– You`re a famous person in your profession. How did you come to work in Zenit?
– Basically, I wasn`t expecting it at all. It happened by accident. I was planning on working in the restaurant business for the rest of my life. But I came to the club, learned the details of the offer, then thought about it for a week and finally agreed. Over time I got myself a good team of personnel. I never worked with sportsmen before, but they have their own demands. The players can only eat whatever they want a long time before the match, but as matchday approaches the players have to eat exactly what the team doctor tells them to eat. Mikhail Grishin is responsible for that in the club. The chicken bullion has to be clear, without fat or salt, and there should be lots of fruits and vegetables in the players` diet. On the day of the match the players only eat various types of pasta with chicken. And those are just the basic rules. There are a lot more details than that. The work day starts before the sun rises and goes after the sun sets. But I`ve never regretted my decision. Most of all because I work with really good people.
– What was the main reason for such a big change in your life?
– I worked on shipping boats when I was young. The ship`s team is a united group where every person has to fulfill their job conscientiously. The situation is similar in a football team. We`re all one team. That`s what was interesting for me, because I remembered my younger years. Everybody aims for a good result at the practice facility. Some people work to ensure that the players have clean uniforms, others work on the quality of the field, a third group solves security questions, etc. We have to make a good mood for our players, so that they only have to think about football.
– Zenit is an international team. How do you manage to please everyone?
– First of all, I used to work in restaurants where you could order dishes of all world cuisines. So I have lots of experience. Sometimes I treat the players to something from their national cuisine. The footballers have certain tastes, but you can`t call them picky. For example, Fernando Meira loves rice, especially the way we cook it. Nicolas Lombaerts didn`t really like the meat for sale in our city, but he doesn`t have that problem at the practice facility. As soon as Zenit got coaches from Italy I immediately found out what there tastes are. But Luciano Spalletti said that he wanted to get to know Russian food and the dishes of our former Soviet Union Republics more closely. And these dishes really pleased the Italians. So, all the players like Russian dishes, and borsch is their favorite dish, no matter where they`re from. You can`t do anything without it. I even prepare borsch at our away matches. But there`s nothing special about that. You can read the recipe for borsch in any cookbook. The important thing is to have good meat bullion and high-quality beets, then everything will work out fine. The best compliment for a cook is when the plates are empty.
– Where does the team buy its groceries?
– We have reliable suppliers, and many of them have been working with the team for many years. For them it`s very prestigious to work for Zenit, and they even give us discounts. But as soon as a supplier lowers its quality, we end our contract with them. Two years ago our team played in Minsk, and I was amazed by the quality of the local food products, especially the dairy ones. After returning to Petersburg we got in contact with a company that supplies food products from Belarus, and now we work well together with them.
– Until you came to the team no chef went with the team to away matches. Why did the situation change?
– Actually the idea came to the team before I arrived. But it was put into place once I started working in the team. Having your own cook is a guarantee that nothing unexpected will happen. Everybody is calmer that way. I came to the away matches the day before the team, and check everything out at the kitchen, then completely control the process. We agree on the menu with the hotel management a week before the team arrives. We send them a list of all the groceries we need. And, as a rule, there`s no problem, since everybody wants Zenit to stay in their hotel again. Of course, sometimes there are misunderstandings. For example, like last year in Grozny. In the end I brought two huge suitcases with me full of food, including bread. But even in this case we found methods of working together. The situation didn`t repeat itself this year. I always take the advice of local cooks, about what they can offer from their national cuisines. When we come to the Caucuses, we all try their pies. In Kabardino-Balkariya the pies have one taste, in Northern Ossetia another, and in Dagestan a third one. We always order seafood. Although Croatia disappointed us a little bit this time. Right now the team is playing in other countries, and sometimes there`s a language barrier. I don`t know English very well, and I don`t know French at all. But a real cook always understands his colleagues. Sometimes we use hand signals to explain what we want, and everything goes well, without any trouble.
– We`re you a football fan before you started working in Zenit?
– Of course. In fact I played sports all the time when I was young. Although field hockey, not football. I grew up in Azerbaijan, in Sumgaite, and field hockey was really popular there. I even played for the Republic`s youth team. We took first place in the Soviet Union league, winning the final in Kazakhstan. When I moved to Leningrad in 1980, I met several former friends who I played with earlier, who proposed that I play in the “Volna” team. But at that time I already had other plans. Now I cheer for Zenit a lot more than before, since these are my guys. I see how hard they strive in every match. It`s better not to touch them before the match. But after the match…! Furthermore, pretty soon the whole city found out that I work for Zenit, and now my former colleagues never miss a match at the Petrovsky Stadium.