Professional Advice By Renowned Croatian Pastry Chef

With interns, I most like to see the enthusiasm for work, and if I feel their diligence, that person will always stand out above others. The passion for baking and doing what we do is sacred to me, making desserts with emotion cannot be compared to anything else. If emotions disappear, the only thing that's left is the mechanics and routine.

Given that the new tourist season is just around the corner, we decided to kickstart the fun with Career Day and a masterclass in partnership with the boutique hotel and winery Meneghetti. The most famous member of the team, Dragana Kovačević, sat with us to talk to us about desserts, gastronomy and motivation. We found out the story behind the desserts she prepared as part of the masterclass, inquired about her thoughts on the concept of a leader in the kitchen of a restaurant or hotel and got some useful tips for chefs and pastry chefs looking for employment this year. Read the interview!

Kul IN: Your desserts are permeated by unique flavors, and always have an interesting story. Can you explain what desserts you prepared for Career Day?

- The first dessert was my vision of Istrian soup. To begin with, I must explain what Istrian soup is for those who do not know. It is a traditional dish of red wine, olive oil, black pepper and toast.

"Istrian soup is not a soup, let's be clear. Admittedly, it is a soup for the soul, for comfort in the cold winter months, and for the summer evenings when you are good company. Istrian soup is drunk in the company of friends. It was not just a drink for them, but the whole meal ...Istrian soup is part of the Istrian tradition, which includes ingredients that are traditionally used and paired in Istria, from wine, oil and bread. It is related to the verb supati, which would mean to dip, e.g. bread into wine. And the very term supa means feta bread in some parts of Istria. According to Istrian tradition, the soup is served at the end of a meal or it can be a stand-alone meal. It symbolizes fertility, well-being, hospitality, and friendship and connection of those who enjoy it together "

- Kristijan Damijanic

My long-standing wish was to turn this Istrian tradition into one dessert. Although it is served warm, I imagined it as a cold dessert that offers both refreshment and comfort. Another ingredient I discovered while exploring the coast of Istria contributes to the fresh note in this dessert. It is Barbary fig (lat. Opuntia ficus-indica). The barbary fig is extremely healthy because it contains antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant properties. It is rich in fiber, antioxidants and linolenic acid, and also contains minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. It may not sound compatible, but when I tried those wonderful red-purple fruits, it was a "perfect match" for me. I made sorbet from Indian fig and Merlot wine, and spicy foam from reduced Merlot, sugar, black pepper and spices. In addition, I served a warm, toasted olive oil biscuit. I finished the dessert with olive oil Bjelica - an indigenous variety that brings spiciness, bitterness and the smell of freshly cut grass to the dessert.

The second dessert was Bohemian Rhapsody - a dessert made by Valrhon Manjari chocolate, Meneghetti brandy and Savinelli tobacco. Cocoa streusel and chocolate cremoux, infused with tobacco go very well with Meneghetti brandy ice cream. Along with this dessert, we presented Meneghetti brandy, smoked with Savinelli tobacco that has notes of caramel, vanilla, cherries and dried fruit.

Kul IN: As a team leader, what characteristics do you like to see in your colleagues?

- A sense of unity and support are what I value most in the team I work with. We spend more time with each other than with our families and if you can count on the people you work with to be supportive, encourage you, have compassion in difficult situations, not to turn your weaknesses against, give you a hand when you fall, if your team will share with you happiness, sorrow, worries, successes and failures - then you can truly be considered a blessed person. Because everything is both easier and more beautiful when you share, and who can understand you better than people who share the same goals and fate as you? With interns, I most like to see the enthusiasm for work, and if I feel their diligence, that person will always stand out above others. The passion for baking and doing what we do is sacred to me, making desserts with emotion cannot be compared to anything else. If emotions disappear, the only thing that's left is the mechanics and routine.

Kul IN: What does it mean to be a good leader in a restaurant’s kitchen?

- I worked with different chefs. Those I remember fondly didn’t cook the most spectacular dishes, use innovative techniques, or have tens of thousands of followers on Instagram. They were good people first and foremost. And role models. Leaders in the true sense of the word. Those I remember with the greatest respect knew how to praise a worker, get the best out of him, they knew how to share their knowledge and be there for their colleagues. They were the perfect example of what a good worker should be like. They were the first to offer encouragement and take one for the team, they didn’t think they knew everything and they learned all their lives. For me, the ideal leader is a combination of all that. If he also knows how to cook superbly and teach me something I don't know - he is no longer just a leader for me but an idol!


Kul IN: How can a job candidate perk up your interest?

- With the desire to learn and dedication to the vocation. And by showing that they are brave enough to follow their dreams.

Kul IN: How did Kul IN’s former students fare as interns at Meneghetti?

All the Kul IN interns I worked with, without exception, were diligent, with a lot of knowledge and passion for the job and it was a real pleasure to work with them. I am very happy to see them grow, and I am proud of them for never giving up on their goals.

Kul IN: Are you preparing any new desserts for the upcoming tourist season?

- This season will be marked by a new style in terms of desserts. The winter was long and the lockdown spawned something good as well - the excess of free time brought a lot of new ideas to the forefront. Therefore, there is a lot of excitement, cooking, baking and fun in the small sweet laboratory that is the Meneghetti kitchen. Stay tuned :)

Kul IN: At what stage of your career did you first feel free to experiment and indulge in the preparation of interactive recipes?

- Istria was a revelation for me, and inspired my creativity. I would discover something that could be turned into a dessert on a daily basis when I first came here. I wouldn't even say that this would be considered experimenting, I just wanted to convey Istria and all its beauties to guests through desserts. So my most recent Istrian phase was inspired by Istria's stories, traditions, and Meneghetti. Those aspects permeated all the desserts I made, it was the period I enjoyed the most so far. Especially since the guests recognized it and loved these desserts as well.

Kul IN: What is most important aspect of your job?

- Making a guest happy with dessert is my absolute imperative, everything else comes second to that. The more I enjoy preparing a dessert, the more the guest should enjoy while eating it – that is the idea. It is for me the only correct formula - no ambiguities and compromises. If guests aren’t happy after dessert, all my energy, emotion, effort and work fall flat and just don't matter.


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