S.Gankhuyag: Working as a cook has become rarer even though demand has increased

  • By chagy5
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  • 2024-05-08
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S.Gankhuyag: Working as a cook has become rarer even though demand has increased

The Mongolian national culinary champion chef competition was held on April 19-21, and the winners were announced. We talked to S.Gankhuyag, the head of Highland team, which won the grand prize in the team category of the competition, and the head chef of Highland Park Mongolia restaurant. It is possible to see Ulaanbaatar City from this restaurant. They plant and grow six to seven kinds of vegetables which they use for decoration. In addition, the restaurant planned to plant 10,000 trees, so far 7,000 of them are planted. Moreover, the chef, S.Gankhuyag had become well known on social media channels when he chopped the mutton within five to six minutes. 

How competitive was the national culinary champion chef competition?


The national championship competition was organized in Mongolian food and beverage processing. More than 200 of the total 700 cooks participated in the five to six categories of the competition. As for our restaurant, we participated in the team category with three types of food: dessert, main course and snack. Out of 17 teams competing in the finals, our team won first place with 10 more points than other teams. My students are good at cooking European food. During the competition, we created a new taste by combining modern Mongolian cuisine with European cuisine. It was a success. Also, the team category was different. Because the ingredients for cooking cannot be guessed before the start of the competition. “What will come out” and “What to do with it” are worrying but interesting. We may come across materials that cannot be used and do not match with one another. That is when we have to use our skills and abilities as a chef.


The fact that a new taste of Mongolian cuisine was brought out seems quite special.


The ingredients of European cuisine are different. Fish, seafood, chicken and pork are often used in that type of food. Main sauce, spices and auxiliary products are distinct from Mongolia. Using the materials provided during the competition, we created a special taste without losing the ingredients and taste of Mongolian cuisine. The team consisted of a chef, cook and pastry chef. Each of us performed according to our specialized field. We worked according to the principle of our roles in the kitchen. This competition was innovative since it was about the Mongolian cuisine. The use of barley flour is also special. In addition to showcasing local specialties, the contestants cooked a variety of innovative dishes in each category.


What “secret” materials were used at that time?


Products such as lamb kidney, ground beef, vegetables, sauces, and cream were chosen for us to cook. We used them to cook three dishes in 90 minutes: cutlets, kidney julienne, and creme brulee. Judges pay special attention to the process. The effort of our team probably helped us to get a high score. Chefs cook based on their intuition. For example, black boxes or “secret” materials may contain incompatible or conflicting products. At such times, it is the chef’s instinct to decide which products to add to the meal and which to leave.


Chefs decide by their feelings whether the food ingredients are compatible with each other or not. As for the ordinary citizens, we don’t really know what to eat with which products.


Of course, it is not suitable to mix the livestock’s liver with seafood products if it is fried. But the eating culture of Mongolians is difficult. It is good to know and distinguish between compatible and incompatible products when it comes to eating. It is vital to cultivate a culture of separating what products to use for breakfast, lunch, and dinner instead of eating everything in the refrigerator at the same time. For example, it is great and suitable to eat more leafy vegetables, milk and dairy products for breakfast. Some people eat foods that contain nitrites, such as bacon and eggs for breakfast, which is not a very good thing. 


Mongolians consume a lot of meat and processed meat products. How do you think it should be developed?


It is common for Mongolians to use overcooked meat. The most important thing is to use the minerals and nutrients contained in the meat without losing too much. Eating meat is best in our climate. It is advisable to combine meat and vegetables for dinner. Use a variety of vegetables, such as celery and broccoli, not just potatoes and carrots. Try a different vegetable each week. Meat is processed and eaten in different ways. We hardly ever use rare meat. Recently, there have been places where meat is processed according to international standards. Try eating those types of meat.


Vegetable processing time varies depending on the types. But some people don’t care much about it. What are the main mistakes people make when cooking?


Most of the time, people who have used to eat only potatoes, carrots, and beets cook other types of vegetables for the same amount of time. Potatoes and carrots take 20-30 minutes to be cooked. But rare vegetables such as broccoli and peas just need to be kept in boiling water for three to five minutes. Beyond that, it becomes too sloppy to eat. If you overcook it, the minerals and nutrients contained in the vegetables will be lost.


Do you advise people on how to adjust their diet depending on the season?


Since I’m not a dietitian, I think it’s too much to give advice. People like to drink soup in spring. As a Mongolian, it seems like we should eat more meat in winter and spring. In summer, it may be appropriate to consume more leafy vegetables, fruits, milk and dairy products.


Have you ever participated in large-scale competitions before? For chefs, it is said that they set their rank with it.


The “Chinggis Khaan’s Challenge Cup” international tournament is held once every two years. I have participated in the solo category. 27 contestants competed in the seafood category and I won first place. I got first in the food exhibition category, also second place in the team category. There are many master chefs in Mongolia. I want them to have skills that match their title. I don’t need such a title, I don’t even think I have reached that level.


Did you study cooking at school? Or acquired skills through practice?


I have a degree as a social worker. My brother worked as a chef abroad for many years and came to Mongolia in 2011 to open a restaurant. Then I worked as an assistant cook in his restaurant. At that time, customers did not always understand European food culture. If I had given up at that point, my career as a chef would have been over then. However, I continued to work in the field with my interest and became the chef two years later. Now, I have worked in this field for more than 10 years and have become an executive chef. Along with working, I continued to study and obtained a chef’s certificate of first and second levels.


What is more important, to be a chef, talent or experience?


It cannot be denied that cooking skills can be mastered by studying at a vocational school. But if you learn the theory but can’t apply it in practice, you can’t work in the kitchen. Adjusting the salt and tasting the food is a work done by the senses or experience. The chef is in charge of the process of making the product into food. This kind of job requires high management and responsibility because it is related to human life. People learn by doing. We as chefs enjoy seeing the plate of food brought from the hall. If the plate is empty, it’s a celebration. If there is any food left over, I judge myself by saying, “It was not that good”. Most of the time, I try my best not to get criticism from customers on my food. 


Some people go to a restaurant and criticize that the price of the food does not correspond to the amount of ingredients. What is your position on this?


I want to say, “Please make them know how much the ingredients in this meal cost”. The best quality meat for steak costs 70,000 MNT to 80,000 MNT per kilogram. 30,000 MNT, assuming that a meal for one person includes 300 grams of meat. If you add a side dish to it, it will be 40,000 MNT. The sauce itself is a product that takes many hours of work and effort. Also, the amount of money is increasing depending on the quality and safety of the food materials that have been sterilized. To think about your health and feel happiness, you just need to eat good food. We get good feelings from work and food. Even a depressed person asking“What is the fastest food you can make?” enters the restaurant, but after the meal, he or she will be very happy when they come out.


In this competition, you participated as a guide to your teammates. Are you preparing your successors?


Many of our students have just graduated from the vocational school. Less experienced chefs are trained and employed. We have two chefs. One of them has been working with me for 10 years since he first came as an intern. The other is currently studying. He started studying while working with us. He will graduate soon. We have been working together for five years.


It seems that when employers hire someone, they look at their attitude rather than whether they have graduated from a vocational school or not.


Of course, attitude and skills are taken into account. Recently, the popularity and appreciation of the profession “Chef” has increased. Various restaurants have been created. Along with this, the value and appreciation of chefs is increasing. However, cooks are rare.