Andre Tokev’s restaurant ANDRé in Sofia, Bulgaria, won the Restaurant of the Year Bacchus Acqua Panna & S.Pellegrino 2020. It’s an achievement that brings him great satisfaction, even if it seems he hasn’t stopped for a moment to take it in.
Chef Tokev is a busy man. Even in the midst of a pandemic that has furloughed restaurant workers across the world, trying to find a slot to interview the chef is not easy. Between shooting the Bulgarian version of MasterChef, his other show Food Hunters, and running his acclaimed restaurant ANDRé in Sofia, Tokev still finds time for the important things in life. Like playing with his granddaughter.
It’s a surprise that Tokev is already a grandfather, he’s only 52 and doesn’t show it.
“I started early,” says Tokev. “I have two daughters, the younger is 26, the older is 32, they were always my biggest motivation throughout my career. Now my granddaughter is my motivation, you can’t imagine what it’s like. The motivation is so much more. You can appreciate it more. With your children you have more responsibility, but with your grandchild, you only want to enjoy the moments with them, that’s it.”
Tokev has been filming MasterChef and his show Food Hunters, a travel/food show that sees him explore the food traditions of Bulgaria. It’s important work, unearthing ancient culinary traditions that have been forgotten over time.
“The tradition is very old,” he says. “I am half-German and I grew up in Germany, so when I came to Bulgaria I had an incredible curiosity about the traditions. That’s what I’m trying to bring to my show. Bulgarians, and I think it’s true to say of all the countries in the Balkans, we don’t know our history and traditions.”
Decades under a communist system saw the complex and ancient food culture abandoned in favour of more efficient, simpler production. Many of the recipes and the old ways have been lost. The country has not had an easy transition to capitalism, and recent economic hardship has seen a lot of emigration, while the country has struggled with its own self-image. Rediscovering Bulgaria’s cuisine and food culture is fundamental to rekindling a sense of pride in its ancient traditions.
“People don’t know that the Balkan people - the Thracian people - they created a lot of food traditions that the Greeks adopted. When I go to the countryside, I look at the history of the Thracians, they were the first people cooking with a lot of butter. Not the French, the Thracians."
Balkan Culinary Traditions
“When you go deep into the traditions, you discover it, but local Bulgarians don’t know it. The wine we drink today, those techniques used in Spain, Italy and France, the Thracians brought that from the Caucasus, to Europe, 3000 years ago, the finest wine in the world was made in Bulgaria.
“Balkan traditions are evident in the annals of the Roman Empire. The traditions of feasting were heavily influenced by Thracian traditions. In Bulgaria, we have forgotten about this. We need to rediscover this and be proud of our traditions. If we do, Bulgaria could have another image in Europe and the world."
Winning the Restaurant of the Year Bacchus Acqua Panna & S.Pellegrino 2020 is something that makes Tokev very happy. He smiles broadly when congratulated. It can’t be ignored, however, that 2020 is a very unusual year to achieve such an accolade.
“It’s a strange year and the next one or two years will be different,” says Tokev. “We need to rediscover ourselves and structure our future in a different way. For me winning this award in this kind of year is important. Our business experienced a lot of ups and downs this year, but aiming to win this award motivated my team, they gave everything in spite of everything. We are nominated almost every year, but to win it this year is special.”
Tokev won’t let the grass grow underneath him, and 2021 will provide for him a world of opportunity and new challenges. He will though, most certainly, find time to play with his granddaughter.