Split Cooking Class: Shop, Cook and Eat like a Local

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by Tash Pericic,

On the 23rd November 2017, we joined the SKMER Split Cooking Class to learn a thing or two from Chef Zeljko Bremec.

The Split B2B that took place in October has already proved to be a fantastic resource for meeting like-minded and passionate locals in business. From the B2B, I connected with Robyn Vulinovich from My Hidden Croatia and since then we visited islands Šolta and Brač with Brač Excursions and just last week we attended the Split Cooking Class with SKMER (Association of Chefs from Mediterranean and Europe), thanks to an invite from the Academy Manager Alma Bremec.

Being that myself and Robyn work in tourism and are passionate about gastronomy, Alma wanted to give us a firsthand experience of their Split Cooking Class, Neno Kostadinović from Taste Dalmatia also joined us.

I love cooking but have never done a cooking class, so I was excited to learn some tips and I was hoping we would learn some traditional Dalmatian recipes. We met at the Silver Gate of Diocletian’s Palace next to the Pazar, where Alma told us the plan for the day; first, we were going to shop for fresh produce from the Pazar, followed by a trip to the fish market, then, on to the SKMER academy where we would get cooking.

I have to say, it doesn’t matter how long I have lived in Croatia, I will never tire of walking through the Pazar. The colours, the life, the energy, the noise…

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Credit: Robyn Vulinovich

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The fact that this is very much a part of life here, is one of the many charms of living in Croatia that I truly adore. Now, imagine this experience for someone new to Croatia! As we walked through the market, Alma told us little tidbits of information and history; she had her favourite women in the Pazar that she regularly visits and we walked down the left-hand side of the Pazar because Alma explained – it is more traditional with all the oldies (said with an endearing tone).

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After some soparnik for marenda and buying some fresh produce like lemons, wild rocket, tomatoes, green beans and vegetables, we walked to the fish market.

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Credit: Robyn Vulinovich, Soparnik

Again, what an incredible setting for a cooking class or food tour – starting in the Pazar – walking through the heart of Diocletian’s Palace – to find yourself at another, lively setting… we really are lucky to live in such a rich city.

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Walking through the fish market with Alma was great, she pointed out various types of fish, explaining what dishes they are good in and even gave us a little tip about knowing which stands to buy from – a very obvious sign, yet, if you aren’t a local, you probably wouldn’t think about it… But, I won’t give away all of her trade secrets, you will have to do the cooking class to find out!

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After that, it was another 10-minute stroll to the SKMER Cooking Academy.

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Alma and her husband Zeljko took over the SKMER Cooking Academy just over 2 years ago, Zeljko is a Senior Master Chef and the current President of the Academy; he has worked in well-known local restaurants like No Stress and the 5-star hotel on island Brac – Lemon Garden, as well as work experience in fine dining and Michelin-starred restaurants throughout Europe. SKMER are also the organisers of Biser Mora, which is one of the most prestigious Mediterranean chef competitions and recognised as a first-class gastronomic and tourist event which took place earlier in the year. So, you know you are in the hands of experienced professionals who not only talk-the-talk but walk-the-walk.

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Zeljko welcomed us with a gorgeous spread of starters and of course, a selection of rakija, liqueurs and vino – as every great course should begin! What I especially loved about the spread was that it was very Dalmatian: homemade ajvar, eggplant puree (following the seasons), marinated sardines with a red onion marmalade, baked olives and fresh-baked bread.

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Zeljko explained that this is how he begins every cooking class, especially for beginners because “quite often, when people first step through the door, they are nervous walking into a professional kitchen. So, I find starting in this manner, helps people relax – by the time we step into the kitchen, they feel a lot more comfortable.”

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Dusko, Zeljko and Neno

After sitting and enjoying the snacks and a drink, it was time to move into the kitchen. Zeljko explained that we would make four dishes: fish carpaccio, shrimp and scampi risotto, gregada and rosada (traditional Croatian dessert). I was thrilled, an entirely Dalmatian menu and I have been wanting to learn how to make gregada – a traditional ‘seafood stew’ from the island of Hvar.

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Initially, we were going to take a ‘station’ each but instead decided to move around and help each other so we could all learn how to make each dish. Even though I love cooking and have managed restaurants for years, I have never done any official lessons, so I was a little nervous but Zeljko has a friendly, relaxed approach (unlike many chefs I know) which made us feel super-comfortable in his presence.

Throughout the preparation of each of the dishes, Zeljko either showed us how to do something (Robyn and I learned to filet fish) or talked us through the process; it was very hands-on and, like Alma in the Pazar and fish market – he shared plenty of small cooking tips which made a big difference.

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We chatted, sipped on vino and it seemed, in a matter of moments, we had prepared all of the dishes, which led us to the most exciting part – tasting everything!

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Making our own fish stock with the remains from fileting the fish – in a good kitchen, nothing goes to waste!

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Adding the fish to the gregada…

Like anything in life, there is always a greater sense of satisfaction when you know you have made something yourself. I am not sure if this is the reason but I swear, every dish could have come from a restaurant and the gregada was definitely the best I have ever had; not to mention it was all washed down with a gorgeous glass of Rizman oaked Posip, followed by a lovely, fresh glass of Zlatarica from Vrgorac.

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fish carpaccio with green bean salad

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shrimp and scampi risotto

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the gorgeous gregada, filled with fresh fish, potatoes and seafood

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rosada dessert…

There is also something special about being involved in the whole process, from picking out the vegetables at the Pazar, to wandering around the fish market to find what was fresh and finally creating a menu based on what we had purchased…

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Robyn with her husband Dusko

Such basic things that we can probably take for granted living in Split but I am sure many people from the Western world do not have this as part of their daily routine. I have always said, that if you want to find the heart and pulse of a new destination, you should visit the markets, now I am going to have to add – AND, do a cooking class with locals!

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Learning to buy with confidence and cook what’s fresh and in-season is a skill we can all use in our day-to-day lives and I am sure if you are travelling, this would be some of your best memories. Alma told us that they had a full summer season this year and many people left a review saying that this was their highlight of visiting Split (and I am not surprised)!

How long was the day? From buying – eating – cooking – eating – drinking… it lasted from 9 am til just after 2 pm but we did sit around a little longer chatting, which apparently, also isn’t unusual and the course costs just €100 per person which includes the food and wine.

We were also presented with a certificate at the end which was a very cute touch.

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SKMER offer various courses, from beginners to professionals AND, unlike many businesses which shut-down in winter, they are still open. Visit their page here to find more information on their available courses and watch this video below for a fun ‘taste’ of the cooking course.

Many thanks to Zeljko and Alma for having us along, I will definitely be back!

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