We are better off living here
– How did it come about that a seasoned sea-goer like yourself decided to come ashore to Russia?
– Back at the start of the 1990s, when I was working on a large vessel, I became friends with a certain entrepreneur. He was in business in Russia and was very well connected there. And, in 2007, when a hotel in Kazan was looking for a head chef, he recommended me. Before then, I had been to Russia many times: our liner frequently put into St. Petersburg. So, I already had an inkling of what the country was like. But this was from visits of 2-3 days, to the one city only. I really had never even heard of Kazan. I googled it, and had a look to see where it was, read up on it, and decided to take the plunge. There are a lot of myths about Russia in the West. Like there is nothing to eat here; that there is nothing to buy in the shops. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, to get a taste of Russian culture, to find out how the people here live and work, how they conduct themselves.
About the Korston Hotel
Korston Hotels and Malls is a chain of hotel/recreation complexes currently open for business in Moscow, Kazan, Serpukhov (Moscow region), as well as in Montenegro (in Budva). Korston Hotels and Malls Kazan is the region's first ever 5-star hotel and recreation complex. It opened in 2006. It is located in Kazan's commercial centre. It covers an overall area of 72,000 sq. m., with the hotel comprising 202 comfortable rooms. Apart from the hotel, the complex houses a business centre, a string of restaurants and bars, a 6-screen multiplex cinema, a bowling alley, a children's play centre, and an abundance of shops. Up to $100m has been invested in the project.
– Was it an instant decision to stay here for the long-term?
– No, not at all. I wanted to have a look around, get to know the city and the place where I was going to be working. I must admit that when I turned up in Kazan, my first impulse was to gather my things and run in the opposite direction. It was October, late autumn, and the weather was awful. Apart from which, Kazan left a much gloomier impression on me then than it does now. However, I quickly pulled myself together. I had work to do: I had to take on board a mass of information, to try to understand people speaking in a language I didn’t understand.
For quite a long time, I saw my work and life in Kazan as being only temporary. But then, five years ago, I met my wife here. We got married in Austria, but we came back and bought a flat here. We had a daughter: she is three now. I’ll be honest: straight after the wedding, and for the next five years, there were many conversations about whether we should go back over to Austria. But each time, once we had thought it through, we came to the same conclusion: that we would be better off by staying in Russia. I mean, in Europe, the wages are not as high as those foreigners receive in Russia. So, if you have a steady job in Russia, your standard of living is going to be much higher than it would be in Europe
In Europe, the wages are not as high as those foreigners receive in Russia. So, if you have a steady job in Russia, your standard of living is going to be much higher than it would be in Europe.
A good head chef will easily find work
– Why is it that Russian restaurants invite so many foreigners as head chefs?
– That’s not hard to explain. Without wanting to offend anybody, the training for head chefs here is not a rigorous as it is in Europe. There are colleges here where people can learn to cook. But the training doesn’t seem to be much like ours at all. Head chefs in Europe possess a great deal of knowledge and a modern, international approach to the preparation of food. Perhaps, at some point, that situation will change, but, at the moment, the local chefs lack the basic skills in gastronomy to be built upon later on.
I often come across young people who have just finished catering college. Their food preparation skills are based on vastly different technical standards than those on which foreign chefs are trained. They have to be retrained. Essentially, this is quite normal: young chefs have to be retrained in every country in the world. But here, sometimes, they have to be taught afresh how to cook.
When Russian companies employ foreigners on a higher salary, they demand a great deal from them. There is a certain kudos attached to having a foreigner with the company.
– So, if I understand you correctly, a good head chef from abroad will always find a good job in Russia?
– Yes, exactly. But if anybody hears that and starts quickly looking for vacancies in Russia, they should bear in mind that they will need to be prepared to work, if not twice as hard, then certainly 30-40% harder than they do at home. After all, when Russian companies employ foreigners on a higher salary, they demand a great deal from them. There is a certain kudos attached to having a foreigner with the company. There are other “hidden pitfalls”, too. For example, I was surprised to find that in Russia you have to explain to people that their day isn’t over just because their 8 hours are up, and that they have to keep working until the job is done. To me, this was obvious, but, for Russians, it wasn’t.
Besides which, you have to keep both eyes on the staff. Say we are preparing chicken stock. I’m always going up to the chef and telling him: you need to put this in it, and that in it. He replies: yes, yes, I’ll do that now. And this goes on for three hours. And, as a result, we can end up with something entirely different from what is required. And, by the way, restaurant-goers in Russia are very discerning. Many of them travel all the time, and they know what the dishes they order are supposed to be like. If that restaurant is in a 5-star hotel, then the food should be 5-star too.
Kazan is a large city in the Russian Federation, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, and port on the left bank of the River Volga. It was founded in 1005. Its population is 1.17m. It is located 820km east of Moscow. It is one of Russia's major cultural, academic, industrial and sporting centres (in 2013, Kazan hosted the 27th Summer Universiade). The Kazan Kremlin is on UNESCO's list of global heritage sites.
– And is the salary comparable? If you were doing the equivalent job in Vienna, how would your salary compare with your current Russian one?
– I get more here, that’s beyond question. It is always the way that your salary is higher if you work abroad. Also, there are a great number of other opportunities to earn money here. For example, apart from my main job, I also act as consultant to restaurants on river cruise ships. And the tax burden in Russia is considerably lighter. A worker here pays only 13%, regardless of the salary, whereas in Austria tax payments can be as high as 40%. But national insurance is better in Austria. There you don’t have to pay for medical treatment.
The tax burden in Russia is considerably lighter. A worker here pays only 13%, regardless of the salary, whereas in Austria tax payments can be as high as 40%. But national insurance is better in Austria.
– Is the restaurant business in Russia greatly different from that in Europe?
– Overall, yes. It is more dynamic here; it develops noticeably faster than in any European country. In establishments, there is a changeover in menus, dishes, the head chef, all at a rate of knots. The Russian restaurant business is similar to the American one. And to work here is more interesting. The restaurant business in Europe is relatively dull. There, the very same people come to the restaurant and, year after year, order the same Weiner Schnitzel. Even if they go off to Thailand, they look on the menu for the meals they are used to at home. Whereas Russians are open to anything new. If a restaurant changes its concept, Russians have to come and see what the food tastes like. Russians are always trying to put new ideas into practice; they are putting a lot of money towards building an interesting market in fine food.
– And does the quality of food in Russia meet your requirements, or do you have to import some things from abroad?
– We have a comprehensive approach. We buy some things at the local market. Other things we get from shops like Metro: there they have food from Holland, Spain, and other countries. The situation now in terms of food quality in Russia is so much better than it was seven years ago. A lot of the produce is now up to international standards. Even so, I buy some meat from local farmers but with something like, say, beef, I prefer to buy Australian or American. That’s normal practice: I would be doing exactly the same if I was working in a restaurant in Austria or anywhere else in the world.
Russians are open to anything new. If a restaurant changes its concept, Russians have to come and see what the food tastes like. Russians are always trying to put new ideas into practice.
Not with words but by hand gesture
– How do you cope with the language barrier? You must have had to, not only ask the way to the library, but to explain to the chefs what you want from them, and to use specialist culinary terminology…
– I had an interpreter for two years. But, all the same, while I was communicating with my staff, it was important for me to show them things. I was always going like so: we take this, and we put it over here. Generally, I used a lot of hand gestures. And, you know, people digested the information so much better like that. I would use the interpreter to specify certain details. But overall, I would advise anybody wanting to come and work in Russia, not to put it off, and to start learning Russian. It is vital to be able to explain to people face to face what it is you want to say.
– What kind of perception of Russia do your friends and family in Austria have?
– There is a lot more information available about Russia, now. People know that life here has changed considerably over the last few years. But some stereotypes persist. Many questions are about what you can buy here, and what you can’t. I’m always having to explain that there are more goods in the supermarkets in Kazan than even in Austria. You see cranes here all over the place: Russians are building and building. The economy in Russia is developing rapidly whereas in Europe there is stagnation. But I get the feeling they don’t believe me. I recently invited my father over to Kazan. He was here for a fortnight. And he admitted that the place was completely different from how he had imagined it. And that he was encouraged by what he saw, and it made him change his ideas about Russia. Not the roads so much. But after two or three years you get used to them.
You see cranes here all over the place: Russians are building and building. The economy in Russia is developing rapidly whereas in Europe there is stagnation.
– In terms of comfort-levels, is life in Kazan hugely different from what you were accustomed to in Vienna?
– For me, there is hardly any difference. My flat in Kazan is as comfortable as in Vienna. My friends have much bigger flats here than my friends in Austria. We are always going on fishing trips: I just love it. And, I have to admit, that I like the countryside here more than back home. Everything here is somewhat bigger. These days, I don’t go back to Vienna so often. I can’t predict the future: maybe, one day, I’ll go back to my native country. But, for now, my home is here.