Cooking is all about passion. Live for the kitchen and the kitchen will live for you. We caught up with one young chef in Dubrovnik who has passion running through his veins. Spasel Krešić has had a diverse career so far, from sushi to fine dining, from hotels to restaurants, from Dubrovnik to Zagreb. And all along the way he has gained invaluable experience, and he has brought all this to the stunning Dubrovnik restaurant, Bistro Tavulin. “Cooking is not only a profession but also a hobby, a way of life,” explained chef.
How would you describe you style? Are you a traditionalist, a fusionist or a modern lover?
My cooking style would probably be best described as a “freestyle.” For example, I often change the look of the meal on the plate each time I serve it. Even though the ingredients and preparation stay the same it’s nice to be able to use some creativity with each different plate. The taste remains the same but the look is different. So I would say that I have a freestyle, or a flexible style. I wouldn’t say that I am fixed with any one style, but instead try to take the best from all of them. Of course I have a Mediterranean background in the kitchen, and this dictates the ingredients that I concentrate on. Focusing on locally grown and produced ingredients that are grown without any chemicals. Making the most of what Mother Nature offers us here in Croatia, and on the Adriatic. And let’s be honest Mother Nature has been very kind to us in this part of the world.
When did you first become interested in food and cooking? Did you watch your mother as a child?
Ha-ha….yes as a child I remember watching my mother prepare the family lunch. One thing that I remember to this day is at school the teacher asked the class “what would you like to study after school?” Most of my classmates answered they wanted to go to economic university or business university. I stood up and answered “I want to be a chef!” In fact, my mother is also a cook, so you could say that I picked a lot of ideas up from her. I honestly don’t know what else I would like to do in life, for me cooking and food are more than a profession.
Who cooks at home?
Mostly I do, but my wife is learning how to cook. I must say that she is really a great cook already. But when I go home to my parents my mother still cooks for me. Mother’s cooking is always mother’s cooking.
Where and how do you get inspiration for new dishes and new meals?
Mostly at home to be honest. Strangely enough after a long day in the restaurant, especially during the summer months, you would think that after I come home I would switch off and relax. The opposite is the case. I get home and think about new ideas, new ingredients that I could try and different ways of recreating something that I already have on the menu. Like I said cooking is not only a profession but also a hobby, a way of life. Of course also when I go to other restaurants I am curious to taste something new. I try not to be too much of a critic, which is always hard, but take the positives out of every dish.
Who are you cooking idols? Do you watch the numerous cooking shows on TV?
Of course I would have to put my mother in the first position. I have to admit I love watching Gordon Ramsay, he has some brought new life into traditional dishes. I also learnt a lot from my first head chef, Steven Peters, who taught me not only the skills needed to prepare a dish but also the tools to run a kitchen. We have regular meetings in the kitchen to make sure that everyone is “reading from the same page.” What happens at home stays at home, but in my kitchen you need to have a smile on your face and be prepared to work.
What is your favourite meal?
The first meal that I ever prepared “solo” was pasta carbonara, so that would be somewhere on the list. I would probably say another pasta dish – pasta pomodoro. Fresh cherry tomatoes, olive oil, homemade pasta…perfect.
Is Croatian cuisine underrated on a global level? Spanish and Italian cuisines are dominating in Europe, so is there space for Croatia?
I don’t think that our cuisine is underrated at all. Maybe before twenty years Croatian cuisine was seen as poor, but over time the interest from the world, and from leading chefs has increased. A lot has been done over the past two decades to improve the dishes on offer. We have everything on our doorstep. Incredible nature and natural products, from herbs to vegetables, and the crystal clear Adriatic Sea. All we needed to do was learn how to use these tools in front of us. In my opinion we are now up to a world standard, in general the level of restaurants has improved and at Bistro Tavulin we are proud to be included in the Michelin Guide for the past two years.
How difficult is it to find good quality ingredients?
Of course this depends on the concept of the restaurant and what you plan to offer on the menu. If you want to have the best smoked salmon, then you’ll have to go to Scandinavia. As we only use ingredients that are locally sourced we don’t have such a huge problem. As I said before use what Mother Nature has already provided and you’ll be fine. I really concentrate on using home-grown ingredients, for example we make our soups the old-fashioned way and not by using any artificial additives. Seafood comes directly from the Dubrovnik Adriatic. If you give to nature, then nature will give back to you. I can see this in the feedback from guests, and after all the highest compliment for me is a happy, smiling guest.