What inspired you to become a chef? How did you start out? It happened by accident. I had to choose between catering and IT, and I picked the first one. Mind you, I nearly gave up because of some horrible kitchens I worked in. Then I watched a cartoon called Ratatouille which I loved and it brought back my passion for learning and cooking. Then I went back to the beginning, to learning, and I got the chance to train, to work for the Portuguese ambassador… And that’s how it started.
What are you like in the kitchen: strict, argumentative, easy-going? Food has it’s rules, its standards, and I think there is no compromise, and I think my approach to food and to the kitchen is the same. You have to have passion in the kitchen, to be a whole person.
Do Croatians know their food? I think they do, thanks to our traditions, to the food which we’ve had for generations. Americans, for example, are just discovering some refinements which we’ve always had. Perhaps they have a breadth of perspective and a great range of ingredients, but we know how to make something out of nothing.
Is it true in your line of work that the customer is always right? Have you had any unusual requests from your guests? Yes, it is true. Even when they are wrong, they are right. There are always strange requests, a recent one being scampi with mayonnaise!
Can you trust a skinny chef? Ha ha (laughs). Of course you can. It’s all about your mentality. When I hear people say that they’re usually wrong.
What is your philosophy of food? What is your favourite ingredient? And how about GMO? No GMO, nothing frozen. You have to respect your ingredients, their seasonality and the region they come from. Don’t change their basic characteristics, their essence. My favourite ingredient is definitely butter, it has such a great texture, you can do so much with it. I used to make old-fashioned butter with my parents when I was small.
What do you like to eat? Sweet or savoury? What region does your favourite food come? Where did you eat best in Croatia? I like sweet stuff Or, let’s say, 50:50. From the Samobor region where I come from I love young cheese and sour cream, and for something light and Mediterranean I’d choose a lemon tart. The best food I ever ate was fried small fish on the Split marketplace, and a big stew on Samobor’s market.
Do you cook at home? No. My mother and grandmother take over.
Are there any old Zagreb recipes you can recommend? Can you suggest something our readers should try? A real Zagreb schnitzel, which must be pork fried in butter. There’s always been the spirit of old Austria-Hungary here, and we should respect that tradition in a good way. These are classic dishes. I remember how my grandfather used to go for lunch, he’d eat a Zagreb schnitzel with a white wine spritzer, or a tripe soup with home-made dumplings. Zagreb has a great advantage as it has places like Samobor, Turopolje and Bistra nearby where there are excellent ingredients.
Christmas is coming and thoughts turn to special food. What do you like to eat in the holiday season? The classic sweet dish “kremšnite”, all the way to the end of December. A really good one, chilled and without whipped cream.
And finally, do you have any advice for young folks who’d like to cook? Learn about plants, learn about local ingredients, herbs and spices… Learn to work with farmers and local producers.