„I used to tell people that I was going to become a pastry chef, even if it happened at the age of 90. However, some life events have taught me that life is too short! This is exactly what inspired me! Life is short, we shouldn’t wait on the perfect timing to start pursuing our goals.“
Gastronomy is the perfect industry for the ambitious, and many promising young people have ventured out to embark on a career in pastry and culinary arts. Some had a straight path while others changed their profession and had a winding road to their destination and place under the culinary stars. The interview with our alumna Ema Luštić will show you that it is never too early or too late to start pursuing your goals. Ema majored in information science at the university, but her love was always pastry and gastronomy. Although she planned to leave that dream of hers for some more appropriate time, something prompted her to realize that the “right time” was not worth the wait and that she needed to start right away - and start from scratch she did. She enrolled in the Professional Pastry and Confections program and became a well rounded pastry chef with an impressive resume, and the best is yet to come. Today, she works at the prestigious Bugenvila restaurant, she has developed her personal style and signature as a pastry chef and she enjoys conveying the idea of local, fresh food and Mediterranean culture to the guests. Read Ema's story!
Could you describe your professional journey , when did you decide to become a pastry chef and where have you worked so far?
- My professional journey began at Kul IN. I had always wanted to be a pastry chef, I was very interested in pastry and I could not imagine doing anything else but, somehow, I ended up enrolling in Information Science university program instead of pursuing pastry at that time. At the end of the third year, I decided to take a one-year break and enroll in Kul IN Professional Pastry and Confections program. There, I fully realized how much I loved the pastry world. As I worked, I realized that different professions can be intertwined in creative ways. So I actually came up with the idea of combining my thesis with gastronomy and pastry. Everyone was pretty skeptical and doubted whether I would succeed in that plan and what the end product would look like but I succeeded and wrote the paper. After completing Kul IN and interning at Dubravkin Put, I worked at the Kompas Hotel in Dubrovnik, and now I work at Bugenvila Restaurant in Cavtat.
What inspired you to move in a new direction professionally?
- I would always tell people that I was going to become a pastry chef, even if it happened at the age of 90. However, some life events had taught me that life was too short! This is exactly what inspired me! Life is short, we shouldn’t wait on the perfect timing to start pursuing our goals.
Has the risk paid off?
- The risk has definitely paid off! In addition to gaining new knowledge, credentials, and profession, I enjoy what I do, and what more could a person want?
Why did you decide to enroll at Kul IN, and how did this experience help you in the career that followed?
- I found out about Kul IN by sheer luck. I speak Italian, and I would often travel to Italy, I also really love their food. I was also looking for culinary schools there. Quite by chance, I found out about Kul IN via ALMA. I called the student's office many times, gathered all the information, packed up and embarked on a new life adventure. I am a very emotional person and I cry easily, and everyone knows that low self-esteem and perfectionism don't mix very well! At Kul IN, I found myself in the "kitchen" for the first time, so my emotions were running wild. At that time, I still did not fully understand that it was OK if sometimes a dish does not turn out as we had imagined. We live in a time when Instagram is selling us false image of life and our feed is full of desserts that just look good but the taste does not match the visuals. Pastry chef Marko was very patient with me, he wouldn't let me quit. I don't know if you knew this but I almost never finished Kul IN! I was very disappointed in myself and my work, so I bought a bus ticket home on exam day, i.e. I didn't feel I would pass the exam, but luckily I changed my mind, did the exam and the rest is history.
Do you have any special memories from your time at Kul IN?
- There were a lot of them, but perhaps the coolest moment at Kul IN was when I got the apron from Issa Maccochi. Her words and encouragement brought me to tears. I remember I slept with the apron the first night, and I carry it everywhere with me even to this day.
What was interning under the mentorship of Robert Bašić like? How did it help you in your career?
- Those were one of the most beautiful days of my life. I just didn't want to get out of the kitchen! Dubravkin put is a wonderful restaurant, and I have only wonderful things to say about Robert. His selfless sharing of knowledge and skills is truly amazing! At the end of the internship, he presented me with a certificate, and that made me cry. It was one of those moments that stay with you forever.
You work at the restaurant Bugenvila, where you are the only pastry chef, what did the process of adapting to the professional, i.e. business environment after education at Kul IN look like?
- After Kul IN, I worked one season at the Kompas Hotel, so I had already gone through this adjustment process before coming to Bugenvila. The hardest part for me was to train myself how to work in the kitchen without letting my emotions run wild, everything else happened effortlessly. I believe the adjustment was so effortless because I took my time at Kul IN very seriously and approached it professionally, and I am also one of those people who try to grow in whatever environment you put them. Bugenvila was something completely new to me. It was my first encounter with the concept of fine dining. Our executive chef Bogomil Križ supports me and always encourages my ideas, and helps me devise the plan and come up with those ideas. At first, I was very scared that I would not be able to keep up with their pace and standards but everything is perfect now (if you had the opportunity to eat some of Bugenvila's dishes or just saw the photos, you know what I mean).
What is the concept of the restaurant, the main idea?
- The concept of the restaurant is fine dining, and our motto is "seasonal, fresh, local and natural".
Speaking of desserts, what is on your menu and what is the concept of the menu?
- When it comes to desserts, we always have something with chocolate, fruit, citrus, and vegetables. All ingredients are locally sourced and seasonal, we do not have typical desserts. We change the menu seasonally and use foods that we can source locally. With each dessert, I try to make sure that guests enjoy local and seasonal foods. I want to showcase our culture through my pastries. We had a carrot complemented by candied almonds at one time, there are also truffles made of carob with succade, candied almonds and raisins. Through that dessert, I actually described my life in Cavtat and Dubrovnik – eating carob, succade, candied almonds, Valhrona chocolate and enjoying karst landscape.
Even though you are young, you are an experienced chef, can you list a couple of traits that every good pastry chef should have?
- One thing every pastry chef should have is love for this profession because if there is no love, nothing will work! Besides love, I think patience and precision are something that pastry chefs should have.
What inspires you when preparing desserts?
- Food, my surroundings and environment, and tradition.
Have you found your professional signature as a pastry chef, technique, food item, etc. that best exemplifies your style of dessert preparation?
Well, I think desserts here at Bugenvila best evoke me and my style. Those are the same desserts that I like to eat myself. I do not like typical store-bought desserts, I prefer a rustic style. Even at Kul IN, my desserts at the final exam were very simple and rustic but never cliche.
- Take in all the knowledge, take every opportunity to learn something new, and be persistent!
Plans for the future?
- I will certainly stay in this industry, but I plan to also graduate from college. We live in a time when the social media really is influencing everything! We all found ourselves eating at a restaurant or patisserie that all media outlets follow, Instagram pushes it, and we come out completely disappointed with what we ate. This is why I want to further my education so that I can be even more successful at what I do.