"Inspiration comes from everything around me - the marketplace, fish market, television, not just culinary shows. Social media inspires me as well, as do team discussions. There are no rules when it comes to inspiration."
Meet Dragoslav Bjelajac, one of the first members of our Kul IN alumni family. Dragoslav had spent ten years working as a technician and simultaneously trying to find a suitable culinary program so he could fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a chef. Read the article to find out how he chose to study at Kul IN, what he is doing now and get a scoop on what it was like for him to intern at Quadri, one of the most renowned restaurants in Venice, Italy.
Tell us about yourself, when did you realize you wanted to work in gastronomy?
- Even in elementary school, I wanted to be a chef and work in the kitchen but my mom was a cook and opposed the idea of me going to a high school program for cooks so I chose my other passion, electronics. I worked as a technician for 10 years and decided to finally give gastronomy a shot when I turned 30 and found the appropriate school and the appropriate program, I did not want to do the re-qualification and the like because I would not acquire the knowledge I wanted. So I enrolled at Kul IN, I was one of the first generation students. It as an unforgettable experience for everyone, and it turned out great.
- Education I acquired at Kul IN and ALMA was of great importance. Without the program, I probably wouldn't be a chef right now. It has met all my expectations, perhaps even exceeded them, I got all the basics necessary for further training and work. However, you do need determination, will power and desire to successfully complete it and live your dream.
You had a chance to intern at the Alajmo family restaurant, one of the most important culinary families in Italy? Did you enjoy it?
- Yes, I was in Venice at the Quadri restaurant, it was challenging but inspirational, we worked 14 hours a day. You can learn a lot in such an environment, it is a restaurant with around 20 chefs. We were making everything from scratch, nothing came processed or prepared in any way, and I learned a lot there. I chose Venice because Italian cuisine is very similar to Croatian. My wish was to work in Croatia, I believe we the quality of our ingredients and groceries is superb, especially fish. Having returned to Croatia, I worked at the restaurant Rosignola, near Pula and now I am the chef at the Lanterna restaurant, also near Pula, Croatia.
There are many fans of Meditarranean flare, sea, summer breeze, seafood, sunshine and pasta. If you are one of them, and also have the ambition to become a professional chef of Italian cuisine, check out our joint program with ALMA by clicking here and perfect your culinary skills, immerse yourself in Italian culture, train under the mentorship of renowned Italian chefs and intern at best Italian restaurants.
Who were your most important influences and mentors?
- I learned a lot from the chef at Quadri and from Alajmo himself, but there were also books and series on Netflix that were exceptionally well-made, and of course I learned a lot by going to other restaurants to get inspiration. It is important to socialize and meet your colleagues who also work in gastronomy.
How would you describe yourself as a chef?
- I love simple and precise cooking, clean and fresh flavors, but that requires top quality ingredients and knowledge of food. You cannot make mistakes, there are 3-5 food items on the plate, everything must be superb, if not, it will immediately be noticed and you cannot hide it.
What is Lanterna's mission and vision?
- Their concept can be summarized in three words - local, seasonal, fresh. We try to have local and seasonal foods, fresh fish and live crabs, vegetables from local, small producers, meat from Slavonia region. I try to make the plates maximally focused on the main dish on the plate so that its role and flavor is most pronounced, simple but precise.
What does the process of creating a menu look like, how many times do you prepare meals before you decide it is the final version?
- We change different parts of the menu every 2 months, and we also do tasting menus with different foods, depending on the season. Inspiration comes from everything around me, from the marketplace, from fish market, television - not just culinary shows. Social media inspires me as well, as do team discussions. There are no rules for inspiration. First, we check the seasonal food calendar. I make sure not to use too many components on the plate to avoid concealing the main component. We make the meal, try it and change if anything is wrong. Sometimes, a dish can seem great in your imagination, so you have to make it a couple of times before deciding to put it on the menu, but we also do tastings out of season that are ideal for presenting new meals because you can immediately see the guest's reaction and their honest feedback. Eventually some meals get included in the menu and some need to be discarded.
Describe your day at work?
- In the morning I like to go for a cup of coffee near the marketplace as we have a pretty good fish and green market here in Pula. The restaurant opens at noon, and once the shift starts, we are doing the necessary preparations for that day – making stocks, fish filing, meat processing, vegetables, etc. There is a small break from 4 to 6 PM because few guests come during those two hours. By 6 PM everything has to be prepared for dinner and we have to be ready so nothing can surprise us. It is a great pleasure to work when everything goes well, so preparation is of great importance and a lot of time is dedicated to it.
What advice would you give to young chefs just entering the labor market?
- I would advise them to be patient, to work and absorb knowledge wherever they can, to try everything, to have no prejudice. I would also suggest they stay in Croatia, working conditions are not always the best but we have great, fresh foods. I would tell them to read a lot, to eat out often, at restaurants, taverns, street food places, you can learn a lot from any of those places.
Which five skills every good chef needs to have?
- Accuracy, experience, knowledge, communication skills, they should know how to share their knowledge with others. There is no secret recipe, learn how to manage the temperatures and techniques, and the sky is the limit.
List five reasons why you love your job?
- Dynamics, pace, constraints (spoiler alert, there are none), the feeling you get when the guest is satisfied, enjoying food and wine. I love to eat well and I love good wines – that is the key reason I joined the world of gastronomy.
Lanterna received many awards, which was your favorite?
- I would highlight the award given to the restaurant that has advanced the most in the last two years. We won that award last year. However, the biggest award is a satisfied guest and a full restaurant. My plan for the future is to work as hard as I do now and to keep growing as a professional chef.
Facebook page: Restaurant Lanterna
Instagram page: Lanterna Pula