Chef of the Week: Chef Bruno Vokal, Head Chef at Noel, Zagreb’s first Michelin-star restaurant
We are very happy to feature a young Croatian star who has recently made the transition from sous chef to head chef. But this is not your typical culinary promotion, as Bruno took over the helm at Zagreb’s prestigious Noel restaurant, the first restaurant in Croatia’s capital to receive a Michelin star award.
He took over from Chef Goran Kočiš, who also owns the restaurant, and which speaks volumes about Bruno Vokal’s skills and the trust vested in him.
Chef Bruno Vokal has a rich international experience with stints at many top restaurants in Austria, Montenegro, and the UK. But he returned home, to beautiful Croatia, first working as a sous chef with Mario Curić, the head chef of Dubrovnik’s prestigious Restaurant 360, who was awarded a Michelin star in 2018.
Chef’s Pencil has talked to Bruno about his career and his work at Noel, as well as Croatian cuisine and advice for young chefs.
Story put together with the help of the Croatian National Tourist Board.
1. What inspired you to become a chef?
My inspiration to become a chef was in good part due to genetics, namely because of my grandmothers and my mother who are in the business. Having shown interest from an early age, it was obvious that I was destined for the kitchen. I’m very happy about that and I can’t imagine that things would have gone any differently.
2. Where did you train to cook?
I started to cook primarily at home among my family. There was a mix of everything, but when the time came for my professional education, I started attending the Catering and Tourism College in Zagreb under the guidance of my professor Mladen Marušić.
3. You’ve been recently named Head Chef at Noel, Zagreb’s first Michelin-star restaurant. What does this mean to you?
For me personally, the appointment as Noel’s head chef is a success and a pleasure.
The proof is that my ambitions, commitment, effort and dedication have yielded something right, which is definitely what I expected from myself. Also, for me, it brings another form to what I strive for, it brings responsibility, care, and certainly raising my personal standards.
4. Tell us about your work at Noel Restaurant? What is the concept and what was is the inspiration for this season’s menu?
My work at Noel is simple. In brief, together with my sous Chef Antonio Obrovac and the rest of the team, I develop idealistic dishes based on food and technique.
The concept that is behind the current seasonal menu is based exclusively on food with a technical kick, all together guided by tradition.
5. What’s the most popular item on the menu?
The most popular menu item is actually the menu itself, but if I have to single something out, it would definitely be štruklji and a dish of young beans that certainly celebrates the season and the ingredient itself.
6. Tell us a bit about Croatian cuisine? What makes it special and what are the top Croatian dishes we absolutely need to try out?
Croatian cuisine for me is a mixture of different cultures. It thus reduces a lot of different thinking into one whole. It has its own genius and significance, but in the world of fine dining maybe it is a little less represented.
Dishes that I would personally recommend are definitely štrukli, fish stew, fish in salt, shrimp buzara, baked mussels, sardines savory, sarma, potato soup, and many more.
7. What do you regard as the quintessential Croatian ingredient?
For me, the key Croatian ingredient is definitely onions.
8. What’s your favorite place to visit in Croatia?
My favourite places in Croatia are certainly food markets, butchers, and ports where you can find an abundance of things that I love the most.
9. You’ve worked and trained at many different top restaurants in Croatia, Austria, Montenegro, and London. How important is international experience to a successful culinary career?
International experience is necessary not only for us from Croatia but for everyone around the globe. It is very difficult to achieve high quality and become competitive in the market if you have not researched and learned how to function in it. For me, this experience led to what I am now.Chef Bruno Vokal
10. Can you share one or two things you’ve learned during your internships and working as a sous-chef alongside other top chefs?
Definitely the things I learned best while working as a sous chef were organization, understanding, attitude, empathy. The most important thing is to know that you are not working for yourself but for the guest, but the sooner you get to know yourself, the better you will perform in all respects.
11. You are regarded as one of the best Croatian chefs. What sets a top chef apart from the pack?
In my opinion, in general a top chef may be distinguished from the rest by their will and dedication, consistency, and desire for progress, and in my personal case I stand by the view that no one can be the best, but we should be our selves, share our knowledge with those who want to learn and understand, and then we will all always be better off.
12. Do you have a signature dish or a favorite dish that you enjoy cooking?
My signature dish would certainly be the now deconstructed štrukli, and with that I would also single out a dish of white asparagus stuffed with eel, with asparagus spaghetti and wagyou Dutch sauce.
13. What’s the best meal you’ve ever had.
The best meal I ate was definitely dinner at the Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester restaurant (3 ***)
14. What advice would you give someone who wants to become a successful chef?
My advice for a chef eager for success is to really question themselves as to how much they want it, to indulge in their true love and then it will surely shine with full splendor through them.Chef Bruno Vokal
15. Your best piece of advice for amateur chefs?
And for amateur chefs I would say just enjoy cooking.