A dream that has been with me for a long time, a vision I will never stop fighting for: To open a restaurant with only deaf chefs, in London. A vision that gives the guests the chance to experience a different kind of world, where silence is golden.
An experience where you can rest your hearing, and focus on the senses actually involved in tasting the food. An experience where you'll only communicate with sign language or text.
So while you're enjoying your meal, I want to share the feeling of just what silence may bring you.
Your taste, your smell, your sight, and yes, even all your other senses get heightened.
This will allow you to get a chance to understand our gift, a deaf chef's unique sense of taste. As we lost our ability to hear, our other senses, taste, smell, and sight, have improved.
Less talk, more work done - My life has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of deaf chefs over the years.
One thing strikes me. There are so many deaf young chefs in the world who want nothing more to pursue their dreams of going professional, but the barriers we have to cross are usually far too great.
This restaurant is an opportunity for the younger generation who have dreamt of working at a restaurant. It will be an environment adapted to the reality they live in, instead of forcing them to adapt to their surroundings. But there's a lot of work left to do for me to accomplish this.
So in the meantime, I want you to share my experience in your home.
My first designed Damascus steel knives are the Seijaku Fusion Series. Seijaku is a Japanese word that means silence and calm.
Every time you pick a knife up, you'll remember why you bought it. To experience my serenity, and to share it with others.
You’re in your home, you're secure, you’re making food for yourself and the people you love, and so, when you enter that most sacred of spaces, the kitchen, to make the very thing keeping you alive, I want you to remember the word “Seijaku”.
Not only will you have a knife for a lifetime, but you also support a greater mission, to create something unique.
"Master Chef Igor's success in the restaurant industry has probably not escaped you, but how much do we really know about the person behind it all?"
ot so much, I think, as Igor Sapega is pretty secretive about himself, not showing much of his profession on social media. I am also sure that you are also very curious, so we booked a meeting with Igor.
I expected us to meet at some café in town but no, we were instead welcomed to the kitchen where he is Sous chef, at Moderna Museet. Yes, you read right, the very Moderna Museet on Skeppsholmen that 80% of your Stockholmers (including me) have never visited.
Well, photographer Michelle Malchow and I are waiting at the museum's reception when we see Igor walking towards us from the restaurant, looking like a chef at a Michelin restaurant. Even the smile made me weak, I must admit.
We greeted Igor who enthusiastically showed us around the restaurant and inside the kitchen where the magic happens.
Igor Sapega was born in St. Petersburg. At the age of two, Igor got pneumonia and was treated with antibiotics an antibiotic that caused his hearing loss. His mother discovered this as Igor no longer responded to sounds.
Igor Sapega - World Culinary 2015
Igor went to a pre-school for deaf children far away from his home, spending a couple of nights a week at the pre-school in a dormitory shared with the other children. His mother quickly realized that this situation was not sustainable for Igor, and decided to move to Sweden for a better living situation for her son.
In Sweden, Igor attended a hearing school in Heberg, Falkenberg, with hearing-impaired classmates. He did not have many deaf friends there, but everything changed quickly when Igor moved to Stockholm and began to play in the football team IK Hephata.
Out of nowhere, the Russian bear struck like a flash within the deaf world with awards in the World Culinary Cup for the Deaf Chefs
and as the goalkeeper football for the Swedish deaf national football team.
Igor Sapega had just finished his shift and showed us around the kitchen while greeting the staff who were starting the next shift. It was immediately apparent that he is very popular in the kitchen.
“Although I am hearing impaired, communication here works without any major problems. The most important thing is to explain from the beginning how you want. For example, my colleagues know that you should hit me on the back if you want to walk past behind me instead of shouting a warning, ”says Igor. "They also know that you should be near me if you talk to me, otherwise I do not answer." Hearing damage has not been a problem in the kitchen, rather the contrary.
“I have been told that my sense of taste is something special and that it must be because when the hearing mind disappears, other senses like the taste and sight are enhanced. My arrangements of food, too, tend to be more visual than others."
Igor absolutely wanted to offer us his signature dish which consisted of, among other things… fish and lobster sauce. If you know me, you know that since late childhood I do not eat anything that comes from the sea. I kindly told Igor about it and got the answer "It doesn't taste like fish!" The large kitchen table was cleared and the colorful ingredients for the signature dish were presented. Igor explained that the colors are part of his cooking: "it is important to me that you also eat with your eyes, not just with your mouth".
Igor's interest in cooking began as a child. His mother worked as a teacher in the daytime and as a nurse in the evenings to be able to provide for her children, so Igor cooked for his little brother. “I used to come home from school and open the fridge and cook based on what was in the fridge. Once, I tried to just mince minced meat, eating only salt and pepper. It actually didn't taste so stupid. Over time I developed the cooking and now I am here".
As both the business manager and the as photographer Michelle tasted the signature dish, I broke my 20 years of no-fish and tasted it. Of course, it did taste of fish, but it was an exciting combination of different flavors, and I can imagine that it is a delicacy for the fish lover.
We proceed to the large dining room where we sit down to get to know Igor.
“Being a chef is not like in the cooking shows you see on TV, it's much harder in reality."
Igor Sapega with Frantzén Group - 2015
I had a camera with me to document the interview, which was lucky because we sat and talked for over an hour as if we had known one another for years. Igor feels very genuine as a person and has a big heart, and here I am talking about humanity and not about cooking. “That's right, I think it's important for people in my presence to be happy and feel good. Unfortunately, the cooking church is very stressful and it can affect one's mood, but I always try not to let it affect me. We have to show respect for each other, we all have different personalities, ”Igor replied.
We are almost done with the interview and could not help but ask the obvious question was there something Igor would not like to have on a plate? "Fungi kingdom. All kinds of mushrooms. I ate a lot of mushrooms as a child but with age, my hatred for mushrooms has grown. I can cook mushrooms without any problems but to eat tehm ... the consistency ... no ”. Nice to know, master chef, and you are not alone in your opinion.
I end the interview by asking Igor if he has any tips for our members who are curious about the chef profession or any other profession that you think you cannot do just because you are deaf.
"Use common sense...
Do not give up & believe in yourself,
all the way"
I and photographer Michelle wished Igor good luck with the move and thanked him for his time and he replied that the pleasure was completely on his side. We say goodbye to each other and on the bus back home I could not help but think of the interview and of Igor himself.
It is amazing what success Igor has made at such a young age while having the heart in the right place it is such a unique and fantastic trait. Imagine if more people could be like Igor.
Editor and layout:
Michelle Malchow and Florian Tirnovan
Publisher: Florian Tirnovan
"First you work on cutting vegetables until the manager sees that you are fast enough with the knife, then you have to advance upwards,” says Igor. It makes me wonder whether, throughout his career, Igor had ever thought about giving up. “Yes, a lot of times. But I've always thought that you should never give up on your dreams, even if the road is tough"
We talk further and I find out, among other things, that Igor worked in the United States, more specifically Texas where he cooked for children at a summer camp. Igor also told me of one time when he happened to forget about ordering chicken for a serving for 400 people - "I then had to knock down to the nearest ICA store and buy chicken for 3000 SEK from my own pocket". I had to ask what he meant by his own pocket, he got paid late back afterward? “No… I was only 20 years old so I was a young and inexperienced chef, but you learn from your mistakes. The ICA staff had to get more chicken from the store for me while I waited outside in chef clothes. I didn't want the manager to know I happened to forget so he never found out, ”says Igor laughing.
In fact, at the time of the interview, it was Igor's last days of working in the kitchen at Moderna Museet before embarking on to new challenges in London, where he had been given a new job at The Ritz. It is hard not to be impressed by the success of the star chef. Igor nods: “I had made myself a name in the chef world, so they contacted me and offered me a job which was fantastic. This was a chance that you couldn't possibly refuse so it was just to pack the bag and start a new life with my wife ”.
Is Igor stuck in London for good or what do his plans for the future look like? In response to the question, I could see Igor getting excited, and his answer explained this excitement. “I had been thinking of living in London for a while, and I gained experience and not least ideas and inspiration for my own restaurant. I absolutely want my own restaurant with deaf chefs and staff. The restaurant Fredrik Gourmet & Bar in Örebro is a good development for deaf people in the restaurant industry with their own language. I treat them to every success! After all, I'm still only 28 years old and have a lot to learn. " Yes, exactly. Igor is as old as me, something I completely forgot about given the successes the gentleman has already reaped at such a young age.
DEAF CHEF - IGOR SAPEGA
"Who or what inspired him to become a chef, and when did this passion for gastronomy develop?"
Firstly, please tell our readers who or what inspired you to become a chef, and when did this passion for gastronomy develop?
I have been one of those chefs who hung out in my Grandma’s skirts from an early age during the summers at her cottage outside St. Petersburg, Russia. My grandparents had a big farm with fresh vegetables. We visited these farms and purchased local products to fill our fridges with proteins. We used to go fishing from our lake and cooked fresh fish, or air dried the fish and / or smoked the fish. It was everything from the Russian food culture that I had learnt from the beginning, and how to take care of the products in the best way possible. However, I have been sickly picky with the foods, for example, boiled duck-egg yolks on my salads.
However, recently when my hearing impairment got worse from an antibiotic which was banned in Europe 10 years earlier, my mother decided to move to Norway, which were located to a small town on Sweden’s west coast named Varberg. Then, my first experience, with a tasting of a grilled steak with french fries in the late 90’s was the life-changing moment that would forever change the way I viewed the culinary arts. I was 9 years old and daydreamed of becoming a football professional. The combination of grilled steak, crispy fries, and homemade bearnaise sauce made me think again. At least temporarily, it was quite an amazing experience for me. The tastiest I´ve ever eaten. I decided to become a chef, if the professional football plans did not work, so that I could cook that steak every day.
Since I was 12 years old, “I started studying French at primary school because that was what all the chefs talked about. However, due to my hearing impairment, my Swedish was not completely perfect, and at a meeting with the teachers, they said that I had to stop French classes and take Swedish lessons for immigrants. I, who have a stubborn streak, could not accept this.
At the gymnasium, the choice fell on Peder Skrivares Culinary School in Varberg, Sweden. I remember myself as a guy interested in sports with good grades. The winner mindset was there from the beginning, but the focus remained on the football games. During my teenage years, the only thing I wanted to do was to hang out with my friends, play football and video games.
Could you tell us about your “Stages”?
Firstly, there must be skills and talents in order to be successful.
It also takes a lot of time and humility and it is important to use common sense to create and build up a good team with positive and driven people. While I had my 2nd year of culinary school done, during the summer, I went to Texas, USA to work as a chef, at the age of eighteen, the youngest in kitchen, which became
the breeding ground for me, and who could barely distinguish between tarragon and parsley. In the kitchen, I obtained an outlet for both my creativity and competitive instinct. Working there was the closest I had come to a professional football match off the field. The feeling in a dressing room ten minutes before kick-off is not different from that in a kitchen, ten minutes before opening. You are in a room full of hyper-serious people with high expectations of themselves, where victory is the only thing that counts. There is a sentiment in it, as “we against them” feeling cool. When I know it will be action.
"I usually got away with scratch and verbal threats. Except on one occasion. If I roll up the shirt sleeve to show the scar from the heated spatula that goes straight over the forearm."
A punishment because I was up a few seconds late with a fish from the frying pan because of the communication fault. When I tell people, I always get the same reaction: “How could you stand it?” and “Why did you not strike back?” It is hard for people who were not there to understand. However, with a seasoned CV and a 4-month low-paid chef job in USA, I returned to Sweden to finish my graduation with one year left. I also got a job doing extra nights at Varberg’s finest hotel with a restaurant.
After reading many of your articles and emails, I have seen that a hearing impairment has never deterred you from following your dreams. Tell us, what has been the most challenging and how have you compensated for this?
The restaurants in Stockholm in the early 2010s were like any sect. In the beginning, before Guide Michelin put Sweden on their culinary map, physical and mental abuse were normal and accepted at all levels. It was not until 2016, that this behaviour was seen in a new light, and that I reacted to how sick everything was. With my disability, my hearing impairment, I have received so much discrimination and had been so depressed, and they even told me to start working at McDonalds as it suited me best there. In retrospect, of course, there were millions of reasons to throw in the towel and move back home to the Swedish Westcoast. However, at the same time, I learnt a lot from those years in Stockholm.
If I clean fish eighteen hours a day, six days a week, I will eventually be quite good at filleting that fish. The longer I stayed in one place, the less bullying, I encountered. For me, this was not so much about proving how good I was, but about coming out alive on the other side. Not to let myself be broken down.
The longer I stayed in one place, the less bullying I encountered. For me, this was not so much about proving how good I was, but about coming out alive on the other side. Not to let myself be broken down. It has also given me positive vibes from other chefs, that due to my hearing impairment, my other senses have been strengthened as taste, smell, feeling and the visuals on the plate.
Often, I had not eaten all day and sleep was my hardest commodity. My wife Laura who is also hearing impaired always used to wait for me when I came home so we could have dinner together. I took off my hearing aids, and in total silence and we sat there and talked in sign language. She was the one who kept me alive. We are together five years. Laura has always been the stability of my life. She is a brilliant woman who has given me perspectives that I previously lacked. Without her, my professional aspirations would not exist today. She is the one who has driven me forward, while I have worked. She has always been there if someone had to make sacrifices and has been forced to put her own dreams on pause so that we can solution and succeed together. Being with my wife and my child, who will be born in October 2021, are my top priorities, above all of my restaurant dreams. Everything must be done with a certain balance for it to work.
How do you communicate with your team in a busy working kitchen ? Do you use Sign Language?
There were always solutions, like saying “behind you” instead they had to “knock” on my back, it means I know that someone is behind me. In the beginning of my career with orders during service, I do not hear when they call four Seabass, as well as any allergies noted or meat must be in medium well as it been told, which can be a big risk
if I miss to hear those important details. I built my inward to service where I started by being responsible for all orders with easier opportunity for me to control and read out the order, than to receive and cook, which corresponds to a lot of time and mistakes.
I am positive there have been a few older wise chefs who have been responsive and tried to find the best solutions for me that it should work fluently and easier to find routines. Sometimes I teach sign language to the youngers chefs as they have more inspiration, often under stress and pressure there is no time to think about trying to communicate in sign language. The only possibility is to work together as a brigade, which is the best way with our routine.
How would you best describe the receiving of a Michelin Star? Were you utterly surprised and / or previously notified?
I’ve been in the brigade and chased a Michelin star since 2010, of course it came with some relief. A reward after ten years of hard work. But does it change anything for me personally? No. However, it changes a lot of other things, such as more attention to the restaurant and more guests to the restaurant and offers came about opening new restaurants around Stockholm. Michelin stars create security in the product and security for employees and financiers. However, I am still in the start-up phase and have not yet done a whole season on the premises, so of course, it has gone fast. And is far from finished.
From a gastronomic point of view, I have only just begun of my career. We are in a much better time now with better products to get hold of. To continue to develop and not stagnate is a responsibility that comes with Michelin stars, which must always be defended. I am not ready to move to Dubai, drive down Aston Martin and become a full time golfer really yet. Every dramaturgically correct success story has one before and one after.
Due to the present circumstances regarding Covid, what are you doing at this time, in other words, have you set up a Delivery Service and/or Take-Out Service to supply Customers with your Menus?
Due Covid-19 lockdowns, we didn’t choose to set up delivery service or take our service, as it doesn´t make a win win situation, as all chefs were sent home by the UK government.
What is your current culinary philosophy and what changes have you had to face due to the Covid Virus?
In my vision, innovative and modern, born in theory and adapted to the season. I shuffle freely in front of the computer and brainstorm ideas. I prefer more tangible experimentation in the kitchen. Once the list of ingredients has taken shape, the search for the perfect raw material begins. While other restaurateurs tie the knot to build their menus on locally grown alternatives, preferably grown in their own backyard, I look more into the contacts I have internationally such as truffles from Italy, king crabs from northern Norway and quail from France. An uncompromising pursuit of perfection, where the quality of the raw material always comes first. If the best strawberry comes from the south of France, I choose the French strawberry over the English one, every day of the week. Only taste counts for me.
After my 10 years in Stockholm, I´ve made the decision to move to a higher level of kitchen professionalism and connect with new chefs and restaurants in London, UK. That is where I got to start in a larger company with a chance for development to succeed. I got the job with the Ritz Hotel before covid-19, which has survived those two world wars, unfortunately, had to be shut down for the first time in history. To sit in the office face to face with Executive Director John Williams MBE and been told that the Ritz is closing for the first time, and the entire staff of chefs were sent home, and no one knew when London would reopen again.
I asked myself, how should I manage my rent, bills, etc. Everything was in lockdown and with my 15 years of experience. The was no other options. Meanwhile, I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to reinvent myself, both physically and mentally and have spent more time with my wife. I had seen more people starting to engage with social media as Instagram, where I started to get more connections with several hearing-impaired chefs with whom I have collaborated and also several influencers we had and created a cooking show once a month in international sign language with success. While social media and world online shopping grew as it cracked, it struck me to start designing my own knives from Seki, Japan and start with sales from my website www.igorsapega.com which have given me jobs to complete, a completely different perspective than stand in the kitchen 18 hours a day. Since then, there have been more requests from curious clients for private catering, where I have been cooking with my menu of Nordic flavours in luxurious villages in London.
When did you realise that being a professional Chef & Restaurateur was your calling?
Sometimes I was thinking, has it always been worth it to be a professional chef? There have been moments when I was wondering what the hell I am doing. At the same time, I have never really felt that there has been an alternative. I had sacrificed a lot at the age of 20 to 30 to get to where I am today.
When my friends went on a holiday to Ibiza or on a ski trip to the Alps, I was always kneeling continuously and those awful years abroad without even having to try to open my own future restaurant. I wanted to see how far I could have taken it, and it would probably have hurt terribly. That is all I can do. Four years ago, the body said stop. Two decades of stress and brutal work shifts finally took their toll. I was going to play football and was suddenly completely unable to get myself up the stairs to the changing room. There were far too many negative things happening at the same time. From quarrels with my landlord to budgets that burst. It was a useful lesson. Then I felt it was time to start making changes. I had to convince myself that I am better today than what I was before, otherwise it would not have worked. If I have worked 80-100 hours a week at great restaurants in Stockholm and London for several years, most of it looked like child’s play. I could even open my own restaurant before I turned 30, without the help of financiers and rich parents, however, this would never have happened if I didn´t experience my past behind me.
Who and or which tools have had the most inspiration on you to overcome your hearing loss in respect to the laboral path chosen?
The best tool I could not do without, are my hearing aids, as well as extra batteries included. Since I have a hearing loss in both ears, and in the middle of service if one of the batteries starts to run out, then it becomes difficult to lead the service, to run down to the locker room and recharge with a new battery.
Because I must listen and communicate and tell and advise the kitchen that “now I’m half deaf, now we have to start communicating in sign language” which does not give full capacity to chefs under stress in service.
It is constantly keeping an eye on every time, I must stick to. It takes a lot of strength to fight my disability and try to listen every time. But despite my passion for cooking, is indescribable.
If I had stayed in Russia, then I would be more discriminated against, been seen as mentally retarded, I would not have been able to learn to speak, I would have been able to work in a broken factory, to tape and past boxes and earn 50 cents per hour. In Sweden I had the opportunity to learn to speak Russian, Swedish, English and Swedish sign language.
Let us look ahead, at Post Covid, 2022. Do you have any plans that have been on hold is a “normalcy”
I expect everything to be back to normal from 2023, this will be a long recovery to rebuild the industry, even in the UK we have Brexit affecting all young Europeans, which will be difficult for us to recruit the best. It is the recruitment of staff that is the big challenge. Partly to get young people to study and apply, then get them into working life and partly to get newcomers into working life and retain them. During this summer after lockdowns in UK. I will work more intensively to be able to find the right staff and then be able to retain them. One of the clues and what our industry lacks is that we must become clear and we must become better employers.We cannot remain in the old, but we must look at the new generation and what they want and lack.
After all, they are the future and I think we have not been clear enough or careful enough before and that is something I think we should challenge ourselves with and get better at. The restaurant education that exist today can be better. However, it is the same with everything. I think it is especially important that chefs work closely together, with the basic education that is available. In this way, we create a better insight into our working lives for those students and as employers get a better insight into what we should change and not. In this way, we can more easily comment and have opinions about how we should organise and run a kitchen.
Still the industry is flourishing. In London, the restaurant and hospitality industries are slowly returning. Now it is about all restaurants being allowed to live. This means that we must have enough customer base and we must continue to be good at tourism and the whole associated part. In the future, guests will demand a remarkably high standard of clientele service.
"Too much talk in the hearing world"
Igor Sapega has self-confidence at the top but is also self-aware and grateful to Sweden and everyone who helped him against the first race successes; The teacher at the education in Varberg who saw him and supported. The Swedish Culinary team not least. - Without them I would never have finished my bronze in World Culinary Cup. As my teachers saw my drive in high school and I became a favorite.
Until 8 years ago he describes it as if he lived in the hearing world, but through football he came into he came into contact with deaf culture and he thinks that world is more open. I felt immensely welcome, it was a big embrace, says Igor.
I live in two worlds and that is positive. The deaf culture does not judge anyone, it´s welcoming, it´s nice people there not as in the hearing world, there is too much talk.
He had the desire to compete via television, when he became fascinated that food could be both beautiful and good under time pressure. - I understand that I am a born chef.
- My senses, my taste, my vision, my sense of smell so developed. I think it's because my hearing is impaired, imagination is also incredible and I´m artistic, he says.
Igor Sapega is 25 years old and was born in St. Petersburg, he was hearing impaired as a two-year-old and moved to Sweden when he was four years old. He was study in Culinary school in Varberg 2009 and booked a train ticket to Stockholm the day after exam. Once in the capital, he walked around with his CV and applied for jobs. Pretty soon he had two full-time jobs as a chef de partie.
He didn´t knew no one in Stockholm and lived in the hostel for the first 2 weeks.
We have a hope for a clear luxury segment, at the same time as we must adjust the price and meet the audience that goes out to restaurants very often. It is required that it be possible to find many different types of restaurants with many different types of specialisations and prices. Not to forget is that we should always have a backup for future recessions. This means that there are very many who are willing to invest and then there is the risk of a future over-establishment. We need to reconsider safety measures in event of another coming recession and it is important to always be on our toes and be prepared for new twists and challenges.
Interview By: Margaux Cintrano, Publisher
When interviewing him, it is hard to believe he is deaf. Hearing aids and reading on the lips make his obstacles barely noticeable. But if someone turns away, it's harder. He explains that it is easier to be a manager and to give instructions than to receive, because it is best for him to lead the communication. He knew early on that he wanted to become a chef and he got his first manager job two years ago.
When asked why he wants to compete and also wants to tell his story, he answers:
-I want to show that nothing is impossible, it is not just about deaf people, I think of everyone in the kitchen, for example, the trainees many are so scared, but you should not be, you should use your imagination and solve the problems.
He always works with talented chefs like the former workplaces such as the well-known Le Rouge, Hilton Hotel, and now at Restaurant Arken as Head Chef. Before he arrived, they had about 30 guests a day, now between 70-100 for lunches. The kitchen at "Arken" makes it possible to test ideas, where he can also work and train before and after work.
Addition to the World Cup in Copenhagen, Igor appointed as one of Scandinavia's ten young talented chefs by the Italian San pellegrino. 4000 from all over the world had applied for the competition.
Despite an exciting job offer in both Denmark and Moscow, he has decided to stay in Sweden for a few more years.
The reason Igor Sapega started competing was because he wanted to move on. He thought he was standing still and wanted to develop constantly. he wanted to compete already in high school but found no one at school to compete with Young Cooks. Of the two parallel classes that went to restaurant training, only he and one other continued in the profession. The fault in the education that he sees is that you do not work as you do in a restaurant, you cook according to recipes, the teaching is old-fashioned. There are no routines. It is enough to cook mayonnaise once, you have to do it a hundred times. He also points out that he never learned to make bread in high school.
"You have to be able to hold many balls in the air, many think it will be like home and you stand and stir in a saucepan"
Nordic Flavours by Igor Sapega
A film about gentle boy with his emotion and dreams to be a chef. Follow his footsteps into professional kitchen which became a true story.
A journey that led him meet many inspiring people. Well-known chefs have crossed path and thanks to their passion to craft exceptional food, has made Igor more encouraged to elevate his own cooking to the next level.
Inspiration and passion to cook food led him to the best chef’s around at a young age. It’s been a long way to success, while there is still barriers to overcome
The last episode. with secret of success and the key to being regarded as honorable. There is need to use common sense, and there will be the difference