Meet Head Chef Tatjana Tretjakova-Skrinnikova, the woman behind one of London's most successful new restaurants.
In the bustling culinary landscape of London, one woman stands out as the creative force behind TOZI Grand Cafe, Head Chef Tatjana Tretjakova-Skrinnikova. Her journey, steeped in passion and perseverance, is as a testament to the transformative power of dedication. From her humble beginnings in Latvia to mastering the intricacies of London's vibrant culinary scene, Tatjana's rise to culinary prominence is a narrative woven with diverse experiences and the pursuit of authenticity.
1. Can you share some insights into your culinary journey, from starting out in the hospitality industry at 16 to becoming Head Chef at TOZI Grand Cafe?
Ever since I can remember I have wanted to become a chef, and my journey started from work experience in one of the best hotels in my country, Latvia, which truly opened my eyes to the magic of a culinary career and made me determined to make it in the industry – it really did confirm my passions and led me to pursue a career as a chef. I was in love.
I first started as a Kitchen Porter before quickly progressing to a Breakfast Chef position, baking fresh bread, pastries and regular items from the menu. After that I quickly moved to the larder and pastry department, and then onto grill and fish, before a promotion to Senior Sous Chef. At this time a real motivator for me was seeing guests delighted with the food I had prepared for them; seeing them satisfied and happy was like balsam to my soul and gave me the energy to go more and more – sometime that’s still true to this day.
When I came to London I had to start from the bottom and make my way up, working at some of the city’s most exciting restaurants including CHOP HOUSE, the OXO Tower, Fortnum & Mason and in some of Cobin & King’s restaurants (e.g. The Delauney). It was this that led me to art’otel, first starting as Sous Chef and very quickly being promoted to Head Chef.
2. Having worked at reputable venues like Colbert, Soutine, Bellenger, The Delauney, and 45 Jermyn Street Restaurants, how have these experiences shaped your cooking style and approach in the kitchen?
Throughout my career I have been lucky enough to work with many talented chefs and colleagues and so seeing things through their eyes, understanding their process and style, helped me hone my own; a combination of all the skills they taught me.
Having worked in many top restaurants in London has also helped my organisation skills and made me adapt to becoming productive, focussed, and flexible. Learning to be adaptable and open minded has also helped me become a good leader.
3. London is known for its diverse culinary scene. How has the city influenced your culinary skills and the development of your authentic cooking style?
The diversity of the city’s restaurants has influenced my own culinary skills beyond measure. At every job I’ve had I’ve listened and learned to my Head Chefs there, observing their craft and fusing it with my own… it allowed me to create my own way and my own signature style.
I have worked across many cuisines, so observing Maurilio Molteni from TOZI Restaurant & Bar in Victoria and Lee Streeton at art’otel Battersea Power Station really helped me get under the skin of this style of Italian cooking – making sure it was authentic, of course, but giving TOZI Grand Café & TOZI Counter its own signature next to its sister restaurants in Victoria and in Amsterdam.
4. Your bio mentions a 'new-school' mentality in the kitchen, emphasising respect, support, and patience. Can you elaborate on how these values play a role in your leadership style at TOZI Grand Cafe?
The kitchens can be a high pressure environment, making sure each and every dish served is perfect and meets the high standards we set ourselves. Throughout my career I’ve worked with lots of leaders that have different styles and attitudes, but one thing I’ve learned across all of the restaurants I’ve worked in is that respect and the ability to listen go a long way.
It’s an ethos I bring with my leadership at TOZI Grand Cafe. I am Head Chef, but everyone on our team is on the same level; we have mutual respect, are all enthusiastic and passionate about what we do, and are all there to support each other when we need to. This brings us all together and ultimately is reflected in the dishes we serve – we want guests to understand the passion through every bite.
5. The tutelage of others seems to be a passion for you. Could you share a memorable experience of mentoring someone in your kitchen and how it contributed to their growth and confidence?
There have been many, but one that stands out is one chef that joined one of my restaurant teams when he was 17 years old. He had no experience but was so excited and very passionate about becoming a chef. I wanted to help him on his journey, so spent time showing him my skills and guiding him. After six months working with him I moved to a new restaurant, but we kept in touch and it wasn’t long after then that let me know he had got a promotion.
There’s nothing better than to see your teams grow and become confident in their craft, and I’m at the stage of my career where I can help them in their way – so why not? It’s very important to support and teach your peers, so I will always share knowledge if I can!
6. Exploring new and delicious food is highlighted as a core aspect of your approach. Can you give us an example of a dish or culinary creation that represents this spirit of exploration and innovation?
Innovation and creativity are fundamental in life, and as the diner’s knowledge about food grows, it gets harder to surprise them and give them something unexpected. I believe that cooking is the highest art, and so we always try a few different recipes for our dishes to keep them fresh and add our own signature to them so they are set apart from others.
The most difficult thing is to take a recipe from a classic dish we know and love from childhood, transforming it to include modern technologies in a way that doesn’t defer from the unforgettable flavours we know. We accept this challenge.
My favourite on our menu is our Veal and Pork Meatballs. We decided to use veal mice instead of beef as veal is much more tender, bringing a delicate taste that goes so well with the dishes other ingredients, as well as fresh sage rather than parsley. Finally, as a special ingredient, we use freshly grated lemon zest and the juice squeezed from it – the meatballs simmering in the tomato sauce just melt in your mouth.
7. The hospitality industry has historically been male-dominated. What steps do you believe can be taken to promote gender equality and create more opportunities for women in leadership roles within the culinary field?
I think this problem exists everywhere, not just in our industry. I had a very long journey to who and where I am now; it wasn’t easy, but at the same time I can see that the world is slowly changing even if there is a way to go.
An underlying passion and love for what you’re doing is fundamental and I think that this, alongside support from my family, gave me the strength not to give up whenever I has given a challenge. Support from the business from a hiring perspective is also key, but social media is a great tool to show female chefs perfecting their craft and inspiring others to do the same.
8. Team dynamics are crucial in a kitchen. How do you foster a collaborative and supportive environment among your kitchen staff at TOZI Grand Cafe?
The saying goes that the kitchen is a battlefield (haha!) where every soldier plays their part. To make sure we’re all on the same wavelength at TOZI Grand Cafe, we discuss every service together, checking what we can improve and make better. In the kitchen itself we follow a few simple truths: passion, transparency, fairness, listening, optimism, respect, empathy, and a growing mindset.
It’s one for all and all for one.
9. With your international background, how do you incorporate diverse culinary influences into the menu at TOZI Grand Cafe while maintaining authenticity?
In today’s world, cuisines of different countries and cultures are very closely related and intertwined. You can take a recipe and transform it to suit any cuisine in the world using local products from a particular country (especially true of Mediterranean cuisine) – but appreciating and understanding the methods, processes and intricacies of the authentic recipe is a key and important step, so that any version that incorporates new flavours, remains true and authentic to the original.
10. Can you share some advice for aspiring chefs, particularly on how to navigate and succeed in the competitive and dynamic world of the London culinary scene
You have to really love cooking. The journey to becoming a chef is long, hard, and underrated. Listen to your peers, observe your leaders, and explore different styles and techniques. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but most importantly – learn from them. Never give up, and never lose positivity and respect.
What happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen, but take criticism as a lesson as opposed to a sign of aggression.Love your job and the heights won't be far away!
Bath might be known for its Roman baths, picturesque Georgian buildings and association with Jane Austen but its culinary scene is increasingly attracting visitors from all over the United Kingdom and further afield.
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