5. (Oleg Petrasiuk)
Zhenia Mykhailenko talks to the Kyiv Post at the Bahn Mi vs Marketing restaurant in Kyiv on Aug. 5. (Oleg Petrasiuk)