Melkior Bašić gives off the impression of a man sure of himself. With a great deal of confidence, he speaks about the various elements of his job: from purchasing supplies and training staff, to food ideology and presentation. And that would all be fine had Bašić not been entrusted with the most luxurious hotel on the northern Adriatic, Mali Lošinj’s truly brilliant Alhambra. And if this was not Bašić’s first position as an executive chef.
Given the fact that Melkior Bašić had never been an independent head chef until now, his appointment was a courageous decision of Alhambra’s owners, Jadranka company, and Bašić himself. For now, it seems that the risk paid off. During our visit to Alhambra’s restaurant Alfred Keller – named after the architect who one hundread years ago designed the first Lošinj hotel – we enjoyed toughtfull, balanced, elegant and beautiful food that meets the serious international standards of hotel fine dining.
Dark horse of 2016.
So much so, that Melkior Bašić could be this year’s biggest surprise in the Croatian gastronomy scene, but only at first glance. “I was destined to cook” says Mr Bašić, while we were sitting in the lobby of Bellevue, the other five-star Jadranka hotel, on a windy May afternoon. Bellevue’s roof is where Bašić grows his herbs.
“I was destined to be a chef, because my father Silvio Belužić was an excellent chef. I really valued his job, and I never wanted to do anything else.” Among other things, Silvio Belužić led a team of twenty-five chefs of Catering Majetić, during the golden era of this Croatian gastronomic institution. After primary school Bašić moved to Zagreb, to attend Hospitality high school. He began working as soon as he graduated.
As an eighteen year old, his first job was at Kreativna kuhinja, consulting and catering firm founded in 2002. by Miro Biondić, one of the chefs at the Zagreb Inter Continental (now the a part of Westin). “Biondić was the first, or one of the first people in our restaurant scene to say loudly and clearly: Let’s cook without Vegeta,” Bašić recalls, his voice sounding with that warm combination of pride and nostalgia. “So, with Biondić, we got rid of tired old templates in Zagreb and Croatian hotel-restaurant cuisine. We started to cook fresh, exciting, local food, and that made me really happy.”
Bašić’s first assignemnt was carving. He had to perfect the skill of slicing fruit, vegetables, and meat, particularly significant for the decorative elements in hotel cuisine and catering. But much more important was the fact that the team at Kreativna kuhinja created menus and sold recipes to a series of hotel companies.
Into the spotlight
“We were always in the background, so there was not much talk about us in the media: that’s how it really worked. Many hotel chefs who presented their menus to journalists, guests, or ministers of tourism, were actually cooking what we had showed them. They were our menus, our approach, our knowledge, it’s just that we were always in the shadows”, explains Bašić.
“We occasionally worked for private restaurants, that’s how we gained experience. From serious pizzerias and fast food joints to fine dining, we traveled the world, worked and learned. Before Alhambra, I worked at 92 kitchens in Croatia and abroad. As our work standards increased and we started to optimize spending, hotels, especially those managed by large companies, became our natural focus.”
And that is how seven years ago Kreativna kuhinja began working with Jadranka, a company that at that time didn’t have a single five-star hotel. When Alhambra opened last year, Jadranka management offered the position of head chef to Bašić. It was obvious to them that it was pointless investing into a foreign ‘all-rounder’ chef, like the ones who have taken over the kitchens of most Croatian hotels.
“We didn’t want a classic five-star chef”, says a member of board Goran Filipović, “We are extremely satisfied with Bašić. And we’re sure that we made the right decision”. And that is how, after ten years, the 31-year-old Melkior Bašić left Kreativna kuhinja, to start working at Alhambra.
Pure tastes of local
Bašič’s vision for Alhambra’s food is rather clear. “We work with local ingredients, we want clean flavours, and we use modern culinary techniques only for those gentle, subtle additions, which can sometimes elevate a dish. We can’t focus on foams and gels, they can be just an additional element of our gastronomy”, Bašić explains, “When premium local ingredients are not available, we use only the best international produce.
The scallops you ate last night came from America, because Croatian scallops are too small to be sliced like sashimi and served partially raw. But, the lamb was from the island of Cres, the scampi were from Lošinj, I put the scampi in karamelas we made here in Alhambra’s kitchen, just like every other pasta we serve to our guests. Last but not least, most of the herbs we use, come from the roof of the Bellevue.”
The marinated scallops garnished with flowers are one of the best looking dishes we had this year. Karamele with scampi in sage butter were singing with just a few oyster leaves that gave them a strong iodine scent and an almost electric charge. The lamb was cooked sous vide for hours, than roasted ina hot cast iron pan. All three dishes demonstrated Bašić’s knowledge, talent, and potential. Melkior Bašić could soon become the next star of Croatian gastronomy. It’s a good thing that he is not afraid of such responsibility, nor is Jadranka management.