My Cambridge

My Cambridge

I wish I had learnt about P&L and cash flow earlier, as well as about the sense of the word 'balance' that I discovered even later.

I understood the meaning of 'patriotism' when I was 25 and got general knowledge about art, when I was only 15.  I do not play piano and can't ski. I never wanted to be a musician. I can't read music, do not know the meaning of word 'solfège', and need to look syncopation and triplet up in a dictionary.  English is a continuous struggle for me, the relations with sports are even worse. It's not a big deal for my friends to run 10 km and to make 15 pull-ups, while for me it's almost Golgotha. It's rather difficult to buy a Benetton T-shirt, but I can cope with it.

My facial expression betrays me, when I am cheating, and it's difficult for me to use commas properly in a complex sentence. I took interest in Pasternak, Brodsky and Tsvetaeva at a mature age, and read history of Rome at 45. I hated history at school, and the meaning of the word 'history' became clear to me only after 40. I did attend classes, but I disassociated myself from the nonsense they fed us with. Schoolwork is a separate matter. Sometimes I think that I got my most important knowledge at work and while travelling. I've got no higher education and I've never venerated those who have.

I started cooking and painting, when I was around 9-10 years old. I learnt managerial skills at Fountain café — my first workplace, when I was 22. That was difficult, because on the least occasion I faced that famous 'Go away to your Israel!'. It was popular those days. To leave for and to send to Israel. My classmates left. My friends left. As well as all those, who now work at Intel, Microsoft and hundreds of other companies that keep changing our world. They left that frozen Soviet Union.

For me the situation was a little bit different, because working at Fountain café narrowed my perspective to the size of the butcher's shop I supervised and never-ending intrigues of my thievish subordinates and suppliers. I had only short breaks to get acquainted with that mysterious 'womenfolk' and even shorter — to go to the cinema. Sometimes I managed to combine both and that was named a 'day-off'. I also made attempts to buy books that were in a massive deficit then.

The shortage of books could be only compared with the shortage of freedom. Dotards in power kept succeeding each other and inventing ever more devious methods to struggle for their own survival amidst overwhelming emigration of others. Then followed cooperatives and first murders of well-to-people. I worked in Ivanov Club and cooked for those who could pay. They carried money wrapped in newspapers and guns.

Then I worked in a remarkable public canteen in 7 kilometres from Odessa. Famous Odessa Commodity Goods Market would emerge in that area later on. The canteen had little to do with gastronomy. It was public and recreated our then state in a miniature. Everyone was a thief. One could shoot a competition show So You Think You Can Steal — similar to modern So You Think You Can Dance. The wind of change redesigned the show into Only the Chosen Ones Think They Can Steal, which talented officials and members of their extended families enjoyed to their best. Coppola's The Godfather depicts similar Italian families. Anyway, the things changed. Communism became a criminal offence, and former leaders — prophets of new values. Socialism was substituted by capitalism in its most grotesque form.

I started my own legal business in 1993. I was fired from the School Nutrition Association, and that was when it all started. The Consumer Protection Directorate protected rights indeed, but those were the rights of its head.  The same was in all other authorities. The '90s were actually devoted to counteracting those entities. World collocation 'restaurant business' appeared only in XXI century. The business itself actually dates back to XIX, but there were only restaurants then. They added 'business' to 'restaurant' in 2003, and that was when I found out what I had been actually doing for the last decade.

Then certain people started adding mysterious abbreviation 'MBA' to their CVs. Word 'restaurateur' appeared around that time as well. First, it had ironic and even sarcastic connotation, flavoured with a bit of respect later on. But only a little bit. TV made its contribution in forming public opinion. That was when 'food bloggers' and other teachers of 'good manners' emerged in that challenging field. At the same time, professions of chef and restaurateur acquired new meaning. For the last 5 years, 100% of my friends have been involved in this business one way or another: some for themselves, some for their wives, some for their children, but all of them opened cafés. The city saw new types of restaurants and cafés. Well, the number of restaurants didn't increase significantly. It was the number of businesses that went up. It appeared that a crabstick meatball with diluted espresso could be sold (thanks to a name and interior design) at the same price as a substantial lunch with three freshly cooked dishes. A lot of related professions appeared, feeding somewhere near restaurants. The number of gastronomic advisors and food consultants alone exceeded that of good cooks. The business was not immune to various sects and cults. National SALT Restaurant Awards even appeared three years ago. That period also witnessed gastro-theorists and craft hot-dogs with soy sausages. Many various positive things appeared thanks to restaurants, and the wheat will be sorted from the chaff.

2 or 3 decent restaurants and cafés will be distilled out of a thousand. Vocational schools and universities will appear. The country will develop its cuisine. Not only interiors, but also national cuisine will make us proud, and tourists from Europe and other countries that are less developed from a gastronomical point of view will come for it. 

It's just the beginning.