Born in 1987 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Completed his studies at a vocational school there, and then learned to be a cook at the Avantgarde Study Center. Considers Italian Marco Zampieri from Cantinetta Antinori his mentor. First headed a kitchen at the age of 22. Ilya has worked at Cantinetta Antinori, Door 19, Community, 15 Kitchen + Bar. Apprenticed in South Africa with Liam Tomlin.

My true mentor was Marco Zampieri at Cantinetta Antinori. By that time, I had already worked for three years in some restaurants outside of Moscow, I was already a sous-chef, but I realized that it wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to grow professionally. The regional establishments with identical kitchens were bugging me, and when I walked around downtown Moscow, I saw restaurants that were different, and knew that I wanted to work there. Antinori was one of the restaurants that I looked at, and when I found myself there, I knew that dreams do come true. On the very first day at Antinori’s kitchen, I realized that I have a long way to grow. Marco directed me very gently, gave me tips on the right techniques, taught me about the value of the products and to treat this profession seriously. I still consider him my teacher and today I teach the guys using the same old system that he showed to me. I had worked at Cantinetta Antinori for three and a half years, moving through all the positions. I even worked in the pastry shop for over a year. In the pastry shop, you work with the girls, and the other guys couldn’t survive more than a month there, but I survived for a year and a half, because I wanted to learn everything there, to understand things. After Cantinetta Antinori I was invited as the chef of a new posh restaurant at Novy Arbat. I was 22, but I was very ambitious. Obviously, I took some serious knocks during that first year, but thanks to that experience, I learned a lot about restaurant management. By the time I ended up at Cape, I had worked with all kinds of food, from French to Chinese. But Italy remained my specialization. As for the Japanese food, I like to eat it, but I don’t find it interesting to cook. Before the pandemic, when I was still working at Community with Giacomo Lombardi, I inherited a giant stash of some unbelievable (and expensive!) Japanese groceries from the previous chef. I tested myself on these products, tried out the Japanese cuisine, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. The food that I make at Cape is very soulful. It’s the cuisine of travels that combines different tastes of the world. Here, you can have some classical dishes, or try a gastronomic tasting menu, try some overseas spices that you won’t find anywhere else. Some things, like curry leaves, we have to bring from our travels. Some things we make here, for example, ras el hanout: it’s a Moroccan seasoning that’s made of 16 different spices. Cape was initially supposed to be the Moscow restaurant of Cape Town chef Liam Tomlin. My job was to select the best dishes from the menus of his restaurants and bring them to Moscow. But when we tried to recreate all of this in Moscow, we had to contend with the differences in tastes, that some things just wouldn’t be appreciated by our guests. For example, in Africa, they can put 10 grams of chili in one dish — there, that’s cool. And in Moscow that just wouldn’t go down. Ten grams of chili is just too much. And so, I had to test all of this, to try out all these spices, all these tastes. And then I had to get feedback from our guests. Some of the interesting things that we saw in Africa — for example, anchovies with jamon and olives — had to be changed, something else created in their place. I spent my childhood in Almaty, and all this spiciness, all of these sour, bitter tastes — it must have taken root in me while I was in Kazakhstan. When we went with my mom to the market, I always asked her to buy me these small steamed dumplings that they sold there. There were 20 stalls with food, and there was one Korean woman among them — we only went to her. I still remember this woman who captivated me with Korean food. At Cape, I created a taco with duck confit and kimchi cabbage — and this kimchi there is from my childhood. Or take beshbarmak (boiled mutton with noodles), which I love. It would be pointless to serve it at Cape. But I came up with Italian fazzoletti with pulled beef. This dish is somewhat reminiscent of beshbarmak, but without the broth and with Italian pasta in place of noodles. Right now, I’m developing my personal tasting menu for Cape. Its theme is a secret for now. But I can say that I’m building it from discrete memories of places I’ve been to, things I’ve seen, things I’ve tasted, things I’ve encountered, and how it all came about.

Guide restaurants with Ilya Pampukha participation