Marina Gaši is a rising star in Croatian fine dining. She recently held a workshop for Aspira students in which they prepared seafood in various ways. In between courses, we had time to slip a few questions.
Welcome to Aspira University College! How would you rate your work with our students?
I am truly amazed! They are so full of enthusiasm, it’s very obvious that they are happy and pleased to be studying Gastronomy. Many enroll in university thinking they are obliged to do so; your students are showing clear signs of interest for their chosen field.
Our next question has to be about your restaurant, Marina in Novigrad, Istria?
My grandfather opened a fish restaurant on the ground floor of the house he built in Novigrad in 1979. The restaurant was called Marina before my life was in the planning stages. The family was hoping that a Marina would come along. Six years ago it finally happened. I let myself be talked into opening a restaurant closed since 1992. My mother was meant to be head chef. We started filling out loan applications and all that fun, but then mom has a change of heart! Retirement, cooking for the family, but the loan was taken out and needed repaying, and so I started asking mom about ingredients and preparation techniques. The answer was almost always “I don’t know, I can’t remember.” It was much later that I had an epiphany as to why this is a good approch. I had no significant experience or education, I learned everything as I went along, on my own.
You serve exclusively seafood at your restaurant?
That is correct, seafood only, from a sampling menu. We don’t do a la carte, there is just the two of us in the entire place. We are honest and upfront with all our guests about everything we do. Four, six or eight courses, according to the catch of the day. We can’t always guarantee eight courses, because we depend on what local fisherman can give us. Nothing is fixed, there is no seasonal menu to be changed in so many months. We decided to get the best out of the day’s offer. I often keep inside my head ideas for fish which are not in season, to apply when we can get them. On the side we make large amounts of seasonal vegetables in all kinds of ways.
A new menu every day?
Pretty much. If you are spending three days in Novigrad, I can guarantee four different sets of courses at least.
Three days, twelve courses? Fascinating!
Possibly all in one day, if we have the ingredients. It depends on the weather and the season.
Did I misunderstand you, two people run the entire restaurant?
As of now there is a third staff member, a girl we hired to help out in the early season. We hope she’ll stay. We are always on the lookout for staff that would stay year round, but it’s not easy. I learned to do everything myself, washing and tidying up. Time is always short, there is always someone waiting, but we are pulling through.
You do business outside the summer travel season?
We certainly do. We don’t find it a problem to stay open year-round. The summer season brings a spike in customer numbers and work, but Austrians for example don’t come so much in the summer. They are my favorite customers. They rarely come between May and October.
Do you think Croatia is a gourmet travel destination?
Yes and no. We recently went to Paris for the Croatian Cuisine Days. I was at a loss what to say when the journalist asked me to name a Croatian dsih. I serve my guests the catch made right outside my home, but I love Asian spices, for example. My restaurant is in Istria, but we are not an Istrian restaurant. We’ve had so many foreign influences throughout the centuries, the Ottomans, Austria-Hungary, Italy… it is hard to find something truly autochtonous, essentially Croatian. We certainly have the potential to become a gourmet travel destination, we have plenty of chefs, but too little courage to try something new. Self confidence is key, trust in your own business success. Once this attitude spreads and becomes the norm, we can start talking about a gourmet travel destination. Novigrad is certainly a microcosmic gourmet destination, we have four excellent restaurants in a very small town.
What is your message for aspiring head chefs?
Be brave, be who you are. Don’t get into arguments with the people around you, but stay true to your own narrative, your gut feeling. That is the only way to set yourself apart.