“I know exactly what I’m cooking. It’ll be something on the chilli,” Vojta Václavík of the popular Kro Kitchen in Vinohrady tells me over the phone. Why peppers? I discover it when we are sitting in a nice modern bistro, which Vojta opened with his friend Petr Němec relatively recently.
“It will be three years, we will have an anniversary in a few days,” Vojta explains from the open kitchen of a small bistro, which has quickly gained popularity with the savvy clientele of Jiřího z Poděbrad Square. Within three years, a bakery with a cafe next door and, more recently, a branch in Karlín were added. Such a speed indicates that Kro is obviously liked by the locals.
But back to the meat with paprika. “I grew up partly with my grandmother and my grandfather. Mom was alone for two boys and there was not much time left to cook. On the other hand, my grandmother’s was a joy and a day And I think that’s also why I finally went to gastronomy,” Vojta explains during the afternoon break.
“Well, my second grandmother from Dvůr Králové often cooked pork on peppers, which I really liked when I was little,” he adds. And he adds crucial advice: “It was this grandmother who taught me the basic trick back then, how to put the sauce on so that it was just right – a little sweet and a little sour. The trick involves mixing whipped cream with sour cream.
But Vojta’s path to fine dining hasn’t been as easy as it seems, although, as he says, he started cooking when he was ten years old. “At first I went to the store, but after a year I realized that it wouldn’t be quite for me. So I moved on to an apprentice cook. But there I had a little feeling that it was not enough for me, that I wanted to learn more about cooking and ideally learn the business side of things,” he recalls.
We therefore added a superstructure and then an antenna to the University of Agriculture. “But even there, I did a bachelor’s degree in eating habits in the Czech Republic, I just couldn’t avoid that meal,” laughs Vojta.
One of the first after-school food stalls for him was Sansho in Prague. There he tried his hand at “snout to tail” cooking, i.e. cooking parts of the otherwise unpopular animal, which has gained considerable popularity in recent years, thanks to pressure to consume less.
“But Czechia was a bit small for me. I wanted to gain experience abroad,” Vojta continues. In the end, it was not London that attracted him the most, but Norway.
In 2014, his girlfriend persuaded him to try the place in Britain in Oslo. He was lucky. Here he was chosen to join the team by chef Bjørn Svensson, one of Norway’s most famous chefs. The experience was very complex for Vojta.
“I was just happy for that. Bjørn is a restless talent who opens up one concept after another. And as soon as he opens his restaurant gets a Michelin star,” says Vojta describing his experience at the stranger. And he adds that this room also had a second tent.
“He was a very cool guy outside of work. Unfortunately, at work he often turned into an angry pedant who likes to roar in the kitchen. Not only did I acquire my love of herbs and fermenting vegetables thanks to that experience, but I also swore that if I ever had my own business, I would definitely not be that type of chef.”
After a few years in Norway and further internships in Denmark and Sweden, however, Vojta decided to move back to Prague in 2017. They were expecting their first child with their girlfriend, so it was a logical step for them.
“I went to the Herget brickyard as a chef, although I had considered this step for a long time. The company did not have the best reputation at the time, but I finally met a number of friends. A few of them work with me in Kro now,” Vojta explains. But it wasn’t all rosy.
“In the end, I stayed there for more than two years and it was a great experience, but I also experienced the typical of the 90s, in particular the mistreatment of the staff, which did not exist in Norway”, s’ he amused.
By then, however, Vojta already knew it was high time to seek something of his own. And a small business on Jiřího z Poděbrad caught his eye. “Jiřák was only one of the options, but in the end we were convinced by the local vibe. I’m from Strašnice, so I liked going here to the farmers’ markets. In the end, we went there and we had also adapted the whole concept to this small space. The place is just big for an informal bistro. »
Václavík remembered the atypical rotisserie from Norway, where pork’s knees were grilled, so he incorporated that into Kro as well.
“My idea was to cook relatively simple comfort food, but we’re going to promote it a bit so it’s not standard fast food, like pickled vegetables and herbs, which is probably the main thing. I learned in Norway. Ordinary skinned chicken takes on a much bigger twist when you add grilled vegetables, kimchi and soy sauce and browned butter.”
The proof that his concept works is not only the three popular branches, but also the fact that even during a short break between lunch and dinner, many people take the bistro closed by a handful, but they have to turn around with disappointment and come later.
And where does Vojta like to go when he’s not working? “There is an excellent bistro Mistro on Moskevská in Vršovice and I’m happy to go see the boys in the pub too. They have delicious Japanese food in Yamato and El Camino it will never disappoint either,” he calculates.
But he is just as content at home in the yard. “I have two little girls who like to play there. We grow herbs, tomatoes and cucumbers there during the season, so we have fresh vegetables at home and the children ate them.”
Even at home, the kitchen is unaffected. “But I cook in it as simply as possible and I like to make my job easier by cooking at night. It makes the meat beautifully crispy and carefree. In the evening, fry the meat briefly, then slide it into the oven ninety degrees and you won’t have to worry about it until morning.”
And stewed veal is also the basis of the recipe that Vojta Václavík prepared for Srdcovky.
“It’s a tribute to my grandmother Maruška and her pork with paprika. But I thought, why not treat yourself and cook good veal. But anyone can use chicken or pork for the same recipe. For the recipe, you can prepare the meat like I would do at home, which is to gently pull it overnight in the oven. Two different creams give the sauce exactly the sour- soft balanced, so it’s not bland. »
One-pot of veal with paprika
- 1 kg of veal (shoulder / chest / neck)
- 3 tablespoons brown butter (or lard, ghee or oil)
- 1 piece of red pepper
- 1 piece of tomato
- 1 piece of potatoes
- 2 shallots
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 1 teaspoon smoked peppers
- 1 teaspoon sweet pepper
- 100ml white wine
- 150ml stock
- 150ml 30% cream
- 100 ml sour cream 30%
- 5 balls of black pepper
- 3 pieces of new spices
- 1 bay leaf
- Rinse the meat, pat it dry with a paper towel, and season with salt and pepper on all sides. Tie the twine to a rolling pin and fry it in butter until golden brown.
- Take it out of the pan and add another tablespoon of butter, on which the diced potatoes are sautéed with peppers and chopped shallots.
- At the end, add the garlic, the tomato, the thyme and the two peppers, stir and cover with white wine, which is left to be cut in half.
- Add the broth, return the meat and cook covered in the oven for two hours at 180 degrees or slowly, about twelve hours, overnight at ninety degrees.
- Remove the meat and spices from the sauce, add the two creams, bring to a boil and stir until smooth. You can sift or leave as is. Thanks to the starch in the potatoes, the sauce will be beautifully smooth and thickened.
- Season with salt, sugar and lemon juice as needed. Cut the meat into slices, return to the sauce and serve.
Depending on your tastes, you can serve it with rice, gnocchi, potatoes, dumplings or speckles. Due to the time of year, Vojta used roasted herb dumplings with a little wild garlic oil and parsley.