The widespread closure of restaurants in the Czech capital has dramatically reconfigured the culinary landscape. As high-end restaurants seek new ways to service local diners during the crisis — from opening take-out windows to dramatically lowering prices — plenty of predictions have been made about how and if the industry will weather the closures and come out on top.
Restaurants are set to re-open across the Czech Republic on Monday, with rules for capacity, table distance, and face-mask wearing in place. We spoke to two chefs from two very different restaurants: the long-running Michelin-starred La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise and relative newcomer Bockem — to get their take on the lives of gourmets under lockdown and what changes their post-quarantine guests can expect.
Ondřej Kynčl, chef, Bockem
As a relatively new restaurant, how has this experience changed your business model and how will it shape it moving forward?
Bockem was not an investment of some outside investor, it is simply another phase of my, circa 20-plus-years-long culinary journey and dream. Having had this lengthy time to collect a lot of experiences, from day one our model was to create a curiosity in our guests and to motivate my team and myself to satisfy it.
I will continue to honor this approach. But we will [try to more closely understand] guests with variations to the menu as well as a new approach to value. We will shifts towards a more cozy, energetic atmosphere, but keep the standards we set from the day we opened last June: treating guests with respect, serving great meals and beverages.
The Bockem team have learnt to be more modest and humble, which also led us to create from our restaurant a temporary take-away service, where we were able to still keep the highest quality of food and serving techniques. However some demand for take-out can always appear, and when it does we will be ready. That’s a great experience we will from now on always have.
How will the “new rules” for restaurants affect both chefs and diners?
Since we can’t predict the future, we will do our best to create it. There will be a slight change in the menu structure, followed by the value policy, but no change in our intimate ambience, which is one of our characteristics. As an aside, we can’t wait to serve our culinary magic on actual porcelain and our homemade beverages and wines in glasses again, and to stock the left over take-away boxes in storage.
Have the lockdown measures had an impact your menu (e.g. shortage of certain ingredients)?
Since day one we aim to use the deliveries of our local suppliers, it is a large part of our philosophy. As I see it, this is a great opportunity for Czech farmers and producers, who can more actively focusing on local deliveries and as well to growing together with brands like ours as their customers.
Is there any positive outcome of the closures — will restaurants become more accessible?
As an entrepreneur I was pleasantly surprised with the solidarity of people who really helped us to get through this crisis.
On a personal level I have to admit, that this lockdown gave us the chance to spend quality time with our families and closest ones, which we normally don’t have in our industry and we could now take this sort of new experience and put it on a scale of our life priorities.
We have been living at such a highly consumable pace which was blocking us from true life values, therefore now we want to aim towards a good balance of work life and free time, and to keep high efficiency on both sides.
What did you learn from the experience and how will it change you as a chef?
As a chef I can not say there is much a difference before and after the lockdown. I still love to create, cook and better myself to serve the best meals to our guests. I truly believe that every day I can bring out the best of my skills, and consciously keep learning from new experiences as well as focus on being environment-friendly in the ingredients we use at Bockem.
And as a person I have learnt, that it is way more important to be a good human being with chef skills, not the opposite.
Bockem is now taking reservations for its breakfast tastings; book a table at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 770 101 223. From June 4 it will open its dinner service. Visit bockem.cz for updates.
Oldřich Sahajdák, chef, La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise
During the lockdown measures you launched a takeaway service; did you ever imagine this is how you would be serving your Michelin-awarded cuisine?
I don’t like to be called a fine-dining restaurant, we only cook food with very talented colleagues and the best ingredients you can get. In a place we like to eat ourselves. This could be done anywhere. Anyway, no, I never thought we would serve our dishes as a take away, but you never know what is going to happen tomorrow.
Prague’s other Michelin-starred restaurant, Field, declined to do a take-away service — why did you opt to do so and was the result a success?
Our duty is to serve customers with food and drinks, so naturally we did what was the only result at the very first moment. It is too early to say if it was successful, but we had fun in the kitchen, while serving those dishes, and that does matter to us.
What will be the primary challenges of the “new rules” for both chefs and diners? How will it impact your dining room as well as your cuisine?
We need to remove a few seats, there will be more space between the tables than usual. We will as well have fewer chefs and waiters than we usually have. We did change the menu a bit, it is shorter and the portions are bigger.
But as for style of cooking it will have no impact, we only believe in our way of cooking and serving food. We’ll still cook the same way as always, with best local ingredients and the best local chefs, and the result will be great.
Is there any positive outcome of the closures? Will restaurants such as yours become more accessible?
I don’t like this question, as a lot of our colleagues lost their jobs, almost each chef or restaurateur I know went through a financial crisis. The future will show us if there will be any positive outcome, but it is too early for me to say so.
What did you learn from the experience and how has it transformed you as a chef?
We at La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise like to learn at least one new thing every day and if we don’t we say it was a useless day. We are bunch of people who inspire each other, not this experience. I don’t think this quarantine will change me as a chef, I will still be the same.
From Monday, La Degustation will be serving a lunch menu for 700 CZK and introduce a new three-course dinner concept for 900 CZK. To book a table visit www.ladegustation.cz.