Each year the Taste the Mediterranean festival draws together international chefs and authorities on food, farming and tourism to collaborate on a rich array of culinary masterclasses for chefs and students, panel discussions, “four hands” dinners, and wine tastings. The results connect Croatia to the wider Mediterranean in the variety and quality of its restaurants, food and wine.
The seventh annual festival took place October 7-10 in Split. It has been held in different Croatian cities in previous years, but festival director Ingrid Badurina Danielsson announced that Split will host the festival from now on.
“[The festival] started in 2014 because the Croatian Mediterranean diet was integrated in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage. So we have seven countries … they are Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Morocco and Cyprus. Their Mediterranean diet is on the UNESCO list,” said Danielsson. (France has its own standing with UNESCO.) The chefs invited to the festival “discover the local products, which are the same almost everywhere in the Mediterranean, but then each country has its own culinary identity and this is what is nice, because the festival is meant to be a crossing, an exchange of experiences, and exchange of the way they cook.”
An international team of chefs
International guest chefs of Beninese, Greek, Japanese, Mexican and French roots arrived for the event in Split from their restaurants in France and Spain. Both international and Croatian guest chefs led educational masterclasses for professionals and students at three Split hospitality and gastronomy schools. They also joined Split’s top chefs in the kitchen for a series of lavish dinners at Bokeria Kitchen & Wine, Median at Hotel Briig, Noštromo, Štorija, Zora Bila and Zrno Soli.
The dinner at Zora Bila was especially festive. It celebrated the Med Women Chefs initiative, a new international platform that aims to improve the role of women in gastronomy. In a beautiful setting overlooking Bačvice beach, seven top women chefs shared their vision, one by one, in seven courses paired with wines from Testament Winery, located near Šibenik.
Wine tastings on innovative themes
Wine, too, was front and center, at expertly organized guided tastings at Briig Hotel, led by Alen Gulan and Siniša Koceić of Vino.like and Wine Box wine shop in Split. In three events, the pair presented wines on innovative themes including Italian “Hero Wines from Extreme Positions” and “Lost Indigenous Varieties” of Croatia. For the Croatian tasting they poured wines made from rare grapes such as Vlaška, Ničuša and Babica (all made by Matela, in Kaštela), Trnjak (by Pilač, near Makarska) and Cetinka (by Bačić, on Korčula). The spotlight was on Spanish wines at the third tasting, designed to feature the products of the guest country at this year’s festival.
A bright future for the festival
Now that the festival has a permanent home, Danielsson’s plans for it are bigger and better. “We need more support from the institutions. Everybody says, ‘bravo, you’re doing a great job, this is good’, but a large amount of money is needed to do a festival like this,” she says. She points out that the festival promotes Croatian gastronomy, wine and local products here and abroad, and its emphasis on education supports Croatian professionals who are growing and learning.
But Danielsson would like to go farther. She has set her eye on building a broader program with restaurants in Split. As for local products, she says, “We want to cover the whole region, not only Split but the whole county. We think that between the producers–the OPG, the small farmers–between the wine producers, there are many fantastic stories, and we want to discover that, to show the potential the country has in this field. Because I think that Croatia is still one of the countries which has real, good autochthonous products and … it’s not known enough.”
[Title photo: Siniša Koceić pours wine at the “Hero Wines from Extreme Positions” tasting at Briig Hotel. (Staff/CCM)]