Chef of the Week: Chef Tomica Đukić, Chef to the Amazing Croatian National Football Team
Croatia is a fantastic sports nation, boasting loads of Olympic and World Champions, from Water Polo, Handball, to Ski and Tennis (Goran Ivanišević, anyone?!).
As in much of Europe, football is the king of sport – and Croatia has been spoiled with amazing talent. Croatia’s football team ranked 3rd at the 1998 World Championships and runner-up in 2018, which is an extraordinary achievement for a nation of just 4 million.
So what has football got to do with cooking? Introducing Chef Tomica Đukić, Head Chef at Hotel Osijek and Chef to Croatia’s National Football Team.
Story put together with the help of the Croatian National Tourist Board.
1. What inspired you to become a chef?
There was no special inspiration, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a chef.
I’ve been hanging around the kitchen since I was little, and that’s it. That’s how it had to be. I can be in the kitchen all the time: it’s my comfort zone.
2.Where did you train to cook?
I graduated from the catering and tourism school in Osijek. After a couple of seasons on the Croatian Adriatic, I went to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany), then to Copenhagen (Denmark) all together for 8 years working in great restaurants where I was able to progress every day.
In 2004, Mato Škojo decided to renovate Hotel Osijek. It was the perfect opportunity for me to return to Osijek. Hard work and a lot of effort for me and all the Hotel’s employees with the maximum support of the management and owner, we put Hotel Osijek on the gastro map not only in Croatia but also as a hotel known for its hospitality and excellence in all segments of work we do.
This is proven by the many awards we have received over the years, but of course also the positive comments from guests.
In 2015 I had the opportunity to cook for the Croatian national football team, (I cooked at two championships, the 2016 European Championship in France and 2018 World Cup in Russia). Traveling with the team allowed me to learn something new in each hotel and expand my knowledge.
3. Tell us about your work at Zimska Luka? What is the concept and what is your inspiration for the menu?
Working in the Zimska Luka restaurant is a challenge even after 15 years.
The concept of the restaurant goes in several directions, from the a la carte menu to various themed menus that are done constantly throughout the year. But also weekend menus aimed at families who want to enjoy food and drink together over the weekend, to daily menus with which we always manage to surprise our guests.
I find inspiration most simply by seasonally selecting food as much as possible from domestic family farms.
4. What is the most popular dish on the menu?
In addition to perch fish dishes, there are certainly more and more dishes involving the black Slavonian pork.
5. Tell us a bit about Croatian cuisine? What makes it special and what are the top dishes we absolutely have to try out?
Croatian cuisine is specific because we are fortunate to have “green” (continental) and “blue” (Adriatic) Croatian cuisine, which simply delights with the quality and choice of healthy local ingredients and indigenous food products.
In addition to traditional dishes, I would recommend black Slavonian pig fillet in reduced Merlot wine, perch fillet with young spinach, and citrus emulsion.
6.What’s your favorite place to visit in Croatia?
The Slavonia and Baranja region is certainly a part of Croatia that is my favorite and that should be visited. With its food, folklore, natural beauty, customs, and historical sights it attracts irresistibly.
7. What is something that few people know about you?
That will remain a secret, ha, ha, ha, ha!
8. You are the official chef to the Croatian national football team. What special dishes did you prepare to celebrate the team’s victory?
After the victory, we always relax a bit and give ourselves a break. Traditional dishes are prepared, but also the so-called junk food.
9. What’s your dearest memory with the team?
The whole tournament in Russia was special, the welcome back to Zagreb is something that cannot be described, it must be experienced. But mostly the players themselves and the staff, that togetherness, the best team.
Editor’s note: Croatia was runner-up at the FIFA’s World Champions hosted by Russia in 2018.
10. You are known for primarily using local ingredients. What are your favorite local ingredients and why?
The meat of black Slavonian pigs, Slavonian-Baranja cured meat products, small batches of organic vegetables and fruits from family farms. The traditional way of cultivation and Slavonian fertile soil is a guarantee of extra quality.
11. Do you have a signature dish or a favorite dish that you enjoy cooking?
The recipe of Flavored black Slavonian pig fillet with pumpkin and beetroot, its simplicity and perfectly balanced flavors, where everything is made from homemade ingredients is the direction I strive for.
12. What advice would you give someone who wants to become a successful chef?
Being a chef is a way of life. If you sincerely want it, you need an awful lot of sacrifice, work, courage, and of course the artistic spirit you can’t do without.
Also, family support is important because most of your time is spent in the kitchen.Chef Tomica Đukić
13. Your best piece of advice for amateur chefs?
Just work and perseverance.