August 03 2022 Meet Katarina Vrenc, a private chef
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Why did you decide to study cookery?

I got into the culinary world spontaneously, although it feels like everything has always led to it. In my family, the culture of eating and preparing food has always been very important. Even later — through growing up, socializing, and traveling — food was very often the main motif. When I started college, at first I thought I was going to write about food, but when I entered a professional kitchen for the first time, I decided to stay there.

How would you describe your approach to cooking? Which principles do you follow?

I would like to explain it like this. I come from a very small community. Entering the world of cooking and gastronomy, I wanted to learn as much as possible, I worked a lot, read, went to restaurants, and like every young ambitious chef, I wanted to find my direction, i.e. the model that would suit me best. But along the way, I realized that the approach I learned while growing up in my family is what suits me the most. Trends in kitchens are constantly changing, but very rarely represent what they are sold under. Today it’s very trendy to talk about sustainability, the complete use of food, organic products, etc., but this is not practiced to the extent that it is written and talked about. I’m sure many fishermen, farmers, producers, and colleagues would agree with me.



On the other hand, the principle of working in kitchens where people are forced to work for 12 to 16 hours — often without days off during the busy seasons — should stop being presented as something acceptable. I don't like the trend of showing chefs as RnR stars, who suffer, bravely eat from the floor, fall off their feet and work all day. Apart from the primary need, food is also a pleasure and half of health. I believe that simple food is the best food. I grow my own vegetables and also cooperate with several small producers whose food I take. I have great respect for their work and I am aware of the market situation, so I don't order groceries — they bring me what they have instead. I create from what I have, so I don't need to order groceries according to an already thought-out idea. For example, if hunters tell me that they have shot a wild boar, I will take it whole and try to use at least 70% of the animal. I am working to make it an even higher percentage. I learned how to do it from my grandmother, not at university or in kitchens. Also, the fisherman brings me his catch, I never order fish. That way, my guests always get the best quality food, and I have fun because I create new menus almost every day. This answer could only be "seasonal, fresh, and organic", but considering those terms are extremely misused, I had to explain a little. :)

How important are local flavors and experiences to you? What is your attitude towards our gastronomic tradition?

I can follow up on the previous answer here. The experiences I have from home, and the flavors that marked my childhood have certainly determined my path in cooking. I think that, even though we are a very small country, we are rich in various, excellent foods, which makes our work as chefs much easier. I recently had guests from America who were so enthusiastic about our food that during their stay, they wanted to take part in the grocery shopping. Once on the same day, we were on a boat to procure fish, on the way back to the villa we picked some mushrooms and wild herbs and stopped to pick up meat and fresh unpasteurized milk from which we made cheese and curd the same day. I got the impression they felt as if they had gone back a century. I believe in such experiences and flavors, and I believe such an approach to be honest, so I tend to be guided by those principles.



What foods do you like to work with the most?

Any food that is well grown is potentially great on the plate. When we talk about fresh organic food, it's hard to convince me that anything is overpriced, because the people who produce it really put in a lot of effort and work to get it to our table. Anyone who thinks that something is overrated or too expensive, I advise them to try growing the same thing, they will definitely save money.

I believe that various ready-made products on the market are overpriced and not only that — they can be completely insane. For example, various “truffle” sauces, flavored oils, and similar products are not at all what the manufacturers present them to be and very often consumers get a completely wrong impression about the food. I wouldn’t like to be a cheated guest or consumer, so I am guided by that thought even when I am sitting on the other side of the table.

If you had to eat only three dishes forever, what would they be?

Actually, I can answer this very easily: a good plate of maneštra, pasta, and ramen — a dish that, like manetra, I could eat every day in different variations.



And cook?

Cook only three dishes forever? Haha, when I decide — I'll let you know.

What kind of dishes do you offer your guests? What do you want to convey through the menus you create?

Each group of guests is completely different and I always try to personalize the menu as much as possible. Guests usually leave everything up to me, and in fact, I only sometimes have a few restrictions, mostly due to allergies or intolerance to certain foods. The idea is to always get the highest quality food and it comes to me spontaneously — an independent idea or a derivative of some previous experiences — very often it’s also the result of brainstorming with colleagues or producers. Food must be spontaneous and happy. I really believe in the saying "happy cook, happy food”. Through each dish, I want to convey my experience of a certain food, my philosophy, and identity.



In your experience, what kind of dishes do people ask for the most?

Most of the guests who hire me share very similar thoughts about food, so we understand each other very well right from the start. I think I've only had dinner instructions once so far, that had to follow some rules for a particular reason. Since I work alone, my only rule is that I don't work for more than 12 guests at a time. Then I can be completely focused on each guest and each plate, and this is exactly the business model that suits me best. I love for guests to feel hospitality and commitment, as if they were at my home.

Which chefs do you admire and why?

I have many colleagues whose work amazes me. I remembered some incredible places on trips that weren't really anything significant by name, but the food they served left a strong impression on me. Honest food and honest people will always be something that will make me the happiest.



What are your favorite Croatian restaurants?

There are definitely a lot of restaurants I haven’t yet visited, but they are on the list. My favorites in Croatia are Nav and Mano2. I also like to go to Sopal and Mali bar, they are always a great lunch option. I also love quite a few agrotourism restaurants in Istria and taverns in Dalmatia.

If you weren't a chef, you’d be..?

If I wasn't a chef, I'd be a psychotherapist, that's what I do on the side, haha. Just ask my colleagues and friends. :)

Written by Anja