Hobby turned into business – a pilaf revolution in Lithuania
Born in Visaginas, living in Vilnius, yet mainly being in the Middle East with his thoughts and heart. He is Pavel Kolesnik, the director and the main chef of the company Plovo meistrai.
His passion for this region was born of love for the national culinary heritage. Pavel tells his story of turning his hobby into a business that does not leave anyone indifferent.
How and why has pilaf appeared in your life? Why has the Uzbek cuisine attracted you?
Everything started many years ago – my father made pilaf and I have gradually taken over the initiative. In the beginning I was more an amateur, yet long practice, the literature I read and consultations with well-known chefs helped me master my skills. I started cooking pilaf not only for myself and my family, but also for my friends at their parties and birthdays. Frankly speaking, the Uzbek cuisine attracted me because of a challenge – cooking takes at least several hours, and the whole process requires attention. But it seems that I managed to take up this challenge.
When did you feel that the activity you like is transforming into a job?
Maybe several years ago, when I started receiving more orders. People started inviting me to private celebrations: pilaf cooking became popular at weddings, birthday parties and even christening occasions. I saw that not only people like my food, but I also cope well with larger orders. Shortly after an e-shop complemented my organised mobile events. I decided to trade in spice mixes created by me, as well as other items typical of the Uzbek cuisine: Uzbek hand made legan plates, cast iron polished kazans and their accessories.
Do you miss high quality spices in Lithuania?
If talking about pilaf, then yes. There is more than one aspect that is important for pilaf cooking: it required good meat and rice, but also spices, in particular cumin with barberries which play first fiddle. It took long for me to create recipes to make this pilaf cooked under home conditions as close to the real pilaf taste as possible. There are few people in Lithuania who have tasted good pilaf – this dish is more associated with a rice porridge with added meat and tomato sauce cooked in a canteen.
So all you activities are covered by your company Plovo meistrai?
Although I have been cooking pilaf in various events for quite a long time, I established the company Plovo meistrai a couple of months ago. The number of orders is growing, and the e-shop business has also gained momentum. I plan to open a physical store in the future. So far I am working alone – I am both the director and the chef, but I don’t reject an opportunity to increase my team in the future.
What are the major challenges you face in business? Do you feel competition?
I could not say that I feel competition – there are not many persons who are so deeply involved in the Uzbek cuisine and provide mobile services. The only problem I have so far faced is accessibility. When you are a small company and work alone, people kind of don’t trust you and fear that you will not cope with the amount of food, although I can perfectly handle a celebration with 100 guests.
What other skills does your job require, in addition to excellent cooking?
When I come to the event I never put any partition between myself and the guests. Cooking takes time – around 4–6 hours – so many people approach me to talk or just out of curiosity. If they want, I even allow them to cut carrots or help me in some other way. Yet there hasn’t been an event in which I could have done without at least a small lecture about pilaf – I tell them everything I know, share all the nuances and we have a discussion. There is quite a big volume of direct communication in this job.
What event do you personally love most?
Frankly speaking, I love christening ceremonies. I have noticed that children almost always eat more than adults, which surprises even their mothers. But actually all events are fun if they are organised outdoors, because this cuisine loves fire. Besides, sometimes it is nice to cook not only pilaf, but also soup or stew, to grill shashlik and lula-kebab or other meals prepared on fire.
You have recently joined the Swedbank project “Everyone Can Be Big”. What are your expectations?
When I received an invitation to join this project I had no doubts at all. I think that small businesses need any kind of assistance and support. I believe that participating in this project will enhance my visibility – everyone dreams of becoming big one day and show to other something different in their steady life.