Inaugural Junior MasterChef Russia winner Alexey Starostin sounds as reluctant to return to school as he is enthusiastic about cooking.
"I have to go back to school in Moscow next week. I like the teachers, but ever since I won Junior MasterChef Russia, their focus on me has changed.
"If I don't do so well in one subject, they will say, 'It's okay, you will always have your cooking,'" the 15-year-old tells The Straits Times in a mix of English and Russian, with a shrug.
It is a good thing that he is so passionate about cooking then. This interview was conducted at cooking studio CulinaryOn and the otherwise shy and polite teenager looked the most comfortable when he was working with food.
BOOK IT / FUNNY PASTA WITH MASTERCHEF JUNIOR ALEXEY STAROSTIN
WHERE: CulinaryOn, One Raffles Place, Tower 2, 04-63
WHEN: Saturday, 11am
ADMISSION: $88, from culinaryon.sg
He whips up a dish of Eggs Benedict for this reporter in 15 minutes with ease and skill. His eyes glint when he is handed a professional knife set for the photo shoot.
Later, he eagerly takes out his smartphone to show off a photograph of a sketch of his future restaurant plans.
He points to the different parts of the picture, which he drew himself, and says: "See, my restaurant will be on a boat. This part is where the guests will eat. And that part will be my kitchen. I hope I'll get to cook lots and lots of different types of fish."
He is in town for two weeks to serve an apprenticeship with chef Giuseppe D'Angelo, CulinaryOn's brand chef, who was a judge on Junior MasterChef Russia.
D'Angelo, 40, says: "From the beginning, Alex had a very good grasp and knowledge of the ingredients, and from the start, his sense of taste was also very strong. The dishes he presented were very flavourful. He is very creative in looking for different ways to solve a problem and his strong desire to understand ingredients better gives him an edge."
On Saturday, Alexey will hold a masterclass for kids, where he will teach them how to make three dishes: pizza margherita, creamy colourful pasta and a chocolate lava cake.
During his short stay in Singapore, he has tried local dishes such as chilli crab ("That's very delicious," he says) and sampled dim sum in Chinatown.
But there is one thing that he found hard to love here: durian.
"That's so awful for me," he says, grimacing. "It tastes like mango mixed with onions."
His love of cooking began at age five when he started helping his grandmother in the kitchen. Her recipes are easy for him now, he says.
"My grandmother loved having me around to help and she trusted me to do many things, even using knives. I am quite good at making her rassolnik," he says, referring to the traditional Russian soup made with pickled cucumber, carrot and beef.
"My elder brother used to help in the kitchen too, but he's lazy, unlike me," he jokes about his 19-year-old brother, who is a university student.
As for their father, who is a military man, Alexey says that he cannot be more proud.
"He is supportive in whatever I want to do and he's happy that I want to cook. Or maybe he's just happy that I can cook for the family every day."