Martin Zahumensky, head chef, Urban Coterie

The Staff Canteen

We spoke to Martin Zahumensky about what’s it’s like to work with Anthony Demetre, winning Game Chef of the Year award 2015, and his thoughts on all restaurants reverting ‘back to basics’.

From a young age, Martin Zahumensky was destined to work with food. His mother is a chef, and Martin would often visit her at work to help with the prep and cooking. With the aim of experiencing a different culture, and to improve his English, Martin moved to the UK. Ten years later, he has made London his home, working for a range of Michelin-starred chefs, before taking the challenge to head Anthony Demetre’s Urban Coterie.

Anthony Demetre’s Urban Coterie
Anthony Demetre’s Urban Coterie

Why did you want to be a chef and when did your interest in food start?

My mum is a cook so I just had it in the blood! From a young age I was in the kitchen, I would always come to see her at work - I was interested in helping her get things ready and also with the cooking. It just came naturally.

How did you start working for Anthony?

I used to work in Hibiscus, and as you know Claude Bosi is very good friends with Anthony. Anthony was looking for a head chef for the opening of Urban Coterie, and Claude just asked me if I was looking for a new challenge.

How are you finding the role?

I think it’s very interesting, it’s challenging as it’s a new opening, but I think it’s very good. So far we have been open a month officially, and everyone is happy! The kitchen is happy, front of house is happy, Anthony is happy… we are one big happy family!

What would be your dream brigade? Legends dream team:                                             Sat Bains on the meat                                         Nathan Outlaw on fish                                             Tom Kerridge on pastry                                   Anthony Demetre on garnish                             Nuno Mendes on larder                                     Claude Bosi on pass                                                                                                                                                   New era dream team:                                               John Freeman (Sat Bains) on the meat             Tim Spedding (Clove Club) on fish                     Ian Scaramuzza (Hibiscus) on pastry         Robin Gill (The Dairy) on garnish         Patrick Powell (Chiltern Firehouse) on larder                                                                               Leo Carreira (Climpsons Arch) on pass

What is Anthony like to work with?

Anthony is very focused, when he is working he is very professional. He’s a very nice guy to chat with outside of service hours. He knows what he wants to achieve and what he has achieved already. The reputation he is building is very good, he’s straight forward and has very strong personality.

Does Anthony have a lot of input at Urban Coterie?

He told me ‘Martin, we should do this, this, and this’, and has just let me go with it from there. When we have a catch up, I tell him what I would like to change. For example it’s coming up to Christmas so we are going to put something different on the menu. After he’s had a think, he gives me feedback and then we take it from there. So we do work quite closely together, but mostly it’s my ideas and my input. Not to go too over the top with the presentation, forget the flowers and powders and all that. The focus should be more on the flavours.

What have you have learnt from Anthony Demetre?

Let the food do the talking, not the presentation. I think that’s the way forward, and everybody is going to go this way. The molecular cuisine, the powders and gels, they’ll all be gone. Everyone is going back to the basics, returning to proper cooking.

Is ‘going back to the basics’ what you would like your style to be?

Martin Zahumensky
Martin Zahumensky

I think I am quite a good mixture because I used to work in Texture London which focuses on natural flavours and raw ingredients. But when I was working for Claude it was quite modern cooking, French with lots of butter and Anthony is sort of halfway! I find my style is straightforward, I do like a bit of butter but I also like the natural flavours and not playing too much or over working the ingredients. Let them naturally talk, nicely cook them, give them a nice simple presentation.

What’s your favourite dish on the menu at the minute?

We actually changed the menu today, so there is going to be more of my signature venison dish which helped me to win Game Chef of the Year in January, so that’s my reflection of cooking. I don’t have a real specific favourite ingredient so it depends on the quality, the fresher it is, then the better it is to work with.

How did you win Game Chef of the Year 2015?

I applied online with a couple of recipes and they chose me to compete. I got through to the final in Scotland where I was the only foreigner, the rest of the guys were British! I did everything from scratch. Some of the guys brought some sauces and basic stocks with them but I was doing everything, even the butchery, on the day. So I think that was a good point for me, also the presentation was quite funky. I just put my head down, took it naturally and tried my best. Tom Kitchin was the main judge, he said to me that he hadn’t eaten a dish like that for at least five years. So that was really good to hear, I didn’t expect to win at all!

What made you want to work in London?

I worked in Cyprus for two years, then I wanted to go away and learn more about cuisine. I also wanted to learn and improve my English. I’ve been here for 10 years now! I just came here and never left.

Martin Zahumensky, Game Chef of the Year 2015
Hay smoked fallow deer

What are your plans for the future?

On Sunday I am returning home to Slovakia to be a judge of Masterchef! I will be out there for most of January, but when I return to Urban Coterie I just want to put my name on the restaurant as much as possible, under my influence and hopefully get some happy customers. Eventually, like every chef, I want to get my own restaurant, my own platform where I can build my reputation and my name.

Where would you set up your dream restaurant, what kind of restaurant would it be, what kind of food would you have there?

I love London, but I would like to have a restaurant somewhere out of the big city in the countryside. Something incredible in the middle of nowhere, cooking the produce that is growing all around in a nice and relaxing environment.  

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th December 2015

Martin Zahumensky, head chef, Urban Coterie