A young chef in Baku turns his flat into a restaurant
Yagub Zeynalzade‘s home restaurant
Yagub Zeynalzade is a 26-year-old chef. He received his culinary training in Croatia and Italy. For some time he worked as a cook at an Italian restaurant, but then he returned to his homeland. Now he has turned his flat in the center of Baku into a restaurant and runs his own business. He lives and receives his patrons in a flat consisting of one room and an attic.
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Cooking gift from grandma
“This is from my grandmother. She raised me and she always worked. Not so long ago I realized that cooking is ingrained in me. My grandmother’s influence is indelible.”
Yagub grew up in Ganja, but spent summers with his grandmother in Dashkesan.
He says that life Dashkesan, where he enjoyed the endless goodies created by his grandmother, mostly bored him. He decided to move away from this comfort zone and live on his own, to understand what he himself is capable of without anyone’s help. He moved to Baku and began his solo life.
“I moved to the city center with a friend; we rented an apartment. I wanted my office and home to be here. At that time I was a very religious person. Radical and incompatible with almost everyone; isolated and asocial. I had a very narrow circle of friends around me.”
Eventually he left the apartment and his friend.
“During that move, I studied at a madrasah. This education had a profound effect on me. After knowing religion, I in a sense knew my truth. This calmed me down and I began to explore other areas. I wanted to meet new people.”
Yagub had seven jobs in different areas at once, just to repay debts:
“The reason for this was the desire to earn money and repay debts. Later I realized that I wanted to start my own business. This is how my project started, which I called Projekt Flat.
Projekt Flat or free space
“It took me two months to pack my things and settle in this little house.. Gradually I devoted myself to this space.
“I had to start somewhere. I had only 40 manats [about $25] and started Projekt Flat that day. I kept half of that amount for myself, bought sweets with the other half, made tea, and invited guests. This was my first event. Music, entertainment. So far there have been no problems with the neighbors,” Yagub says.
He says the goal of the project was to create a network of people through events.
“I got to know them, and they got to know each other. I decided to invite people who would inspire each other. It is both a business and a social project.
“Although there was no significant income, I earned people. And I, who did not know anyone here, gradually began to have a circle.”
Yagub calls this space, which he turned into a restaurant, also a “free space” – a place where young people gather, eat food that they cook themselves, act freely.
Yagub says that Projekt Flat is not only a restaurant and a home, it is part of a long chain.
“There is potential in regions and villages, and I try to find it. Either call or visit directly. Some of the products there are not widely known here. I buy them, cook food from them, and try to present them to people.
“When I talked to locals in the villages about agritourism, the Swiss model, etc., it sounded like a fairy tale to them. They are not interested in unattainable prospects, but help here and there. So I bought their products.”
At first Yagub did this out of personal interests. When he traveled around the regions on business trips, he bought interesting products and brought them with him to Baku. He prepared unknown dishes and treated his friends, who would then discuss these new culinary experiences.
“Of course I wanted to turn this process into money. To continue this work, which I enjoy, and to make this work profitable. So I buy these products, put them on the menu, and sell them. So I help those out in the country by purchasing their products, and I offer people new tastes, I tell them the history of these dishes.”
Food is chosen not by the patron, but by the chef
Projekt Flat, Yagub Zeynalzade’s home restaurant, attracts customers mainly through its Instagram page.
“They write, they are interested. Small businesses are in trouble. We’re still laying the foundation, it’s all new, and a new concept is always hard to come by.
“It’s also difficult because of the lack of a stable salary. It happens that every day there are guests for a whole week, and sometimes they are absent for ten days.”
Yagub says that in this concept, the food is not prepared according to the customer’s choice. The customer trusts the chef and has no doubts about his choice:
“Because I myself decide what will be served to customers. Of course, in order to satisfy the client.”
Small place, many functions
The functions of Yagub Zeynalzade’s home restaurant are not limited to the flat and restaurant. It’s also a studio. Photo and video shoots are done here, and content is created for various culinary platforms.
“Over time we attracted volunteers. They are learning cooking here. Two of them are already working with us. But this is an unusual place to work. My goal in creating this space was to pass on my culinary knowledge to others. Besides me, there are four girls with culinary education. One has already completed the program and is now teaching three more girls.”
In this house-restaurant, Yagub also exhibits products prepared by the youth to support them. In different corners of the flat you can see crafts, products made at home.
“In recent days interesting things have been happening. Friends have brought tomatoes, peppers, eggplants from their garden plots, another brings grapes. It’s nice that we are already known. There is always fresh local produce. Sometimes someone brings food they prepared, we try it together, express our opinions.
“This is a first of its kind concept and my expectations are high. I believe that in the future I will become even more productive,” Yagub asserts.