Interview: Radek Kašpárek chef of The Field restaurant

Interview: Radek Kašpárek chef of The Field restaurant

Quality ingredients, distinctive flavours and unusual combinations

Interview: Radek Kašpárek chef of The Field restaurant
The Field Restaurant in a beautiful corner of Prague Old Town is one of the two restaurants in the Czech Republic that has defended its Michelin star for the fourth time. Even a layman can feel this is an extraordinary place.
The slightly austere design of the famous Studio Najbrt is dominated by symbolic agricultural tools in showcases. “Most of the ingredients we use grow in the field, we go pick them up whenever we can,” explains the distinctive 38-year-old chef Radek Kašpárek.
In the Field, they are not afraid to let things run their course. The Kašpárek's stubborn kitchen can manifest itself in a raw, unadorned form under its variable ceiling. The seasonal menus do not hide their natural origins – and sometimes they literally come back to their roots. The field is the foundation. Everything else is open.

How does a chef experience the coronavirus period?
In the first period, when the strict measures came into force, we did nothing and wondered which way to go, how to use all that time. In the end, we decided to cook for the needy, so we started preparing food for the Na Františku Hospital and the Pod Petřínem Hospital. Altogether it was about 160 servings a day – we made the most of our kitchen's capacity. That brought a tasty change to the hospital cuisine and, at the same time, we were happy we could help this way. It was a great feeling.

Have you experienced any existential problems?
I believe every restaurant has existential problems. Until tourism returns to the normal we are used to, existential problems can occur.

How were clients previously distributed as a percentage?
60-70% foreigners and the rest were Czech clients…

During the covid, did you have time to somehow stop, think about what to do, and how to do things differently?
I find it positive that we managed to put together a group here on a completely voluntary basis, which cooked for hospitals, it was such a pleasant team building that brought us together. I have always respected the Field, but I do maybe even more now, and I developed an even deeper relationship with it.

What did the Michelin star mean to you when you first got it in 2016, was it expected?
We didn't expect it at all. We secretly hoped to get into the guide, but getting the award in such a short time after opening, not at all. For me, the star means great responsibility and respect.

Now that you have defended it again, will you continue to pursue it? What does the award actually mean in the world?
It's a worldwide prestige, the Michelin Guide has an incredible reputation. And will we continue to pursue it? Of course! Now when we have it, we don't want to lose it, we still try to be better and better, it's crucial to stay determined.

You are one of the restaurant's creators – what is the philosophy behind it?
The Field is a restaurant with a casual style and I had a clear idea from the beginning what I want to cook.  It's about quality ingredients, strong flavours, and unusual combinations, we play with every detail in the kitchen.

How did you actually start, when did you know you would become a chef?
In the 7th – 8th grade, I was choosing between a car mechanic and a chef, and I decided to become a chef. As you can see, I stayed with it.

Why did you make such a decision, did you have a relationship with it?
Grandpa was a butcher, and our family has a positive attitude towards food. And it's a clean craft, my mother told me then that she couldn't picture me lying somewhere in a workshop under a car all day, dirty with oil.

Then when did the kitchen really catch you?
Probably already in high school, and then the college, when it engulfed me and I started to have a lot of fun. I also had the advantage that I could go to Prague right after military service and start working in a five-star hotel – it was the Savoy Hotel near Prague Castle, where it was done at a really high level. I really enjoyed it.

You've also been cooking in Istanbul for a while, haven't you?
It was just a short internship. If you are asking where I drew inspiration from, I am purely self-taught. I have not completed any extensive internships in foreign restaurants. We like to travel with our manager, get to know Scandinavia, we were in London, New York… I had the opportunity to try meals in a lot of luxury three-star Michelin restaurants and I think I've already tried a great deal. I can recognise the trends of world gastronomy.

Which place has pleasantly surprised you lately?
Before the coronavirus, we were in the three-star Michelin restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm. It was our second time, the first time we were there three years ago, it was still in the old premises. Now it is moved to three floors and it is really up to standard, figured out to the last detail. And I'm not just talking about food and service, everything is perfect there.

What do they cook?
Scandinavian cuisine, but with a bit of an Asian touch. It is a fusion of Nordic and Japanese cuisine.

What do you prefer to cook and what would you call your style?
Any food that can be prepared from perfect, fresh, quality ingredients. Rather a more simple one, I try not to overdo it. More or less everything comes from Czech farmers. If you look at our menu, there are primarily Czech items, actually no exotic ingredients. And it has a bit of a Scandinavian touch, the way we process the raw materials and present them on plates, the way we ferment them...

We make fermented vegetables in saline solution, there is nothing more to it. It is the North that is famous for this, as the weather is not warm so often, so they try to ferment, cook and store whatever crops they get for the autumn and winter.

You said that you prefer using domestic, Czech products. Now I saw someone carrying a box of forest mushrooms, and I hear you have your own herbalist. How do you actually work with those people?
We have a herbalist, we have a mushroom picker, working with them is nice, they already know exactly what I want from them, they even come to me with their own innovations. When I see something interesting, I’m happy to use it. 

How often do you change, invent new dishes?
We pay attention to seasonality, according to the mood and when I feel this or that food has its place on the menu. When I no longer like it, I put it away after a short time and replace it with something else.

What does it mean you don’t like it?
That I don't feel good about it, looking at the plate, and I'm not completely convinced about it in terms of taste.

What is the work flow of your kitchen? People say you are a bit of a general...
I was probably a general when we first opened the Field, but it was necessary. I didn't want the restaurant's beginnings to be some kind of “trial run”. I wanted everything to be perfect and 100% from the first day. I'm still strict, even now, but I've already learned to communicate it to my colleagues better.

Do you observe other chefs?
I observe a couple of Czech restaurants and chefs, their work, and what style of food they prepare.

And do you cook at home?
My wife cooks at home, sometimes I do, sometimes we take turns.

What do you do when you don't cook, what are your hobbies?
I take care of the family and sometimes I draw some inspiration from books. Our schedule is based on this. We make various trips, go for walks and the like.

What are your favourite destinations in the Czech Republic, where would you invite tourists?
I love Prague Old Town, but also Šumava, for example, the area around Železná ruda or the historical town of Český Krumlov
Who is Radek Kašpárek
A fan of modern cuisine with an emphasis on straightforward and unadorned presentation of ingredients. He serves strong flavours without unnecessary fuss, and his food concepts are often very unexpected. He graduated from the Secondary School of Catering in Ostrava. He completed an internship at the Bosphorus Swisshotel. For several years he worked at the Savoy Hotel and the Aria Hotel as Sous-Chef de Cuisine of the Coda Restaurant. He also worked as a lecturer in cooking school courses. He has been working on television screens for a long time in the successful cooking shows Kašpárku vař! and Co bude dnes k večeři. Since 2014, he has been the chef and co-owner of the Field Restaurant.