Playing With Fire – Chef Florin Vasilache of Asador Interview
If you look on Asador’s website you will see they boldly proclaim to “source the best of Irish produce and cook in the most ancient of ways”. This idea of cooking in ancient ways refers to their unique style of cooking. They cook over fire, giving their food a wonderfully smokey, barbeque flavour.
Asador is somewhere you can enjoy al fresco dining on the outdoor terrace, or dine indoors and get a view of the open kitchen with its impressive 1.2 tonne asador. In Spanish asador means barbecue or grill, and at this restaurant you will find meats, fish and vegetables cooked over flaming wood, giving the food an unmistakable flavour.
Today I am meeting Florin Vasilache, sous chef at this busy Dublin 4 restaurant. It’s a surprisingly sunny day, and that means the terrace is buzzing with people soaking up the sunshine.
While most chefs tend to cook over a stove or perhaps the odd induction hob, Florin came to Asador to work with the heat and the flames. “I studied management initially but I was always the person in my group of friends that was cooking for everyone. I started my culinary career quite late, I was 25 and I’m not in the business that long. It felt natural to be a chef, it’s something that comes easily to me.”
These days you will find Florin in the kitchen of Asador working alongside head chef Josef Cervenka, a man who Florin calls a mentor. The two are most definitely a team, and together with the kitchen staff work harmoniously to knock out some of the best food in Dublin. “Josef and I took over the kitchen five years ago. He and I run the kitchen together so it’s very much a partnership.”
While Florin is passionate about the cooking at Asador, he admits he wishes he could let the creative juices flow a little more, “We would like to get more creative with the menu, but because there are so many popular dishes, we just couldn’t get rid of them. We also have a big base of regulars, who come back for what Asador has to offer.”
“I almost see Asador as an Irish steakhouse with strong Spanish influence. It’s Irish produce with Spanish flavour”. We once were a nation of devout “meat and two veg” eaters, so I wonder what makes Asador stand out from the crowd. “What makes us unique is that we cook with fire. Our technique and how we have developed our style of cooking is unique to Dublin. We started off using a lot of charcoal and woodchips, then we learned that we can cook directly over the fire and burning wood. We mainly use oak. It took us a while to master it because cooking with fire isn’t like anything else.”
While the results are more than worthwhile Florin admits, “It’s more challenging and it’s more expensive. You need to understand the fire and heat.”
“Growing up I always cooked with charcoal, but our asador machine allows us to cook directly over fire.” With so many tempting delights on offer, I ask which is his go-to dish, “my favourite dish on the menu and the latest addition that I’m really excited about is our Roaring Water Bay Mussels. I feel this dish shows our philosophy; the mussels are Irish but we serve them with sobrasada, which is a very Spanish element. They just work so well together.”
Another dish Florin raves about is the Chargrilled Octopus. They serve this fishy delight with cucumber and mooli salad, mango salsa and romesco. “You get the crisp exterior and that smokey flavour that you just can’t get with traditional cooking methods”
Looking to the industry around him Florin says; “I think the food scene in Dublin right now is quite exciting.” Florin tells me the previous weekend himself and a group of chef friends went to Lyon for a food-filled weekend. Florin believes that the food scene here is far more exciting than the French city. A bold but reassuring claim that our little island is truly becoming a mecca for great food.
When he is not taming the flames of the asador Florin likes to eat in The Pigeon House. Brian Walsh is someone he admires and he likes the style of food there. Some of his other favourite haunts are Pichet and The Pigs Ear. Hopefully, when he finds the time (no easy feat when you’re working full time and have small children in your household as Florin does), he is looking forward to visiting Variety Jones. I dined there recently and assure him it’s fantastic.
Irish food is Irish produce, but the technique is international”
While the life of a chef is no doubt a demanding one Florin tells me the best part of his job is service time. The open plan kitchen at Asador is something he also loves. “Once you work in an open plan kitchen it’s hard to go back. The interaction you get with customers is fantastic. The best feeling is when someone comes up to the pass and says thank you and they appreciate the food. You can see peoples reactions when they’re eating the food and it’s great.”
His advice to budding young chefs? “Don’t go to culinary school. I developed as a chef just from working here in Asador. I began in Italy doing work experience in a Michelin star restaurant where I asked one of the chefs if I should go to a culinary school like Cordon Bleu, and he told me not to.” Florin is much more of a hands-on learner, and he believes those looking to get into the industry should “stop watching television and buy culinary books. The industry gets a lot of attention from the media with so many chef competitions.”
He says when you start as a chef it’s best to “keep your head down, do the work and learn as much as you can. Once you get in the kitchen you’ll know if it’s for you. We train people here all the time. If you want to work here and have a passion we will train you. Usually, the guys who start as kitchen porters go on to become our chefs. There’s a great atmosphere in the kitchen.” Florin says he has learned so much during his time at Asador, and much of this came from his head chef, “Josef is really a great mentor for me.”
Looking ahead Florin tells me of some new additions that will be featuring on the menu in the coming months, one of which is Galician beef. “I’m all about Irish beef and produce but some things are unique to certain countries and Galician beef is one of them.” Some people say this Northern Spanish meat is the best beef in the world. Florin gives me a little background on this prized beef, “It’s an older cow and most of their lives they are used to produce veal.” Whereas most beef is less than 36 months old and is male, Galician beef is many years older and is female. “It’s the best beef I’ve ever tasted. It has such a strong taste of beef which has to do with the breed of cow. There’s such high demand for it around the world.”
What does the future hold for Asador? “We’re always trying to improve and progress. Last year we went to London to visit places that cook with fire like ourselves, to get new ideas and inspirations. From the beginning, we’ve always grown and today we’re stronger than ever. The most difficult part of our job lies ahead and we plan to keep things exciting for our customers. ”