Bogdan Alexandrescu (Chef Dexter) is the new Executive Chef of the EPOQUE HOTEL RELAIS & CHATEAUX in Bucharest
An only child, born in Gherla, near Cluj, in the heart of Transylvania, Bogdan Alexandrescu has quite the life story at 31. His childhood was spent between Gherla and Bucharest and he was able to understand and experience, early on, original customs, traditions and values in the Ardeal region of Romania, but also those of living the city life.
A graduate of the Foreign Languages Faculty of the University of Bucharest, majoring in Greek and English, Bogdan enrolled in a Master’s in foreign languages at age 21. He chose to leave the program to dedicate himself to cooking and was a contestant on the very first MasterChef Romania Season in 2012. That was his first time working in a professional kitchen, an experience which, obviously, changed his life.
I met with Bogdan in mid-February, and he immediately made me think of Salvador Dali, without knowing right away of his admiration for the artist. His overall presence is warm and friendly, but at the same time, serious, in the way experts and artists always are about their work.
Just before our interview, he had started as Executive Chef at the Epoque Hotel Relais & Chateaux in Bucharest.
“I started cooking at age 7,” he tells me over a cappuccino. “I cooked for my parents all the time. I made them French fries (mostly overdone to burned), soups and various sauces. My parents used to eat my burned fries and always say ‘yum’. They were and are my biggest supporters.”
I’m surprised to learn that Bogdan speaks fluent Greek and had begun seriously studying it during high-school.
Our conversation, which lasted a little over an hour, is full of information I like to call “treasure chest material”, which only true experts can give you. These are little insights into fields you don’t know well but suddenly you come to understand and feel drawn to. For the duration of our meeting, I was able to look at cooking through the lens of a chef/artist-in-residence with a real pedagogic skill (which I am wondering if Bogdan is fully aware he has in spades).
I left promising to come back and taste some of the creations he will be making, but also thinking that, one day, Bogdan will be teaching at a culinary academy and students from all over the world will listen, just as mesmerized with the world of “the four elements” as I was.
DTT: So you gave up on the Masters in Foreign Languages after you went on MasterChef Romania. Where did you go for your culinary training?
Chef Dexter: I graduated from a culinary school in Romania and then I specialized in Food Styling in Belgium and Sicily. The last academic institution I graduated from is the French Institut des Hautes Etudes du Goût, de la Gastronomie et des Arts de la Table.
DTT: Did you have a mentor? Whom do you admire, in your profession?
Chef Dexter: I don’t like to pick favorites, because one idol will limit your personal growth. I do admire a Chef I know personally: Jacques Louis Henrio, recipient of “MOF” (Meilleur Ouvrier de France), a title received by only about 200 Chefs since the 1920s. French Chefs consider it the highest honor. What inspires me most about him is his energy, his vivaciousness. He got his motorcycle permit at 68, about 5 years ago.
DTT: How are you as the leader of your team in the kitchen?
Chef Dexter: I am pretty strict, but I am calm. I am not one of those Chefs you see in the movies, who turns hysterical during moments of crisis. I’m ok explaining something several times. If someone in my team does their work properly and respects the vision I’ve created, respects food and the customers, there will be harmony. A chef’s energy in the kitchen influences his cooking and the cooking of his team, so a balanced state is the base for the best creations.
DTT: What is food to you?
Chef Dexter: To me, food is energy and emotion. An Ecuadorian friend told me that cooking is the only art where a person can combine all four elements of nature, creating an incredible exchange of energy. The Chef, too, receives energy from the customer. When a plate comes back empty, it charges you with good energy.
The Sociological Chef
Imagine you’re cooking for a large dinner taking place at the Cultural Center somewhere in a village in Transylvania. The guests around the table are all seniors from the village. You choose a traditional menu with three courses. What will it be?
Home-made Pita with lard, cracklings paste and pickled cucumbers in brine;
Hungarian chicken Paprikas
Noodles with sugar and bread crumbs, paired with fermented apricots (a desert from my own childhood);
You’re cooking for a group of foreign tourists who are on their first visit to Romania. They won’t have time to enjoy several dinners out, so you must leave them with a very special taste of Romania. What will it be?
Pork brain salad with red onion, parsley and lovage (with lovage oil);
Sarmale, but I will elevate the dish and serve three types of sarmale: vine leaf sarmale, where I would use beef stuffing; for the cabbage leaf sarmale I would use pork, and for the red cabbage leaf ones, duck meat.
Cremsnit (cremeschnitte), the Romanian version of the Millefeuille;