Croatian Cuisine At Its Best On Hvar
In our summer 2023 Croatian Language School Culture and Language Course we are heading to Hvar and have been lucky enough to secure a few hours with Ivo Buzolić, a Croatian culinary legend. We’ll be taking a cooking class with him and devouring the fruits of our labour, so we thought we’d find out a little more about Ivo ahead of our visit.
Ivo Buzolić was born in 1958 in Hvar, Croatia and has lived his entire life on the island. He started his career in the restaurant business as a waiter, while he was still at school and, in his mid-twenties, opened his first restaurant. However, along with many other tourism-facing enterprises it was put on hold during the Homeland War.
After the war, via a couple of other restaurants, Ivo opened the Golden Shell in Hvar Town centre, in 2001, followed, seventeen years later, by Speeza. Covid put a stop to Speeza and Ivo re-engineered the family business into a culinary school and rent-a-chef operation.
It’s a family affair: Ivo often attributes his late mother, Maria, as his biggest culinary influence, and his children, Maya and Antonio, have spent most of their lives working with their father and are clearly very proud of what has been achieved. Alongside his success in the restaurant business, in 2013 Ivo founded the Croatian Master Chefs Association (CMCA) which remains very active mentoring young chefs. Ivo is also a world MasterChef and international culinary judge, respected for his kindness and generosity with his time. Nor, is Ivo too proud to leave cooking at home to others – at noon sharp, for more than 30 years, it is always Ivo that prepares lunch for family and friends. And the fact that he is now officially retired has not stopped him wanting to resume a radio programme on Croatian cooking, and continue with various aspects of the family business to support the next generation of Croatian MasterChef’s.
All of this makes Ivo a great Ambassador for Croatian cuisine: he is fiercely proud and protective of its traditions and has promoted it as one of the richest and tastiest cuisines in the world, in regular appearances as a guest or keynote speaker at a wide range of prominent industry events. Thankfully, UNESCO agrees and also want to protect Croatia’s culinary heritage and excellence, specifically on Brač and Hvar. In 2013 UNESCO recognised these two places in Croatia alone, as part of the World’s Intangible Heritage for Mediterranean Cuisine, alongside locations in Cyprus, Morocco, Portugal, Greece, Italy and Spain.
Here’s what Ivo told us in our quick fire question round:
1. What did you like most about running a family restaurant?
Independent management of your own restaurant offers the possibility of unlimited creation of all ideas related to profiling the offer to the target clientele. If most of these ideas come together, the pleasure in work is boundless.
If the family is gathered around the same, or at least similar interests related to the profession, it is much easier to organize the work and ultimately share the pleasure in what has been achieved.
2. Of all your achievements, of which are you the most proud?
Along with being the founder of the slow food movement in Croatia, receiving many awards in international competitions, and membership of renowned cooking associations, I am most proud of my own children: my daughter Maja, who is also a nutritionist in addition to all her activities, and my son Antonio, who teaches cooking at a cooking school.
3. Is there something that would surprise us about Croatian Cuisine?
Croatian cuisine is very complex due to various influences throughout history, but it is characterized by the distinctiveness of the natural flavours of basic foods and herbs, which makes it very easy for us to achieve the best flavours, often even without complicated cooking techniques.
4.What’s the favourite family lunchtime dish?
As we are lucky to live in an area where staple foods are still abundant with natural flavours, we enjoy the most simply prepared meals with minimal heat processing.
5. Has Croatian cuisine changed much in the past thirty years and do you like the direction it is heading in?
In the last thirty years, Croatian cuisine has developed in two fundamental directions: the first is total commercialization with all the negativity of globalization. The second is the improvement and modernization of the preparation techniques of traditional and representative Croatian cuisine.
6. Where can we find out more about you?
Most information can be found on our website Speeza Hvar, and Instagram account: Instagram: Speeza Hvar and there are a number of articles about us, online or in print.
Many thanks to Ivo and Maja for all their help with the text and images. For more information on Hvar’s place as part of the World’s Intangible Heritage for Mediterranean Cuisine, go to Mediterranean Diet – UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (mediterraneandietunesco.org)