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Chef interview: Oldřich Sahajdák of Michelin-Starred La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise, Czech Republic

We caught up with the Czech-born chef-owner on a recent visit to Prague
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How long have you been at La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise?
The restaurant opened on 26th July 2006, which was also the day my son was born – so I always refer to it as my second son!

What route brought you into cooking?
My parents and grandparents were all cooks and chefs, so I grew up around food. As a young child I was always the one being given dishes to try and licking the bowl. As a teenager I really wanted to be a footballer but sadly that never happened, so there was really only one other choice: cooking.

Where was your first job?
I decided to leave my home country and go travelling – knowing that I could always get a job in a kitchen. First I went to Germany, then to New Zealand; then to the USA and also Italy and Portugal. Rather than working in large, well-known restaurants, I chose to cook at smaller places in the countryside which specialised in regional dishes – this allowed me to see more of each country as a whole.

Why did you return to Prague?
I was offered a job as a Research and Development Chef with the Ambiente group here in Prague. The position involved things like going to see the grand cafés in Vienna for inspiration when they planned to open Café Savoy, and conducting research in Napoli before they opened a pizza restaurant.

How did you come up with the idea for La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise?
I had been to the famous Three Michelin Starred French Laundry in Yountville and was very taken by everything they did. I felt that the time was right here in Prague to open somewhere similar – a smart restaurant, where the cooking used only the best local produce and the customers were well looked after. The owners of the Ambiente group agreed to become my business partners – and I’ve been here ever since.

What would you say influences your style of cooking?
I look back to the history of this country and what I call the Middle European Republic – the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, if you like. I take traditional dishes and ingredients from these countries and blend them with more modern techniques. One of the few ingredients we bring in from outside is truffles; believe it or not they were available around Prague many years ago – but not anymore.

How do you develop your dishes?
We work with the seasons and change the menu slightly every day. We see what is available at the markets and from suppliers in the morning and we write our menu from there. When we are creating a new dish, every single person in the kitchen has an input. Personally, I like to refer back to memories I have of dishes and ingredients – and I also want my dishes to tell a story. I prefer to serve an ingredient in a way that reflects its habitat; for example fish will always have a sauce because it once swam in water and meat will be served with herbs and grasses as it once roamed the fields.

Do you have a signature dish?
I don’t, no, as I like to keep changing the dishes and progressing. The beef tartare and truffle sandwich that we serve at the start of every meal has been a feature since we opened, however.

And do you have any favourite ingredients?
Yes! I love pork, apples, onions and honey and you will nearly always find some or all of these ingredients on the menu. When it comes to meat, we always buy the whole beast and butcher it ourselves; this means we can then use every part of the animal – and is why offal features so regularly on the menu.

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