Interview: Matej Tomažič, Majerija, Slap (Vipava), Slovenia
Matej is very talented chef who could easily create with his knowledge and creativity a haute cuisine restaurant, but has decided to dedicate his work to tradition and so was, with strong support of his wife Nataša, born Majerija. A paradise in the heart of Vipava valley for everybody who wants to discover the true tastes of the region.
What has brought you into the culinary world and how did you decide to become a chef?
I’ve loved to cook, prepare dishes and enjoy the plates already when I was pretty young. My family plays an important role in this. My grandmother was an excellent housewife and cook and her everyday dishes were for me like a festive day. I started to help her to learn from her and there I have learned some dishes which follow me all my life. Some of them are like symbol of my cuisine at Majerija. Also my mother, who was waitress, was important influence. When I visited her in the restaurant she always took me to the back, between her co-workers – cooks and waiters and I always felt there as home.
But anyway – I believe that the strongest influence for my decision to become chef was my father. He was never able to cook but he was a big gourmet. He was also able to convince people. For my brother he said he will become a sailor and he is still a sailor and to me he said: “You will be a cook,” and also here he achieved his predictions.
He encouraged me to cook at home and was searching for interesting recipes which he copied out of books with his handwriting. I was then preparing them at home and so we all felt in love with good and diverse food. On this base my decision was easy – already at the age of 13 I was decided about my profession. I was excellent in the elementary school so everybody in the school was surprised about my decision, but not my parents. I had to visit the school psychologist who wanted to check if my decision was the right one and she has discovered that I’m steadfast. In this days she is often my guest and we often laugh about that.
How would you describe the philosophy behind your cuisine and what is most typical about it?
Probably the basic idea of my cuisine is that cuisine is part of our identity – probably the strongest one!
If a nation needs its own language, culture, money, it needs for sure also its own cuisine. The one which expresses its character and way of living. That’s why I believe that the fear of the globalisation has sense only if we forget what we have, if we forget our roots and become just like everybody else. Till Slovene people will eat at least some dishes with spoon we will remain Slovene. (laughing) But it’s true!
That’s why it’s logical that I’m searching for inspiration in our tradition and habits, I’m trying to keep local specialities alive, but presented in the way as I prefer it. I’m adjusting the plates with time, making them more contemporary as our lives and habits change fast and they are looking for the right answers.
But some traditional dishes seem to me in their simplicity and harmony perfect. Those I don’t dare to change. Beside that is my main guide (in everything I do) simplicity, good sense and respect of nature.
Let’s go to your childhood. Are there any memories, tastes, flavours, which are important for your creations of today?
As I’ve already said before there are some dishes which remind me of my childhood. That are the “perfect dishes” which make you feel pleasant and peaceful. One of them is “fižolovka” – bean soup of my grandmother Marija. Of course it’s important that this is not just my personal opinion. First I was aware of that when I was cooking this bean soup at “La Subida” in Cormons (I) in 1991 to a group of Italian sommeliers. Two of the group came into the kitchen asking me for more. I showed them the pot with the rests and they took it and shared it with all their friends. Perfect success! This event convinced Joško Sirk to accept me into his team and I will be all my life thankful for this.
Are there any ingredients that you are specially fond of and which you use more often?
Beside the excellent local seasonal ingredients are my love herbs. I started with a few plants in my own garden and I discovered how much do the plates gain with them on taste, freshness and digestibility. And also plate becomes more beautiful, more vivid. So from a few plants now they are 600 m2 of them. So I always have enough of them and they are here also for our friends. In summer I also create different products with them which I can use in winter .
Who were your tutors and mentors? Who has influenced you the most and how?
Beside the professional teachers at the school I had three persons whom I’m calling fathers. First one you already know and you know how he influenced on me. The second one was Franko Kramar from Staro selo at Kobarid. I’ve met the first day of school in Ljubljna his son Valter who is now taking care of “Hiša Franko
” together with his wife Ana. We became friends in the first hour and this friendship still lasts. I soon came to their house and started to help in the kitchen. Here I’ve learned what it means to work and that restaurant is your life. You can’t bluff. Franko has helped me to grow with his attitude, honesty, kindness, wonderful character and excellent advice. The same was also Joži, his wife.
The third father is for me Joško Sirk. I had to make a big effort to come to work to his “La Subida
” . The payment was huge! Here I’ve learned beside the hard work also the philosophical part of the cuisine and restauration. I’ve learned how you should work with conviction and for convictions. I’ve learned again what it means honesty, what it means also giving and not only gaining. The same goes for Joško’s wife Loredana. She’s an angel on Earth. I’m not exaggerating.
Of course I must say that my wife Nataša was almost from the beginning with me. Without her patience, peacefulness and sacrifices I would not reach what I’ve reached.
Who’s inspiring you today?
Those who are in the best way representing the traditional cuisine and everything around it. It’s not easy. You need culture, technical knowledge and love for the tradition. I will not list them because I might miss somebody. They know who they are …
I’m also fascinated by the other extremity. The avantgarde cuisine that comes from Spain and has infected the whole world. They were the first to understand that the contemporary man, beside filling the stomach needs an adventure and food for soul. They showed us that there are no limits. They are genius. So I respect them a lot. Many chefs understood their message and this helps them to develop. What I don’t like are copycats without deeper understanding which brings to banality.
Creativity and technique. What is more important for you and why?
Technique, creativity and philosophy. In different order in different occasions. It’s important to feel when, what and how.
What’s your favourite dish?
It’s impossible to decide just for one dish. I find my favourite dish always when I get to feel and see with my eyes, nose and mouth a complete harmony. Sometimes this can be a simple plate of a housewife and sometimes a wonderful creation of the top chefs.
What was your biggest success?
Let’s hope that it’s still arriving. (smile)
In the kitchen I’m proud of my mlinci (Slovenian pasta tatters made from thin dried dough) and how they were accepted by local and international guests. They bring us a very strong and actual message which relates on our past, respect, simplicity and a lot more.
Mlinci are a simple dish but very difficult to prepare. They can be an excellent experience or an average food for a pig, The boundary line is thin and if you don’t feel respect and pleasure while making them, you easily finish on the other side.
Do you have any realizable or realized dreams?
I have: Nataša, Tanita and Luka…
Majerija is also my realized dream. We started from nothing. 18 years from the decission to the day when we opened our doors to guests. We sticked to it even when it was not going well. Every day. I sincerelly wish to become better in what I’m doing.
Do you have also any unrealizable dream?
I hope not.
If you wouldn’t be a chef, what would you do?
My work is fulfilling me, so I would decide again the same way.
I’m much more between people then I was before and I feel what a richness and privilege this is. In most people you can find the good and this is making me richer. I would never want to miss this.