Suggestions for Celebrating St. Martin’s Day

Interview with Bine Volčič

The acclaimed chef Bine Volčič in his restaurant Monstera Bistro in Ljubljana developed an interesting and daring culinary concept, which is marked by a constant search for new tastes, seasonal ingredients of the highest quality and the use of unusual and forgotten foods.
Bine, your Monstera Bistro has been well accepted by Ljubljana culinary scene in the past two years and a half. Are you satisfied?

Yes, I am very happy, the planned concept was followed through and the bistro is exactly what I imagined it to be – small, but full of satisfied guests, who we, the team and I, offer the best we can.

You are known for your “daring” cuisine – how is this accepted by your guests?

Such “daring” plate is, for example, a smoked pig’s snout, a pig’s brain foam with eggs, pesto from pumpkin seed oil, garlic and parsley, pickled wild plants (wild garlic, nasturtiums, common hop) – this is my own dish, which, in its own way, encaptures the taste of the Slovenian tradition. I also understand those who frown upon the brutally realistic look of pig’s snout, but I wish to portray the reality of meat, and not solely the masked products, which do not ask for a conscience check (the snouts are ground into hot dogs) – yes, let’s eats meat, in moderate amounts, while respecting the animal and showing gratitude. And another example, the comments came in just now, regarding my photograph of the glazed dormouse. I think Slovenians should be proud of our tradition of dormouse hunting in the Kočevje region and the dormouse stew, since we are the only country in the world with this culinary tradition! Heston Blumenthal arrived in Slovenia years ago exclusively to hung dormice and prepare them. The potica is not a very special dish to raise interest of foreign chefs in the Slovenian cuisine, the dormouse is. And to return to the “provocative nature” of some of my dishes – I believe that lovers of animals and vegetarians suffer by seeing my photographs, and I love animals myself as well. But I also claim being an omnivore is the natural way of nourishment for a human being, while it is our responsibility to not exhaust the nature and preserve it as healthy for the future generations. It is better to eat two meat courses per week and encourage local ecological farmers than buy cheap ingredients from the intensive livestock breeding and agriculture – and possibly, throw it away, since we bought too much.

What does “zero-waste cuisine” stand for? It is widely spread, but what exactly is it in practice?

The philosophy itself is cooking without waste or with as little wasted food as possible. This has been our ambition from the very beginning at the bistro, ever since I was “infected” by this mind-set five years ago by the Finnish chef Sasu Laukonnen. We cannot guarantee 100% cooking without waste, since this is impossible in the  professional cuisine, but we try to follow this noble mission with our best effort – we do not make any unnecessary waste and we do not spend energy needlessly; with

reservations in advance, we know how much food to prepare and nothing is thrown away, we carefully plan the preparation of a dish (e.g. we make herbal salts from dehydrated peels), we buy vegetables on the market, where we avoid excessive packaging, we offer home-made syrups and Ljubljana’s water, which also eliminates packaging. And with the dishes, we aim for local and seasonal ingredients, and with meat we use the entire animal, not only the most “prestigious” parts – we try to give back value to the so-called “spare parts” (entrails, cheeks, tails, ears etc.), since they
are much more tasty as well.

You are one of the most recognisable chefs in Slovenia. How do you use that?

I might be much more recognisable due to the television projects, such as the shows Restaurant Seeks Chef (Gostilna išče šefa) and Masterchef Slovenia, which helps me in raising awareness – I lecture in schools and at various conferences, I educated young chefs, in short, I try to improve our relationship with food and hospitality, which is a wonderful profession.

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