When you think of Estonia, you might think of… well, not much. Indeed, the Baltic region isn’t as well known on the map as, say, Finland or Hungary, but it has given the world Skype (its inventors are natives) and now, Andrey Korobyak. Korobyak is the executive chef at Courgette, a Midtown establishment where classical, Northern European techniques cross with farm-to-table New American dining. Korobyak, who represented Estonia in the 2009 Bocuse d’Or (kind of like the Olympics of cooking), spoke with us about his career.
You do a lot of salting, curing, smoking and pickling at Courgette. What are your favorite foods to preserve?
I do more preserving when the season is right. I did a lot of this in my other restaurants, but in New York I will start this summer. Usually, I work with ingredients like mushrooms, berries, herbs, wood sorrel and ramps. I’ll dry, salt or pickle these to make things like chutneys or confitures (a type of jam or preserve).
How did you prepare yourself — mentally and physically — for the Bocuse d’Or?
The Bocuse d’Or is one of the most exciting challenges a chef can undertake — for those who like to compete, of course. I was very happy, and lucky, to represent Estonia as a commis chef alongside head chef Vladislav Djatsuk. We prepared by training every day, creating the same dishes over and over again until we achieved perfection. Making dishes fast was very important, so we worked hard to minimize the time it took to prepare every part of the menu and simultaneously improve the food itself. Mentally, it was also hard. The pressure was high because the whole country was watching us as if we were going to the Olympic Games.
You’re only 27 and you’ve already had massive success — training at Michelin-starred restaurants, competing in the Bocuse d’Or, taking over as an executive chef. Where will you go from here?
I try to do my best and never stop working to improve my dishes. Working seven days a week — in the restaurant and thinking about new dishes — is hard. It takes a lot of time from my private life, but I have enjoyed the good feedback we’re getting at Courgette. That makes me happy.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
It’s very hard to say. The best meals I’ve had are all good in different ways. If I were to pick one, it would be the tasting menu from Restaurant Geranium in Copenhagen, Denmark, created by Chef Rasmus Kofoed. One of the tasting dishes was made with fresh new potatoes from a farm, boiled with lovage and glazed with butter and shallots. Chef Kofoed served them with pickled spring and pearl onions, onion dust, melted Danish cheese, a potato-leek foam and crunchy chips.