The path to fame of head chef Max Polyakov was not easy by any means. In the small town of Zenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina lived a family of 5. It consisted of the father named Nathan, the mother named Uri, their first child named Max and his 3 sisters. This was one of the wealthiest families in the neighbourhood. But when you consider the national rating, they were just an average home that could take care of their problems without any qualms. The man of the house was a medical doctor and the wife was a lawyer. They favoured the professional courses since their Jewish origin will always emphasize those professions that make you independent. They didn’t fancy reliance on others.
In line with this, parents have already conceived what they wanted their kids to be and the professional lines they wanted them to toe. For the first child, Max Polyakov, the dad was bent on making him study engineering while the mother was in love with aeroplanes and wanted her son to become a pilot. With time and after much convincing, coupled with the fact that it seemed to be a very elitist job, Mr Nathan also bought the idea of his wife. They all decided to push the young boy towards aviation. So, it was a consensus in the house that he would study aviation engineering and also learn how to fly aeroplanes. They started positioning him for that.
However, the part of Bosnia and Herzegovina where they lived did not have much happening in the aviation sector. The country lies in the southeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. It has Sarajevo as its capital and largest city. Actually, it is one of the few countries in the world that is almost landlocked. But around the Adriatic Sea, there is a very narrow coast which is just 12 miles long.
While the family was waiting for Max to get into the aviation sector, Max Polyakov had been planning a different thing for himself. As early as 10 years, he has started developing a huge interest in what happened in his mother’s kitchen. He was always seen running around, performing the chores that are stereotypically left for women and lending a helping hand to anyone preparing the meal of the day. This was against the wishes of his father who would rather want him to sit with him in the living room watching TV and getting to know the innovative trends in aviation. Because of this, he was always being dragged to the living room and always received a scolding from the dad because he was showing little to no interest in engineering and aviation.
It was after the scolding on one of those evenings that the tender looking Max owned up and told his parents his mind. That was after they had a class about choosing a career path in school. The admonition from their teacher centred on choosing what you have the most interest in and what makes you happy. When he came back from school that evening, he was psyched up. So, when the scolding started because he was seen in the kitchen again, he simply walked up to his mum and told her that he wanted to be a chef when he grows up. When this happened, the entire hell in the house was let loose, and that house became harsh for Max Polyakov. The thinking of the parents was that being a chef would not fetch him anything in the future. For them, it was not fashionable and actually not the type of job that would take him up the ladder in the society. They did not believe that it could give him a good life and a solid name.
This is because Zenica, which is the 4th in the list of large cities in the country, is only the centre of administration for the Zenica-Doboj Canton. For the parents, this city, which was populated by about 100,000 people at that time, was not the type where being a chef could make Max Polyakov rich and famous. Zenica town lies on the Bosnia River, with lots of hills and mountains surrounding it. It witnesses little or no visitors from other parts of the country. So, how would being a chef in a small restaurant there make their son famous? However, this small town held sway as a very important centre for the economy and military establishments during the era of the kingdom of Bosnia. So, there are monumental buildings like the synagogue that was built in 1906, the mosque, and the Austrian fountain.
As for the cuisine of the town that the young Max Polyakov wanted to delve into, you could discover a lot of spicy delicacies. Yes, they love and enjoy spices, though in moderate quantities. They make a majority of their dishes light. This is because there is always a lot of water in them. They try to make the most of their natural sauces by making sure that they contain more vegetables and their juices. Most of their meals are prepared with pepper, garlic, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, cabbage, spinach, dried beans, and zucchini. Other prevalent ingredients are milk, plums, fresh beans, cream, and paprika. The fact remains that the cuisine here has a mix of eastern and western influences. Here, you will see links with Greek, Turkish, and some other Mediterranean and Ottoman cuisines. This is because of the period of 500 years when the Ottoman administration held sway here. They are also not completely divorced from the Austrian rule that happened here. This brought its central European influence to their meals. Beef and lamb dominate the meat dishes. But there are some local specials served in popular and expensive bars like EOS. They include Ajvar, Goulash, Pilav, Sarma, Dolma, Burek, and Cevapi.
Most of the wines that are enjoyed in bars like EOS are from the Herzegovina part of the country. This is where they have the enabling climate for grape farming. Some of the popular brands are the Herzegovinian Loza, apple, and plum from the north. The south has some brandy versions.
The declaration by Max Polyakov that he wanted to be a chef did not go down well with his father and mother. But the sisters loved it because it meant that he would now be in charge of the kitchen, relieving them of some of their most dreaded chores. However, they did not fail to mock him for his chosen career. When he started preparing very delicious meals for the entire family at a very young age, his father knew things were getting out of hand, and the harsh treatment doubled. This time, he was banned from entering the kitchen under the guise that it distracted him from his college education.
This was the decision that broke the camel’s back, as it made Max Polyakov indifferent to anything that was happening in their home. But, at this point, his mother was making a turnaround. She started believing that there was nothing wrong with her son’s decision. But the father did not agree with her.
Getting frustrated by the fact that even his wife was now supporting the kid, he started thinking of a more pronounced way of getting the boy to love engineering. Fortunately for him, he had a half-brother who worked in an airport in the nearby city. He felt it would be good to send Max Polyakov on holidays to their house. He wanted him to interact with his cousins, visit the airport regularly with them, listen to their career choices and possibly see the foolishness in wanting to be a chef. This was to see if he would develop the love for aviation and hatred for cooking.
After one week of staying with his uncle and being made to accompany him to work every day, Max Polyakov got tired. Meanwhile, there was no room for him to practice his passion as a lover of cooking because this was a new environment. He did not have the guts to start asking his uncle’s wife to allow him into their kitchen. He got bored after the second week, and for 2 days, he thought of what to do about it. He finally decided to escape the house and run to a local restaurant in town. There, he would take up the job of cleaning and dish-washing. He would have the chance to learn more about being a chef. He escaped on the 18th day of his stay in his uncle’s house. He left the house early on a Saturday morning when the uncle was busy taking care of the garden at the back. He got to the restaurant after a 1-hour walk and told the waiters that he was searching for a part-time job. Before the uncle and his kids started searching for Max Polyakov in the evening, he was already employed as a cleaner and dishwasher in the Jurors Restaurant downtown.
They informed his parents that he was missing and the entire family started searching for him. On the 4th day, he was found at the Jurors Restaurant. But while his father and mother were scolding him, his uncle looked at Max Polyakov and advised his parents to allow him to pursue his cherished career. This culminated in the decision to enrol him in the nearby catering school where he would learn how to be a professional chef. But the problem was that at the time, his father has developed a drinking problem. Because of this, his license had been revoked and he was no longer practising as a medical doctor. Mother was finding it difficult to support her daughters and Max Polyakov at the same time. Because of this, Max had to do some menial jobs to finance his training at the catering school.
At the Yandev Catering School, programs on offer covered food preparation and sanitation, food presentation, event planning and marketing, recipe and menu design, and kitchen organization and stocking. However, because Max Polyakov was mostly interested in cooking and food preparation, the program he chose involved nutrition science, knife skills, vegetables and fruits and meat preparation and serving. Other courses were soups and sauces, baking and desserts, international cuisine, appetizers, beverages, and restaurant operations. It was supposed to be a one year program. However, after the first 8 months, a lifetime opportunity beckoned to him. The EOS bar, which was one of the most expensive bars in the area and which Max Polyakov had been craving to work at, organized a cooking competition. They’ve been in the habit of putting this together whenever they wanted to pick new chefs. Although the EOS bar competition was meant for practising chefs, Max Polyakov applied and participated. It involved a cookout of many dishes to be tasted and rated by professionals. After the competition, Max came second and received an award and monetary compensation. When he was told to present his CV for onward job consideration, he explained that he was still in the catering school. Fascinated by this, the EOS bar employed him as an intern, waiting for when he finishes his studies.