There is meat and then there is meat! This is what the team of chef Pavel Straka knows the best. In Čestr, they specialise in the Czech piebald cattle and they process the meat traditionally by leaving it to mature. In Čestr, it is all about meat. You realise this as soon as you enter the doors. The logo of the company is a cow’s head and it appears in many ways in the interior – on the porcelain plates, ceiling and tiled columns. There is meat maturing in the cool room, hung from the ceiling - marked with its date of slaughter and ready to use.
Gaskin, thurl, rump, and sirloin are just some of the meat cuts you can choose for your lunch. You will find them clearly illustrated in a beautifully wrapped paper menu. Čestr is a restaurant for men and you are expected to have more than one course. You will be excited about all the courses, no matter what you order – tenderloin steak, renowned chuck meat, or lighter roasted chicken with truffle stuffing – also great with draught Pilsner. You will not regret any of your choices. Also, when you feel peckish again, there are stuffed dough buns with rum-flavoured mousse and homemade ice-lollies on sticks which can be found on the dessert menu!
Another interesting thing about Čestr is that it is located in the building of the former Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia by Karel Prager. Firstly, it may not seem like a good space for a restaurant that combines Czech classic and modern gastronomy but in fact the space and restaurant compliment each other nicely. The interior is light and simple and still keeps its atmosphere. The building, probably thanks to Čestr, finally (after many years) got rid of the aura of normalisation and became an ideal place for managers’ business meetings as well as romantic nights of Prague’s foodies.
We were surprised how many people operate in the kitchen during the day. How do you manage such a big team? Does everyone have their permanent task or does it change?
When you are surrounded by reliable people who know what to do, managing them is then easy. Every team member has their section but the most important thing is cooperation. To make it work, they have to be able to help and support each other.
How long have you been a chef in Čestr? Where did you get experience before?
I used to be a part-timer at Hotel InterContinental Prague for two years and stayed there on a placement, too. I worked at the Radisson hotel for a year and I am grateful for the experience. Then I wanted to leave the hotel environment and find myself a job in a restaurant. I started at Ambiente in the Mánesova Street where I worked as a cook for 5 years. I started at Čestr as a cook, then I became a deputy chef and now I have been working as head chef for almost 2 years.
Along with a menu, customers get an illustration of a cow with a description of its body parts that you can prepare steak from. What part do you recommend and why?
I personally prefer a great sirloin of heifer. The meat is juicy, tender and of great taste. Heifer meat has a higher degree of marbling and that’s why it’s better and tenderer. Then I also like chuck grilled together with a bone, which adds an extra and interesting taste. The whole back matures hung for 50-60 days. This process is called dry maturing. We also bake Prime Rib from sirloin. It is part of sirloin baked on the whole on a low temperate of 58 degrees for 16 hours with rosemary, Dijon mustard, and butter. It is truly delicious!
Where does the meat you have here in Čestr come from? Do you personally search for the best farms?
We do look for the farms ourselves. We have different distributers for different meat and the same goes for other ingredients. From farmers we get everything from vegetables, fruit, eggs, to oils. When it comes to beef, the Amaso company inspects the quality of meat for us. The studs come from Litoměřice, Mžany, and Zbyroh, vegetables are distributed by the family farm Pesema in Semice, fish are from the South of the Czech Republic from the Pstruhařské mlýny farm, eggs from Mr. Matoušek from Čerčany, chicken from Mr. Martínek from České Meziříčí, cottage cheese from the Bio Vavřinec Eco farm. Cheese comes from the Mr. Kolman’s the Krasolesí farm in Vysočina, who you can meet at the markets at the Jiří z Poděbrad Square and by the river at Náplavka. We strive to get more distributors like these who can guarantee the quality of their ingredients. Then we share the tips throughout Ambiente.
Even though Čestr is all about meat, you are popular for delicious desserts too. How is your menu created and how often do you update it?
We have two amazing confectioners and Lukáš Pohl helps us too. The whole team is involved in creating our menu. Every time we have an idea for a new recipe, we try and improve it for as long as it takes until it’s perfect. We get other people from Ambiente, including Honza Všetečka and Honza Šavel who are in charge of all Ambiente restaurants, to advise us. The main element is an ingredient of high quality and the right technological procedure. A single step done differently will influence the result. We change our main menu and dessert menu according to the season and what ingredients are available. For example, it is necessary to put something lighter in summer on both menus.
Čestr is located in the building of the former Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia by Karel Prager. The building is perceived differently amongst people – admired by some and damn by others. How do you perceive it?
I don’t like the appearance of the building very much but there is a lot of space outside in front of it and we use it as a summer terrace. It is ideal for summer barbecue! The other advantage is that the interior is very light thanks to the glass building.
(Pavel Straka, chef at Čestr)