Every time I travel, I try to take a cooking class with a local chef. I never really know what to expect and this time was no different.
On my last day in Hvar, I was fortunate to spend a morning cooking with Ivan Buzolić and his daughter Maja Mačković, in the kitchen of their restaurant the Golden Shell (Zlatna Školjka).
I had no idea as I made my way to the restaurant that Ivan was the founder of the Croatian Master Chefs Association, that he had won gold medals in international competitions, that he mentored young chefs.
I also had no idea that the Mediterranean diet from the island of Hvar was protected by UNESCO as part of intangible cultural heritage.
Pretty impressive credentials!
When I arrived, I was invited into the tiny kitchen and immediately put to work pinching heads off the smallest shrimp I had ever seen. The heads went straight into the stock pot. This was my first instruction in using everything, throwing nothing away and what Ivan called “economy in the kitchen”. I peeled some of the shrimp for ceviche and the shells went right into the pot.
There were no written recipes, just lots of information and hands-on experience. With total ease and comfort, Ivan and his daughter moved me through lots of dishes. He talked about sea salt, olive oil and herbs being the holy trinity of Croatian cooking; that’s all you need to make a great meal.
He pulled out a jar of crushed garlic and chopped parsley mixed with olive oil that is always on hand in his kitchen. Now, it’s on hand in my kitchen too.
He educated me about fish, telling me that seafood must swim three times: once in the sea water, once in olive oil and once in wine (and the wine can be the glass you are drinking as you eat).
He showed me how to make a rustic tomato sauce, removing the tomato skins as the tomatoes cooked, and adding them to the ever growing stock pot.
As if by magic, he produced an old handheld pasta machine and proceeded to whip up a patter of fresh pasta. No fuss, no big deal — just another dish to go with lunch.
He made gregada, the famous Croatian fish soup which I will be sharing with my friends.
In a kitchen, one third the size of mine, in only a few hours in the morning, we made gregada, tomato sauce, tomato soup, homemade pasta, shrimp ceviche and crispy sauteed shrimp. We then sat down to lunch and enjoyed all the dishes.
Delicious crisp Croatian wine flowed as we savored the meal. As Ivan said, “I cook with wine and sometimes I even add it to the food.”
My only regret was that I was too full to come back to the restaurant for dinner that night. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to return to Hvar to sample more of Ivan’s superb food.