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.”

From scratch

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.

Train­ing staff

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)

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