Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.
How many times have you stood before a restaurant, looked at the awful photos of food and walked away? Yes, catching just that right photo, making that special meal look even more yummy is an art form. And we caught up with one of the best in the business as he snapped away at Sesame Restaurant in Dubrovnik. Award winning Xavier Buendia is a master at food photography.
And he has an international feel, based in Brighton in the UK, Xavier is, as he says, a beautiful mix of Mexican and Catalan. “I was raised to think of myself as a citizen of the world,” says Xavier. We caught up with him whilst he put his camera down for three seconds to find out why Dubrovnik inspires him and why food photography is an important tool for restaurants today.
How did you come into the world of photography?
From a very early age. I have always been taking photos and I always have a camera with me, but it started really as a hobby. I never really considered photography as a career. I can remember looking through pages of my grandfather’s Life magazine and Vogue being really blown away at the images. I used to be a sommelier, I did that for 15 years in fact. But I guess I had a midlife crisis and changed my career path. I really wanted to find something that made me happier. I’ve always been creative and artistic. In fact, it was my wife’s idea, she always said that I was very good with food and wine so why not combine this with my love of photography. My passion turned into my business. Like many things in life it all started with a friend who had a restaurant, I took some photos for me and then it exploded and within months I had lots of interest. Maybe I was in the right place at the right time. But you also make your own luck.
How important do you believe it is for restaurants to have good quality photos of their food?
The way you present yourself is very important. And restaurants should present their food in a way that truly represents the creative work that has gone into making the dish. It is a selling point of course. The food can be the most delicious homemade stew but if it doesn’t have the right attention to detail then it just isn’t going to succeed. One of the first lessons that I learned in the industry is that people eat with their eyes. You can have the most amazing gazpacho but if present it poorly it will just look like a tomato juice. Photos tell stories.
Everyone today is a budding photographer; everyone has a camera on their phones with enough megapixels to make a billboard advert. How has the rise of social media affected your industry?
It doesn’t affect us at all. I have seen it all before. I’ve seen owners ask their staff to take a quick photo of the meals with their smartphones. There is a very big difference between taking a photo and making a photograph. As professionals we are thinking about the light, the highlight, the background, the frame and the story we want to tell. Setting up the picture takes experience. But this takes a lot of experience.
Have you ever been to a restaurant and the food they produce for you to take images of isn’t up to standard?
Yes, it does happen sometimes. I tell them to take it back and tidy it up, or give them tips on how to make it look more presentable. I have to think firstly about my reputation and secondly that I am getting paid to do a job.
Is Dubrovnik a photographer’s dream?
Simply put yes! It is a very photogenic city, the light is changing all the time and there are interesting lines and contrasts. It has all the things that photographers are looking for. When I walk around the city I am never without my camera.
You have been fortunate to collect some recognition for your work, there are a few awards on your mantelpiece I believe?
Yes, the first award I won was back in 2016, in fact my first year working as a professional photographer. It was really a kick start for my career. I had two images selected for the finals and one got an award and the other a mention. I entered the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year awards, more out of curiosity. I believe it was pure luck but it's nice to get my work recognized.
“Excuse me could you come and remove an animal from my house,” – “Is it a cat in a tree,” – “No, two large snakes.” This could well have been the telephone conversation between the Dubrovnik Fire Brigade and a resident in Zaton.
The Dubrovnik Fire Brigade received a call on Sunday afternoon from a resident of Zaton, near Dubrovnik, who had noticed two large snakes hiding in the shade. The fire brigade sent two firefighters to deal with the slippery problem and they quickly scooped up the snakes, which weren’t poisonous, and released them into the wild away from homes.
As the summer sun pours down on the Adriatic in Dubrovnik so the number of luxury yachts dropping anchor increases. The latest mega yacht to arrive in Dubrovnik waters is the impressive 46 metres long “Lucky Me.”
If you are going to have a super yacht, then Lucky Me seem like an appropriate name. Built in 2010 this all aluminium built ship was resold back in 2016. However, the new owner’s name has never been released, and all that we could find out is that the yacht was sold by a company based in the Cayman Islands called Deep Blue Yachting and that the new owner is from the Mediterranean.
Lucky Me steamed into one of the bays of Cavtat this afternoon after coming down the Adriatic coastline. With five cabins for guests and a crew of nine there is plenty of space for passengers to spread out, either in the Jacuzzi, various sundecks or having fun with some water sports.
Lucky Me joins a long list of luxury yachts who are currently in the Dubrovnik Adriatic.
Ryanair could well add another flight to its Croatian portfolio by operating flights to the capital, Zagreb. The website EX-YU Aviation has reported that the low-cost Irish airline is looking to expand even further into the Croatian market.
Currently Ryanair flies to Zadar, Rijeka, Pula, Dubrovnik and Split and have recently commented that "Ryanair has held positive discussions with the Croatian Minister for Tourism regarding longer term traffic growth and route development at its existing Croatian airports as well as potential new airports like Zagreb." Ryanair connects Dubrovnik with Dublin and has announced that these flights will continue one week into the winter.
On an annual basis Ryanair flies around 550,000 passengers in and out of Croatia every year and has the fifth largest market share in the country, behind Croatia Airlines, EasyJet, Eurowings and Lufthansa.
It’s a traditional event and one that always brings a smile to visitors faces, the Small Festival of Folklore and Heritage was held yesterday. For the eighth year in a row that wonderful festival saw the younger generations of the region respecting the history of past generations as they twisted, twirled and sung in the sunshine on Saturday.
The Cultural and Artistic Society of St. Juraj Osojnik organised this display of folklore dances and heritage from the region as well as guest groups from Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nine children’s and youth folklore groups from Dubrovnik and beyond entertained the numerous spectators, including the Mayor of Dubrovnik, Mato Frankovic, with their interpretations of centuries old dances and songs.
A great event and the perfect way to pass on these traditions to future generations.
The Croatian Insurance Bureau (HUO) reported this week that there are around 35,000 uninsured vehicles driving on Croatian roads, and if these drivers have an accident they will face fines up to 50,000 Kunas.
Unregistered and uninsured vehicles endanger the general state of traffic safety and cause huge material losses to citizens. Such vehicles are often technically incorrect, and the consequences of traffic accidents are in most cases more difficult than those with technically inspected, registered and insured vehicles – said the HUO in a statement.
HUO and the Croatian Police Force, within the National Road Safety Program of the Republic of Croatia, are carrying out a campaign "Stop uninsured vehicles", with the aim of further reducing the number of uninsured and unregistered vehicles and improving awareness of the importance of compulsory registration and insurance.
And it isn’t only Croatian registered cars that are targets, there have been reported cases of foreign drivers who enter the country without the correct papers, as well as some owners some have falsified their foreign driving documents.
“The campaign started in 2009 when we recorded 300,000 uninsured vehicles, while today we estimate that this figure is around 35,000. This is a great success we have achieved over the years,” - said HUO Director Hrvoje Paukovića
Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson are making their way to Croatia as yet another Hollywood blockbuster is to be filmed in Croatia. Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Robin Hood, The Hitman 2, the list could go on and on, Croatia is Hollywood on the Adriatic. In fact, Salma Hayek was in Croatia only a few months ago working on Hitman 2 or The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard which she filmed with Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds in Istria.
Hayek in Istria for Hitman filming - Photo Instagram
UPI.com is reporting that “Production began this week in Los Angeles and Croatia on Bliss, Amazon's new sci-fi drama and romance starring Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson.” Although there is no news as yet as to where the production will be location in Croatia.
Mike Cahill, whose credits include I Origins and Another Earth, wrote and is directing Bliss.
"Mike Cahill is a brilliant storyteller gifted by a unique ability to craft the truly high-concept idea in a deeply soulful way that resonates with audiences. As a real fan of all his work, I am delighted that we can provide this opportunity for him to take his vision further than ever before. We know our global customers will be excited to see what Mike and his team -- Salma Hayek, Owen Wilson, and this fabulous cast and crew -- can do with such complex, yet real characters in such an imaginative and thrilling world. It will blow people's minds, I am sure," Ted Hope, co-head of movies at Amazon Studios, said in a statement.
Welcome back to Croatia Miss Hayek.
Quite clearly the heat is only helping to further aggravate some Dubrovnik drivers. According to a post on the Facebook account of the Mayor of Dubrovnik the traffic inspectors that help with the flow of traffic and pedestrians, especially on the Pile entrance into the Old City of Dubrovnik received death threats in the early hours of this morning. And not just once but twice.
In the morning hours, the traffic inspectors of the City of Dubrovnik received two death threats just because they were doing their job. Unfortunately, the desire for money and earnings for some individuals is more important than respect. Additional traffic restrictions are waiting for us in 2020 and in 2021 the full ban on Pile for all buses except for the public bus company Libertas”, commented Mayor Frankovic on his Facebook account. The City of Dubrovnik has reported the threats to the police.