Jeffrey J. Vella, Zinfandel’s Restaurant, Zagreb, Croatia

Jeffrey J. Vella during the interview for the NY Times
Born in Malta, he already from the early ages took the direction of the hotel chef. With experiences in important hotel chains in Malta, Italy, UAE, Jordan, Slovenia and Croatia and by enriching his techniques and creativity at Jean Cristophe Novelli, Heston Blumenthal, Alain Ducasse etc. he has grown himself to the position of one of the most important chefs working right now in Croatia where he’s keeping the position of the executive chef of The Regent Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb.

What has brought you into the culinary world and how did you decide to become a chef?

Since the early age I’ve felt a great love for my lovely career. My family had a sweet hotel and the love for the kitchen started from there, not to mention that my favorite pass time was playing with my sisters pots and pans.

How would you describe the philosophy behind your cuisine and what is most typical about it?

My philosophy is keeping the actual tastes, respecting the ingredients, their seasons and the cultures. Respect is a must, as I always say respect all the way you want to be respected.

Let’s go to your childhood. Are there any memories, tastes, flavours, which are important for your creations of today?

I always look back in life, memories are a sweet thing, but the best is day dreaming! As this keeps you happy all day, I always dreamed and wanted to become good, while doing menus and planning tastes, I enjoy going back in time, seeing the old methods and then implementing them to my own way and thoughts, I enjoy using a lot of forgotten things, that’s way my menus are a true seasonal thing.

Are there any ingredients that you are specially fond of and which you use more often?

I love herbs, and new world herbs, which are fun to use, like the tonka, lime fingers etc, these are herbs which have been used in tribes, Aborigines etc.
Who were your tutors and mentors? Who has influenced you the most and how?

My uncle was one of the best cooks around in the late 70’s and 80’s, so he was a big influence, his attitude was strange so I thought it was great to follow.

Who’s inspiring you today?

I get inspired by a walk in the park, my book was inspiration of this sort, I see a layout, and say for example: “Ah this is how a plate with mushrooms should look like, like mother nature created it.”

Creativity and technique. What is more important for you and why?

You need to be comfortable and technically good to create and to be creative, as good chefs we are craftsmen.

Jeffrey J. Vella


What’s your favourite dish?

I like using fish, perhaps because I am coming from a small island in the Mediterranean, I love eating pasta and risotto, and always create the best on my menus, perhaps that’s the reason why my first culinary medal was for a pasta dish, and the last award for the Zinfandel has been one of the best 101 restaurants in the world in the Guida Gallo.

What was your biggest success?

Winning the European chef of the year with Euro Toques in 2003.

Do you have any realizable or realized dreams?

As I said I am a day dreamer, presently I am dreaming of having my small hotel, with a top notch restaurant alongside a small culinary school. Where is the question!!

Do you have also any unrealizable dream?

Non yet!

If you wouldn’t be a chef, what would you do?
Perhaps a fisherman.


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