We asked Saša Pribičević, a young, ambitious and extremely talented chef at the Matsunoki restaurant, to take a moment off from his fast-paced daily work and answer a few quick questions about Japanese cuisine, his own culinary inspiration, and the concept of the first Japanese restaurant on a Croatian island.
The Matsunoki restaurant opened in the 5-star Hotel Bellevue, which is located in stunning, emerald-green Čikat Cove. The luxury Hotel Bellevue is renowned for its fine dining, which includes fresh, locally grown ingredients of high quality, and herbs from the hotel’s own spice garden. But it’s not only healthy ingredients that make the Hotel Bellevue the best representative of the Island of Vitality. There’s also a comprehensive offer that includes health packages, spa treatments, visiting doctors, and sports programmes – and now also the unique Matsunoki Japanese-Mediterranean fusion restaurant.
Saša welcomed us in the modern and elegant restaurant, which was designed by the creative team of the renowned Franjić-Šekoranja Studio. The open-kitchen concept and prominent sushi bar allow guests to observe every step of the preparation of Japanese specialities and to customise each order according to their wishes by conversing directly with the staff.
Matsunoki offers traditional Japanese cuisine that combines authentic Japanese dishes with fresh organically farmed local Mediterranean ingredients. Dashi fish soup, karaage chicken, kimchi, tuna tataki, nigiri sushi, maki sushi, chirashi sushi, matcha ice cream with a sweet paste made of adzuki beans and sesame crumble are just some of the specialities that Saša creates combining his knowledge, experience and passion for cooking.
Hello Saša! As chef of the Matsunoki restaurant, you’ve recently become a member of the Lošinj Hotels & Villas team and also the renowned 5-star Hotel Bellevue. How did you make the decision to move to the island?
I began my journey when I moved from Osijek to Zagreb. For the first few years in Zagreb I worked at Apetit, then as a shift manager at Takenoko, and finally as sous-chef at Time. Working in these restaurants, which are among the best in Croatia, helped me acquire great experience and knowledge. The next logical step was to become a chef, although this actually happened to me before I thought it would.
Where do you find the inspiration for your daily challenges at work? Do you have some role models among your colleagues?
I don’t have any particular role model, but any colleague who knows what they’re doing can teach you something useful. When you do what you love and enjoy it, inspiration comes by itself.
You’ve specialised in Japanese cuisine, which is often described as the healthiest in the world. Can you tell us why this is?
It’s because of the minimally thermally processed or raw food which retains many more of its healthy properties. Japanese cuisine abounds in healthy ingredients and is very well balanced.
Could you briefly explain the concept of the Matsunoki restaurant? Which are its distinctive features, and what distinguishes it from other Japanese restaurants?
The concept of Matsunoki is a fusion of Japanese and Mediterranean cuisine. We put an emphasis on local ingredients and make no compromise when it comes to quality. Another distinctive feature is that guests can adapt dishes from the menu according to their own preferences. There is no set menu: everything is prepared à la carte and can be adapted to guests’ wishes.
You said that you put an emphasis on local food. How does this work with traditional Japanese specialities?
That’s right. Our ingredients are mainly of local and home-grown origin, and we also grow our own herbs and spices. We only import ingredients that are of an exotic origin or that require other climatic conditions than those that can be found here.
Which ingredients are typical of both Japanese and Mediterranean cuisines?
There are many ingredients that connect both cuisines, but the most important is the fish from our beautiful sea, which is of a high quality and fits perfectly with Japanese cuisine. This is the reason why Matsunoki is located in the Hotel Bellevue, which combines healthy food, the Island of Vitality, and luxury accommodation that can satisfy all the needs of modern travellers.
Can you express your creativity given the fact that the appearance of certain Japanese dishes, like sushi, which is probably the best known here, is predefined?
I think that Japanese cuisine is very creative and that it gives the opportunity to play with shapes and colours just like any other cuisine. There are no obstacles for creative people!
Which of the Japanese dishes that you’ve prepared do you consider to be the most demanding?
To me, tempura is the most complex, because simple things are also always most difficult.
At the Matsunoki restaurant, you prepare dishes directly in front of guests. Do you enjoy this? What are the advantages of such a method of preparation?
Of course, I enjoy it. I work most of the time in open kitchens. The advantage is that the chefs can see and feel the guests’ emotions. The same is also true for the guests, because they can experience the food in its entirety and see the process of preparing it.
Saša, thank you for this conversation. To conclude, could you tell us the secret of good sushi? What’s the most important thing when preparing it, and what should one be particularly careful about?
When it comes to preparing sushi, there are two things that we must pay attention to if we want to make good sushi. The first is well-cooked and seasoned rice, and the second is fresh and technically properly prepared fish.
You can try Saša’s specialities at the Matsunoki restaurant in the Hotel Bellevue.