Denis Jerkovic – Croatian Executive Chef of Tavern Nota Bene in Podgora, Croatia
Denis Jerkovic came into contact with the work of a cook for the first time as a very young boy, while watching his mother cook in a large cafeteria. As a teenager, he started working as a waiter. His passion for food was finally ignited there.Today he is the Executive Chef of the Tavern Nota Bene in Podgora, Croatia and tries to reinvent Croatian cuisine.
Chef Denis started at the bottom of the kitchen chain and went through the entire hierarchy. Read this lovely Q&A and learn what he has experienced on his culinary journey.
Denis Jerkovic – Chef’s Portrait
Chef Denis, today you work as Executive Chef at Medora Hotels & Resorts in Croatia. Where does your passion for cooking come from?
My interest in food was sparked when I was about 4 or 5 years old when my mother would take me to work with her at a large industrial cafeteria, where she was a cook.
How did your career as a chef begin and what made you become a chef?
I was always driven by a will to work in hospitality, so when I was 18 I started working as a waiter in a restaurant on the Adriatic Coast, which is when my passion for food became fully ignited.
Which cooking school did you visit?
I never attended regular culinary school but I believe my education is far more valuable. I started at the bottom of the kitchen chain and went through the entire hierarchy, giving me a thorough knowledge of how a kitchen works in every aspect.
Due to the many different positions and stations in Croatia you know the Croatian cuisine very well. How would you best describe Croatian cuisine?
Comfort food is a world favorite, and something Croatian cuisine excels at. It also has a lot of room for innovation, and in the last decade it has been doing just that thanks to Croatian chefs thinking outside the box.
Croatian cuisine is a Mediterranean cuisine. What are the differences to other Mediterranean kitchens/Croatian neighboring countries?
Croatian cuisine is a part of Mediterranean gastronomy, because of the Adriatic Coast. However, Croatia has so much more to offer once you explore inland, you see that there is a large variety of groceries the coast lacks and materials to cook them in/with.
Modern Croatian cuisine today; how would you best describe it?
Modern Croatian cuisine is a fusion of techniques that keep it moving forward and developing. I can only describe what few are doing differently to make an impact and step away from old-fashioned Yugoslavian cuisine that unfortunately still prevails in almost all of Croatia.
The salt is to the food, what soul is to the body. – Chef Denis about seasoning as the first and last part of creating a dish
You worked as a head chef in Dubrovnik and in Zagreb. How do both cities differ in terms of cuisine?
Dubrovnik and Zagreb are currently the leaders of modern Croatian gastronomy, offering a wider set of tastes for the palate, the only difference between the two is that Dubrovnik’s restaurants work mainly during the summer season (and a part of spring/autumn), while Zagreb, as the capital, naturally is busy all year round.
You worked as a nutritionist in the field of fitness training. Do you still use this knowledge in your current work?
For sure. Having experience as a nutritionist, I hold up the importance of eating healthy and implement it as much as I can in my dishes.
You founded your own company Food Lab.Logistics, a project to develop new foods and flavors, as well as private catering for numerous occasions and private training sessions on sous vide and gastronomy. Why did you stop this interesting project?
My education never stops. Currently I am the executive chef of an a la carte restaurant in the ownership of a hotel and am mastering educating and running a full team of cooks, while handling many other responsibilities.
You also worked as a personal chef for an ambassador. What did you experience and learned from this time?
I worked as a private chef for the Deputy Ambassador of the United States of America in Zagreb. Expectations were high, and as a result the experience was incredibly rewarding. What drives me are challenges, and this was the perfect opportunity to try something completely different and out of my comfort zone, which were restaurants.
I had the opportunity to cook for high standing government officials and members of high society, renowned CEO’s and restaurant owners, as well as members of royal families such as the Dutch King.
What is your culinary setup as Executive Chef at Medora Hotels & Resorts in Croatia today?
I am the Executive Chef of Tavern Nota Bene, which is under the management of Medora Hotels and Resorts in Podgora, Croatia. My culinary set up is very thorough, with an emphasis in attention to detail and care for all the produce, so that it is properly handled.
Can you share some of your latest creations with us? (➔ recipes and creations of top chefs)
My latest creation is ‘The Adriatic Sea Pancetta’ gluing together tuna and swordfish, smoking it over wild bay leaves and dressed in local saffron hollandaise sauce. Another is octopus that is cooked in sous-vide in its own juices, placed in lime juice, cattle fish ink and sea salad. All of this is placed in pressured syphon for 13 hours to be infused as a finish, it is grilled and drizzled with homemade lobster oil.
Sound delicious! What are some of your unique preparation/cooking techniques?
I have a wide variety of techniques I use, ranging from sous-vide to fermentation to drying, aging, and curing to techniques acquired through dabbling in molecular gastronomy, which is the science necessary to giving a dish an unforgettable tweak.
Which spice best describes the Croatian and your cooking style?
The spice most used in Croatia is called vegeta, an unnecessary food amplifier that has toxic properties. It is a part of that old-fashioned Yugoslavian cuisine I mentioned earlier that I am fighting to educate on how they can improve and progress without sacrificing tradition.
Which dessert best describes the Croatian and your cooking style?
The dessert that best represents both my cooking style and Croatian cuisine is ‘the floating islands’ in Croatian ‘Paradižot’ although I reconstructed it for my a la carte menu and the best way to describe it is perfect clouds of vanilla.
Is there any place in the world you would like to work as chef one day? (➔ international job offers on Cook Concern)
If I had to choose, I would love to work in either Spain or Japan, but I am currently working towards opening my own restaurant here on the Adriatic Coast. So, stay tuned, because once I do, it’ll be out of this world!
Thank you, Chef Denis! Good luck opening your own restaurant!
Denis Jerkovichas achieved a lot on his culinary journey. One of his remaining goal is to open and run an own restaurant.
What are your future goals? Join the community on Cook Concern and share your dreams!