Dino Galvagno, one of the greatest Croatian chefs, is currently working as a freelancer on various projects and events.

Dino Galvagno is a famous Croatian chef with extensive experience. He has studied and worked in Croatia, Germany and Italy, and has opened and managed several of his own restaurants in Croatia, but to the general public he is most widely known as a judge in MasterChef Croatia. Today, he works as a freelancer on projects in different locations and levels. Following his recent participation in the laudable “Days of Visual Culture” project in Knin, we talked to him about gastro-tourism development in Croatia and the state of the local gastronomy, as well as about some other interesting topics too.

Q: How long have you been cooking and what took you to this profession? Under whose influence did you develop as a chef the most?

I have been cooking for about 25 years now, but my primary motivation for choosing this profession was the fact that it is a creative profession. As for the impact, most of the work experiences I developed under my own influence – learning and exploring, slowly I formed myself and the fact that I do my work in a certain way.

Q: What inspires you most? Which ingredients or way of gastronomy are the most interesting for you at the moment?

To realize my own idea in a creative way! I could say that I am inspired by the surroundings. I often say that nature is an eternal source of inspiration, so…the nature the surrounding in which I prefer to spend my time. Often I draw inspiration from the location or a conversation…or current trends on the gastronomic scene. I am particularly interested in local cuisine, how it occurred, what is its history, origin etc.

Croatian gastronomy – unused potential

Q: Today you are working as a freelancer. What does that actually mean? Are you cooking just for tourist, business and cultural events?

The job of a freelancer involves primarily a lot of resourcefulness and time spent behind the wheel. You specified that well – I cook for various more or less thematic events, but the majority of my job is to create a menu for different restaurants.

Q: During your study and also afterwards you travelled and worked in different environments, but always returned to Croatia. Can tell us where Croatian gastronomy is on the gastronomy map in relation to Italian or German cuisine? What does Croatian gastronomy need to become a leading gastronomic destination in the region?

Oh well, I wish to find that out… Despite feeling like at home anywhere I go, I return to Croatia as it is interesting and full of potential. Croatia is at the same time a domestic, gentle and exotic country, under the nose of Europe. Hmm, what are we lacking? We do not lack anything other than the will and common sense. Neither Germany nor Italy or any other neighbouring country has any better conditions than us – we have a land on which everything grows, we have shared a history with Italy since ancient times, including the gastronomic impact. It seems to me that we have a complex, not that we are missing something.

Q: How much is gastronomic tourism developed in Croatia? In which direction and for what kind of guest must we develop the gastronomic offer in the future?

Gastro-tourism in Croatia is developing more and more from season to season. Well, there are a lot of “copies” and less original ideas on the menus, so perhaps it would be better if the restaurant owners or chefs sought inspiration in its heritage, rather that in cooking shows, the Internet or other people’s menus.

Q: In last few years you have opened and managed a few restaurants. We know that in the last few years street food and fast food has become very popular, so what is your recipe for successful restaurant business in Croatia?

I really do not know. Even a handful of restaurants can barely survive. Only restaurants on the coast are doing well on the market. Maybe I will once again try to ‘pass the head through the wall’ and re-run something, but believe me, I already have a headache because of Croatian business policy.

Q: Are satisfied customers the best marketing strategy for restaurants? What are the main things that restaurant owners need to focus on when they promote food and beverages?

If you are asking me for a personal opinion, I think satisfied guests are the best marketing for restaurants. The gastronomic market would be wonderful if the caterers payed more attention to guests rather than to classic PR and marketing. And the guests would be grateful for it!

Hotels are neglecting local dishes and ingredients

Q: What do you think about the restaurant offer in Croatian hotels? Is the quality and food selection enough good for modern guest? What would you say is the most important thing to achieve in a hotel kitchen?

This question would be better to ask the guests, not the chefs, to get the most honest answer. As much as I have been able to stay in hotels as a guest, I can say I have sometimes been thrilled, but more often shocked by unoriginal dishes and at the utter ignorance of local dishes. Maybe I am not a good example, as hotels are specializing for a specific clientele. These may be guests who are looking for luxury, a clientele that is budget dependent, or for example athletes, and so in this way they need to adjust their offer.
Today’s hotels, especially in Croatia, do not have good restaurants. In fact, there is no real reason for this, but yet it is so. My guess is that this is due to “overmanagement”. In hotels, there are always a bunch of obstacles when trying to purchase local foods or to cook something genuinely good. The problem is to carry that through the papers. Probably we
will soon be served with papers in hotels…

Q: Besides the quality of the dish, how important is its presentation and design? Can good presentation sell the dish?

Everything has to be designed qualitatively and the guests will be satisfied. And so the “sales” will be satisfied too.

Q: As a creative consultant you’ve worked on food preparation and service at the gala ceremony of Croatian association to the EU, a menu for 300 people that included 5 courses. What kind of food preparation is involved in such a great event?

Preparing a menu for ceremonial events, especially for big and important ones like this, involves a bunch of restrictions. There are many different criteria in terms of ingredients and organisation that you have to satisfy. Precise timing and an army of cooks and waiters that give quality and timely work are very important. Basically, not such a creative and fun task.

Q: You have also participated in another big event – Days of Visual Culture in Knin. This event was part of the “Neodoljiva Hrvatska” (Irresistible Croatia) project where you prepared the feast of King Zvonimir. How hard was it to interpret dishes from the Middle Ages and how can that kind of event help to develop a tourist destination?

Now that’s more fun! I like to work on projects that develop an awareness of the identity of the local gastronomy. I gladly accept such challenges, including this one. Fortunately, I have recently studied the cuisine of ancient Rome and medieval ages, so I prepared myself well for this project. I was glad that my ideas could be at least partially put into action. Of course gastro-tourism can help with the development of the destination – my gosh, there are so many destinations in Europe that are existing exclusively from gastronomy!