Czech chef checks into a happening city

Nie Xin
The restaurant where Michal Radek works, Krajánek Czech Brewery, features Czech and European cuisine. It is the first and only Czech restaurant with a brewery in Shanghai.
Nie Xin
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Chef Michal Radek at Krajánek Czech Brewery

Every day, Michal Radek rides a scooter from his home in Shanghai to the restaurant where he has worked for the past three years. It only takes a couple of minutes, but he loves the view along the waterfront, which is maybe why the 35-year-old Czech chef has decided to stay here.

“It’s a very pleasant thing to ride a bicycle along the riverside to work, no matter how busy the traffic is in this city,” Radek says.

“At the first glance, Shanghai’s traffic looks dangerous and chaotic, but after a very short time I got used to it — surprised to see Shanghai transport so fast and efficient,” Radek says of his first impression of the city. He uses the word “unbelievable” to describe this city. His hometown of Prague has a population of just over 1 million.

“I don’t think I have ever seen a building or bridge built as fast as here in China,” he adds. “I was also surprised to see how many multinational corporations are based here. Shanghai is just a multicultural center and a happening city!”

The restaurant where Radek works — Krajánek Czech Brewery — features Czech and European cuisine, and is the first and still the only Czech restaurant with a brewery in Shanghai. It boasts an authentic Czech atmosphere, even the wooden chairs are from the Czech Republic.

The restaurant is in a commercial building on the Huangpu riverside in the West Bund in Xuhui District.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Radek works with a Chinese colleague in the kitchen.

Radek’s daily routine starts with paperwork before stepping into the kitchen and heading his team of eight Chinese chefs. The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner at the weekend.

The restaurant opened at the beginning of 2015 and Radek was soon invited to join by one of the Chinese owners of the restaurant. He had been living in the Czech Republic for almost 30 years and Radek was a family friend. 

Before the job offer, Radek had been in the food and beverage industry for almost 20 years, with plenty of overseas experience — from hotels and restaurants in Australia, a Michelin-starred restaurant in England and throughout Europe with several catering companies.

“Let me show you those facilities, huge machines for the fresh beer making,” he says as he points out the beers on offer in the restaurant.

“This is my baby,” he laughs.

The restaurant brews three types of their own beers and they also import Pilsner Urguell, the world’s first blond or pale lager. 

“Some customers come especially for the beer and enjoying live music and sometimes a Czech movie we play here,” Radek says.

A year ago his wife Zdenička gave birth to baby boy Antonín. And at the end of the year they are expecting another one — his name will be Hugo. 

But it wasn’t easy at first. “The main challenge for me was communication,” he says. “Chinese is very difficult and it’s a slow learning process for me,” Radek recalls.

When he injured his finger at work, “it was even impossible to tell the people in pharmacy that I would like to buy a plaster.”

Radek admits Chinese is difficult, but it has never stopped him talking with local customers with his basic Chinese.

He enjoys stepping out of the kitchen and asking his customers in Chinese for their feedback.

Eighty percent of the visitors to the restaurant are Chinese locals. Radek considers his mission is not merely to be a chef, but also enable locals to learn more about Czech’s cuisine and culture.

“Most Famous Czech Food — Beef in Cream Sauce with Bread Dumpling” — as it’s written on the menu — is one of the dishes he recommends, together with other Czech dishes such as roasted pork knee, crispy bread and kulajda, a mushroom soup.

Adjusted to suit local tastes, he also cut the deep fried cheese stick, usually a big portion, into six smaller pieces.

“Chinese people are used to sharing dishes, and this will make the sharing easier. I also added more vegetables as side dishes for meats, which seems more welcomed here.”

Although Radek says his ideal place to live is a quiet village rather than a city like Shanghai or Prague, he enjoys his life here and is excited about the future.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Shanghai, do as the Shanghainese do,” he says.

The Czech community in Shanghai is getting bigger and the Czech and Slovak community in Shanghai hosts many events where Chinese and Czech cultures meet.

“The life in Shanghai seems not lonely at all,” he said.

Ti Gong

Michal Radek and his wife Zdenička at the West Bund

Q: How do you define a good chef, and what do you enjoy most as a chef?

A: Think like a scientist, count like an accountant, motivate like a coach, move fast like a sprinter, arrange like an artist, and cook like a grandma — this is what I think is a good chef. The best thing about this profession is praise from a fully fed and happy customer.

Q: Have you visited any other cities in China?

A: China is a very beautiful and big country and it would be a shame if I would not have a chance to look around.

I got to visit a few cities around Shanghai such as Suzhou, Wuxi and Jiaxing. And also I was several times in Beijing and of course while there visited the Great Wall. This is for Czech people a mystical landmark. To see the Great Wall was one of the most beautiful moments in my life.

Q: Have you made any Chinese friends? What is your impression of local people?

A: A lot of Chinese customers come to our restaurant and many are becoming my friends. I have also gotten to know lots of neighbors around where I live.

Some Chinese people do not show their emotions when they are in public. Sometimes they seem cold, but it only takes a few words of my bad Chinese for us to be smiling at each other like old friends.

Q: What would you want Chinese people to know about your country?

A: Most Chinese people know very little about the Czech Republic, therefore I am glad for our restaurant, where everyone can get to know our culture. I would be glad if Chinese people would know that the Czech Republic is a small country in the middle of Europe with beautiful architecture, delicious food and tasty beer.

Q: What’s your plan for the future?

A: My current life revolves around my family and the restaurant. I hope for a long and happy life with my wife, our children and to satisfy my customers through my efforts in this profession.

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