Chef Ružica Jukičić: We have to rely on indigenous and locally grown foods

Longer season, quality vs quantity, value for money, content and offer - this should be one of the missions of our tourism. Although these terms often stand out in the media ...

Longer season, quality vs quantity, value for money, content and offer - this should be one of the missions of our tourism. Although these terms are often highlighted in the media narrative and listed in various strategies, unfortunately everything is based on the story, not the product, because these processes and challenges need to be addressed strategically, systematically and sustainably. Individuals can jump out and pull, but to round out the whole story, we need a rounded system, not inertia development. One swallow doesn’t make spring, does it? And that’s where we unfortunately fall, when we talk in the broader story of our tourism and identity.

Of course if we really want it, and to be clear it is impossible in every destination, but there are some basic and basic rules that impose themselves. One of them is a quality and authentic gastro scene. With a great pairing with our authentic and top wines and olive oils, groceries - we know that gastro tourism is the motive for coming. The motive for coming exclusively through an authentic and different story, not a copy of someone or something.

We have everything again, but we don't know how to arrange it nicely and pack it into a tourist product. Although when we talk about catering or quality gastronomy, we can not but look at the wider story, through the tax burden, administration, labor, education system, seasonality of our tourism, etc. kao but as in everything the base is the market. If there is demand, there is sustainability. And the market, as well as the extension of the tourist season cannot happen by itself, it needs to be worked on strategically and systematically.

And this crisis was and still is - an opportunity to reposition and rebrand our tourism. But we still sell the sun and the sea in a boring way, instead of being the “blue cow” of European tourism.

Today, quality, fresh and authentic food is a luxury in catering, and all the world's chefs say so. And that is the direction in which gastronomy must move. We actually seem to be ashamed of our history, identity and thus our recipes, and we fit into the impersonal, gray, boring story of the sun and the sea. We constantly say that we need quality content and offers, in order to extend the tourist season. We have everything, but we do not know how to connect it and turn it into one complete tourist product.

Or as Seth Godin would say, marketing guru and author of the world bestseller Blue Cow. “The thing is simple: you have to be special, different, special. You have to have what others don’t have. You have to know how to inspire, and you will only be able to do that if you inspire yourself. Something that especially deserves to be talked about, to be noticed. That is something extraordinary. New. Interesting. It's a blue cow. Boring is invisible. The brown cow is boring ” points out Seth Godin.

Through our incredible diversity and authenticity, Croatia is in itself a different, unique or blue cow. But like I said, we are ashamed of ourselves and don’t tell our stories. And that is the very essence of tourism as well as the motive for coming - authenticity. No one wants to experience a copy of Tuscany, but the original. On the other hand, just remember your last trip abroad, what they ate and what they offered you. Did you try some local specialty or drink, and how much was imposed. Ultimately, that now ten of us travel to France and offer us one French local wine and one Croatian wine. Which ones would you try and taste?

Let's be what we are - it must be our main tourist brand. This is one of the directions in which we must drive towards the goal. And one of the ways is through gastronomy.

Let's keep our recipes, our grandmothers, show our authentic and unique dishes, and tell the story, both through eating, arranging the space and through the presentation or the whole experience.

And it was on this track that I was delighted by chef Ružica Jukičić, who is the author behind SOL Mediterranean Dining within the Blueseun Hotel Soline in Brela, and who said the whole gastro philosophy in a simple way and in two sentences. "Forgotten dishes should be brought out of oblivion. Sometimes it is enough to prepare them in an original way, and sometimes they need to be adapted to modern guests"Emphasizes Jukičić. That’s it, and the differences are in the detail, personality and creativity of each chef, but the base has to be authentic dishes and stories.

Chef Ružica Jukičić: Local tradition in top local restaurants must be recognized and respected

But let's go in order, SOL Mediterranean Dining is not an ordinary restaurant by the sea, but a new destination among gastronomic enthusiasts and tourists who, thanks to the expertise and imagination of chef Ružica Jukičić, come to Brela. One of the few, if not the only fine dining restaurant on the Makarska Riviera, even much wider.

It is important to emphasize that I am not a gastronomic critic or expert, so I certainly can not comment on the menu, ie dishes, but what I can comment on is certainly the broader context of the influence of Sol Mediterranean Dining in Brela on Makarska Riviera, as well as the importance the same for our tourism.

"Local tradition in top local restaurants must be recognized and respected”Says the main chef of the a la carte restaurant SOL Mediterranean Dining, Ružica Jukičić.

I emphasize, respecting our authenticity, does not mean that we cannot use modern presentation techniques, on the contrary, it is imperative today. It was on this track that chef Jukičić showed her skills. Namely, she managed to combine the presentation of the Mediterranean in fusion with Far Eastern cuisine, but the most important thing, only in the preparation and presentation of dishes, and the base of taste and story is the indigenous food of our region.

"The fusion with French and Far Eastern cuisine is what makes us different from everything on the Makarska Riviera. This year’s menu I did so that our indigenous flavors and aromas remain, I only used Asian preparation techniques. I didn’t want to go to the great extreme of the fusion of the Mediterranean and Asia, and yet to keep it interesting. The story is Mediterranean fusion, but the flavors remain Mediterranean. It’s just a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian techniques, but my opinion is that tourists try our food. My experiences in gastronomy show that those who travel to Croatia want to try ours. In doing so, we rely on indigenous and locally grown foods ", Jukičić explains and adds: “Guests at the SOL restaurant can experience honesty. Honest flavors, our cooking and our presentation. What we catch, what we harvest locally and seasonally we use and present through our indigenous gastronomy. Our taste, smell, colors, and that's what we do here. ”

When asked how he manages to provide all groceries from the domestic field, it is considered from both local and Croatian areas, Jukičić points out that good organization and preparation are key, as well as quality partners, and in Bluesun they are lucky because they have meat from their own production which meets all their needs, while the vegetables are organic and come from the field on plates.

"I really try not to overdo the menu, so we have every food available at all times. With this, we have facilitated every purchase and preparation, but also the quality of every performance. When compiling the menu, I always combine the ingredients of the part of Croatia where I am. When I was in Zagorje, I used barley, pumpkins, buncek a lot… In Dalmatia, these are local foods: fish, vegetables, Mediterranean spices and meat from this area. By the way, I like to combine continental and sea flavors, i.e. I combine blue and green. Forgotten dishes should be brought out of oblivion. Sometimes it is enough to prepare them in an original way, and sometimes they need to be adapted to modern guests. " Jukicic emphasizes.

And most importantly, tourists expect, seek and recognize it. It’s a story we need to communicate, develop and brand. The gastro scene has risen significantly to a high level in the last few years, it is developing rapidly, we have more and more excellent chefs, great restaurants, and the arrival of Michelin stars in Croatia is proof of that. Of course, there is still a long way to go with a lot of challenges that we can talk about the strategic development of the gastro scene, more then refers to positive little examples that show the way and inspire, but what is important, awareness of them has changed dramatically for the better.

"Guests certainly recognize that, we have guests who do not come once but come a couple of nights in a row and try more dishes. Tourists want to try all these flavors. Croatia has quality food and quality chefs. We have to appreciate what we have and use them and then our result is there. And most importantly, the returning guest. ”

As I said, I am not a gastro critic, but we must especially emphasize the interesting presentation and preparation of our traditional and indigenous soparnik, but in a modern way by chef Ružica Jukičić.

“I personally really like soparnik and I would eat it every day. As there was a break during the coronavirus this year and I had time to play in the kitchen, I wanted to make a dedication to the soparnik. So I came up with the idea to make him a fine dinning look, while leaving him a taste. It’s my favorite dish this year. Soparnik is a simple and folk dish, we gave it a slightly different fine dinning presentation, but when guests try it, the taste remains soparnik. ”

Interestingly, the day after, on the way to the island of Pag, I stopped in Omis where I had the opportunity to try a real steamer according to the original recipe. And what is fascinating, the taste was the same as the night before, ie soparnik in the interpretation of chef Ružica Jukičić did not lose its essence of taste of a real soparnik. Proof that even soparnik can be interpreted in a modern way, respecting the food itself and the taste, which is crucial.

Brela is known for cherries, so cherries are also an integral part of the menu, which is more than commendable, because cherries have this local story. In fact, the menu of the Sol restaurant is a true cross-section of the entire history of Brela - from Roman times, through Napoleon's conquests, to today's rediscovery of once infamous local foods. I emphasize once again the importance of telling a local and authentic story.

Personally, I was delighted by chef Ružica Jukičić with her simplicity, accessibility, passion and aspiration to tell authentic dishes, but of course in her modern way. This is seen in her eyes when she talks about her dishes and how she put them all together. When we talk about the development of quality gastronomy, we have to talk about quality staff, which is chronically lacking.

On this occasion, I would certainly emphasize the importance for the development of tourism and the gastro scene, the presence of chef Ružica Jukičić in the Makarska Riviera. This is a person from whom one can and must learn a lot, among other things, Jukičić graduated with a degree in food and beverage management and hotel operations management, and she also enrolled in the study of nutrition. Also, behind Jukičić are many gastronomic competitions in which she has achieved great success and is a member of the World Culinary Organization. Having such a professional person in a destination really means a lot.

We need to accelerate development and be much more proactive and reverse the direction of our tourism. Individual lighthouses are not enough for that, but several of them, rounded off into one tourist product. Also, we must be aware of the context of the destination, ie how the destination is not one object, hotel, accommodation, restaurant - an individual, but all of us or the overall experience of the whole destination.

This crisis is and can be an opportunity to reposition and rebrand our tourism. Let's be like chef Ružica Jukičić.


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