I obtained a press pass for the European Food Summit 2019 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, truly experienced Slovenian and fusion food and heard many inspiring food stories. On Saturday 16 March from 12:00 I joined the Gourmet Ljubljana Crawl, ending at Odprta Kuhna to celebrate and kick off the new season premiere of this food market.
The tickets (€49) for the Gourmet Ljubljana Crawl were sold out very much in advance. If you can get hold of tickets for the next edition, go! I promise it will be worth your money. Not only did I get (more) acquainted with traditional Slovenian food and local ingredients, but I also got to eat food cooked by famous top chefs of world class restaurants.
When I arrived at the European Food Summit information point in front of the market square, next to the Ljubljanica river that the city is named after, I received the program and my press pass. I was excited and didn’t know what to expect, the program looked interesting, the venues (of which I had previously only visited 2 out of 6) seemed very impressive and yet there were no clues about what kind of food would be served. Well, besides a bit of lactose intolerance and a childhood trauma for shells and snails, I don’t have any food allergies, so I believe I should try all food at least once (maybe except for snails!) and actually more times if prepared by different people. There was for example once that time in Slavonia, Croatia where the blood sausage did not look or taste like blood and was spicy, it was the best sausage I ever ate while I generally do not like blood sausage.
The first stop of the culinary crawl was at DobraVaga art gallery (Adamič-Lunder Embankment 5), where Chef Jakob Pintar (TaBar tapas and wine Restaurant) served an amuse bouche and an aperitif. Jakob is chef at Ljubljana’s most popular tapas bar, though not long ago he was still sharpening his knives in Gordon Ramsey’s and Joël Robuchon’s restaurants. DobraVaga’s contemporary art was very diverse, I had the idea most of the art was from young upcoming artists (some of them were even present) and I appreciate that a lot. Then the food; what a good start. A cheese crisp accompanied by a lovely fresh orange wine, followed by potato salad, smoked trout fillet and skin with black garlic.
The second course was served at Kresija Gallery (Stritarjeva ulica 6) by chef Janez Bratovž. His restaurant JB Restaurant, is on San Pellegrino world’s best restaurants list. While eating his exquisite culinary delights, naturally accompanied by a good glass of wine, I learnt more about Ljubljana while watching the exhibition Spirit of the city, Ljubljana Old Town through the eyes of photographer Tihomir Pinter.
By now I was already extremely pleased. Art, food, wine and Slovenian culture. I was pleasantly surprised by discovering these two gems of galleries, both very centrally located in streets where I generally pass through when in Ljubljana and yet I had never visited them.
And then came the eggplant. I think it was prepared 3 ways, but it also could have been 4? Eggplant soup, poached eggplant and/or boiled? , crispy eggplant. Sweet, tangy, crispyness, umami, so many different flavors and only 1 ingredient was responsible for all this. I’d love to know how to cook like this and fell in love with eggplant even more. What an exceptionally creative and good chef. If they would have informed me by now that the food tour was now finished, I would have been happy and satisfied, but I wasn’t even half way yet.
The 3rd stop and course: at the Museum of Illusions (Kongresni trg 13) Chef Jorg Zupan from Atelje restaurant located in Grand Hotel Union . Thanks to Jorg Zupan, known for his innovativeness and use of seasonal produce, Atelje is one of the most exclusive restaurants in Slovenia. Atelje’s special feature is that they bake their own sourdough bread (you know I’m a fan), ripen cheese, make yoghurt and preserve vegetables. Also, Jorg Zupan is quite young for such a successful chef, has loads of experience cooking in great restaurants all over the world, plus has some big, visible tatoos on his arm(s?), so his food had already been on my To-Try-List for a while.
When I figured out what he was serving, it was a bit of a shock to me. I started talking to him and asked him to explain me his menu in English, so I could film it (Coming up in a next blog post). The atmosphere was great, his team and him and some other participants of the food tour started joking around. He seemed happy, relaxed and passionate, the soup smelled amazing, he was enthusiastically explaining me his choice for ingredients and dish, so I was truly experiencing his food before I even tasted it. For this reason, I completely forgot I was actually in a gallery / museum and I have not looked at the art at all. Luckily the exhibition, certain to persuade visitors that nothing is as appears at first sight (“In a museum, a picture is worth a thousand words. But an illusion is worth millions”) charges no admission fees, so I’ll be back!
Even though I could not finish my plate of brains, this dinner gave me the best experience of the food tour. I was so intrigued by chef Jorg Zupan’s passion, his use of “crazy” combinations and his respect for animals, (he always uses the complete animal). If it wasn’t for all that together in that setting, I’m not sure I would have tried the brain soup… So, as I said, amazingly tasty brain soup, with spicy – sour, Asian flavor inspired kimchi, mushrooms and pork brains, accompanied by one of the best pieces of sourdough bread I’ve ever tried and a glass of strong red wine. I came to the conclusion I do not like the texture of brains. The wine, soup and bread helped with that. I am very much looking forward to trying more food from Jorg’s hands and I’d like to meet him again and ask him more questions about his style of cooking.
Next up, the 4th stop of the food crawl we got served at the Town Hall (in Slovenian: Mestna hiša, Magistrat or Rotovž, located at Stritarjeva ulica 2). Usually, the Town Hall is the seat of the Municipality of Ljubljana, built in the late 15th century. I had previously visited this venue before, as there are always admission free art exhibitions and sometimes even intimate concerts taking place and it’s very centrally located in the old town. The program announced that we would be served an urban main course by Chef Igor Jagodic (Strelec Restaurant), who has been considered one of the top chefs in Ljubljana for years. The current art exhibition “Into the nature” by artist by Gregor Pratneker, really suited the venue.
Perhaps I was so deeply immersed in my food and art experiences that until that moment I did not feel open enough to communicate much with other participants of the Gourmet Ljubljana Crawl, but it was here and then where I actually met some interesting Slovenians and had very nice conversations with my new acquaintances. Photographer Marko Ocepek captured exactly that moment:
Oh yeah and the food blew my mind. Firstly, I didn’t realise that this would be a main course and portions were now increased, but I didn’t mind. This meal was one of the magical meals from the whole food crawl that I will never forget again. Such bold flavor combinations and yet they flowed into a perfect blend together. Unfortunately this chef was too busy to speak to, I would have loved to meet him and complement him on his cod, sauerkraut, beans and kulen (For those of you not familiar with Balkan ingredients, this pork “sausage” is most comparable to chorizo) dish. Separately they’re commonly used ingredients in the (Former Yugoslavia) region and they’re all ingredients I really love a lot, but would before tasting this dish not have thought of combining together.
By now I understood the 10-15 min walks between every course, it was perfect! I could eat like this every week, but those walks from course to course are necessary.
The 5th stop of the Gourmet Ljubljana Crawl was on top of Ljubljanski Grad, the Ljubljana Castle and a ticket up with the funicular was included in the tour. The Ljubljana Castle (which I’d visited many times previously), is a beautiful medieval architectural monument on top of a hill overlooking the city of Ljubljana. I’ve spent New Years eve in Ljubjana a few times and unlike in The Netherlands it’s not the residents randomly and dangerously shooting of fireworks everywhere, but the city lighting beautiful fireworks from the castle. Arriving up and nearing the end of the food tour, I realised this is where someone in the organisation possibly may have had underestimated something. Perhaps something went wrong in the improvised kitchen. There was a long line of people waiting, it took (a bit too) long before everyone got served their food and unfortunately it was extremely windy, so we had to wait in the cold. I did not complain and was fine, I enjoyed the view, but many people gave up and skipped this course. I saw the chef and his team working very, very hard and I made it this far, so I decided I would wait. It was after 17.00h when we got served though (That was supposed to be the end time of the culinary crawl) and I still had to walk down from the hill and to the next venue, so I was slightly worried I would miss my dessert. All this great food all day long, without dessert, that would be disastrous, right?
Peter Kovač (Maxim Restaurant) is famous for his delicious and organic recipes. Because of the wait and after the rush, I did not have the time to visit the exhibitions at the castle: Eva Petrič: TRANShomoPLANTATION; Dušan Kirbiš: Fons opus and Edi Šelhaus: Photographic Highlights. But I did see that there is now also a Jazz Club in the castle, so I will be back anway. The succulent soft meat (Was it veal?) was good, the potato as well and I do not remember the rest of the details, but I do remember the wind.
What I thought would be the 6th and last course, dessert, was actually not. It was for the Gourmet Ljubljana Crawl, but it wasn’t for me. More about that in a bit. As promised in the program; Križanke really does have an unforgettable ambiance. More about that in an upcoming blogpost.
Luckily (!!!) Chef Mojmir Šiftar (Evergreen Restaurant) was informed we’d be late and was still preparing my dessert. He is recognised by Gault&Millau as young talent of the year and was also very approachable and nice, I captured him explaining me his dish on film. His dessert was a piece of art. A beautiful fusion of traditional Slovenian ingredients I did not expect in a dessert. Yes, I was kind of full by now, but I could have had another one. Pumpkin seed oil panna cotta with carrot cream, black garlic gel and vinegar, candied pork tongue and fried pork skin crisp. Oh my. It tasted as good as it looked.
While enjoying my amazing dessert, I was interviewed by a journalist for a Slovenian magazine (Liza) about my knowledge as a foreigner on Slovenian food (Without bragging I dare to say that it’s slightly higher than that of the average tourist in Slovenia) and when she saw my press pass, she told me I also had access to the VIP lounge upstairs overlooking the Odprta Kuhna food market, as the Gourmet Ljubljana Crawl was now officially over. I didn’t want the food tour to be over (I seriously felt sad!), it was too good. I didn’t want to end this day, so I decided to see if I could get another glass of wine upstairs and here’s how I closed that amazing day:
Note: That’s my new favorite cheese up here. Tolmin cheese. Isn’t it beautiful? It tastes as pretty as it looks. I hadn’t tried it before. Does this cheese sound familiar to you? Yes, you may have heard Valter Kramar mention it in the Netflix Chef’s Table episode about his wife Ana Roš and their restaurant Hiša Franko. This cheese is from the Soča Valley and Mr Kramar ages it in his wine cellar. As this is now my new favorite cheese, I am very much looking forward to trying his aged version (And yes, also that restaurant is high on my To-Visit-List).
As you can see, everything was great. Including more than just that one glass of wine I wanted, all taken care of by Jezeršek catering. They run a well known restaurant in a traditional homestead, as well as a restaurant in the picturesque Bled and they’ve been on my to visit list for a while now as well. I thought I could not be amazed by food anymore, plus I thought I was done eating for the day (obviously because I had been eating all day and got to finish of with dessert), but then they amazed me with pickled quail eggs. I can’t describe how much I loved them.
As this blogpost became a quite long report of my experiences, you may expect some more blogposts about my super tasty experiences during the European Food Summit.
This was by far the best food tour I have ever attended. I might be slightly biased, as I already was a big fan of Slovenia’s culinary culture.