Interview: Janez Bratovž, JB Restaurant
Without shadow of a doubt, JB Restaurant represents the cream of Slovenian cuisine. A number of international awards, including placement among S.Pellegrino’s Top 100 in the world, make this place sort of a national curiosity. The visit to JB’s was an exciting interaction with both Mr Bratovž and his creations - both telling a story of innovative, delicious, culinary mastery.
“The asparagus has finally arrived”, Janez Bratovž happily announced while discreetly eyeing the satisfaction of guests in his restaurant. It was a long wait, but apparently a worthwhile one: the JB chef uses only a special kind of asparagus from the one and only provider who offers a completely natural cultivation. The same goes for any ingredient which the chef traces down to its seed: the flour, for example, comes from a miller who uses a stone mill and bio-wheat.
No wonder Presidents, Ministers and other famous people often come to enjoy JB’s inspiring creations. The most recent was the President of the National Geographic Society who left the place overwhelmed. So if you want the same royal treatment: JB is here to please.
Our treat was heavenly. While it was pouring rain on Miklošičeva Street, the freshness of tuna carpaccio with sea algae cleared the skies and the sweet touch of pumpkin filled ravioli created the sunshine. And so on - all the way to dessert.
Janez Bratovž, a man who has dedicated his life to his culinary art, is a person whose impression is no different from his main culinary idea about the essential simplicity of great dishes. It’s the simplicity of a great mind with a honest, outspoken and straightforward attitude.
Mr Bratovž, much has been written about your work, can you update us on your most recent explorations in the culinary world.
In the past year I distanced myself a bit from reinventing traditional Slovene cuisine, instead I now focus on introducing new ”products” that might even appear slightly extraordinary - and present them my way. Such an example is the Krško polje pig, a Slovene indigenous pig that can only be bred outdoors, resulting in a healthier, tastier meat. I carry on with what I started years ago - to use not only the ”nice” parts of the meat: the fillet, leg or back but also other parts such as the tail, ham and cheek.
I particularly pay attention to ensuring I give a dish all the time that it needs for preparation. A slice of meat can indeed be roasted in two minutes but my way takes much more time, going back to an ancient style.
Do the global trends affect your creations?
Well... Slow cooking was indeed the trend years ago: prepare a vacuumised marinated meat at relatively low temperatures for up to 15 hours. My technique of slow cooking however is more about putting meat through multiple sessions - roasting, then damping with vegetables, additional roasting, using the vegetables and bones for the sauce and so on.
Do you adjust to the current obsession with light, ‘healthy’ food?
I’m not a doctor but a chef. There’s one thing we should keep in mind: no fat with the meat - no taste. On the other hand, my opinion of quality food lies in its origin. Slovenian meat production is not very global and therefore it is better in quality. The same goes for eggs, potatoes etc. Anything I put on a plate is homemade: the bread, crackers, pastas, sweets: all done from scratch, out of primary ingredients, all of which are carefully selected and traced from its origin.
Are the guests always ready to accept your innovations?
I just made tripe, but again - completely my style - with white beans and candied ginger. The dish was offered to a lady who would generally refuse to eat tripe but decided to make an exception to figure out that my dish was something completely different from what one would traditionally imagine under this name. In Slovenia, unlike in France, tripe might be among the last thing to imagine in high end cuisine.
It seems you have managed to educate your guests...
During the twenty years of this restaurant and many regular guests, it seems I have earned a certain degree of trust. So if I say that I recommend tripe, unless someone gets really disgusted at its mention, they would gladly go for it.
What has changed in the two decades of the elite restaurant business?
20 years ago, upon my return from abroad, my restaurant was relatively more elitist for a simple reason - there were few such places around. However, my offer at that time would put me among the most common restaurants by today’s standards. You have to learn all the time. It’s in my character to pay alot of attention to what others are doing.
Can you define the elements, the finesse that puts a restaurant in this elite class?
It’s not something easily described. Mostly it depends on the person behind it. Sometimes, in other restaurants, I come across things that look beautiful on a plate, suggesting a lot of effort has been put into it, but finding something essential is missing. Or rather someone - who knows how to find it. There’s a generation of really good chefs in Slovenia. What they lack is time. They are masters of techniques in preparation but all this knowledge still needs some brewing.
As my colleague, a top French chef would explain: when you are young you try to show as much as possible by putting many different things on a plate which too often don’t go together. In time, as you learn the art thoroughly, you make it simple and good - and that is something really difficult.
Is it difficult to find a good team?
It might be my good fortune to have no problems in this regard, but I still think – quality of the chef defines his team.
How do the awards and ratings such as S.Pellegrino’s recognition affect the business?
These acknowledgements have contributed significantly to the fact that we have maintained the number of guests from our best year, 2008. Not many have managed this. However, you have to offer much more for the same price that we charged back then.
Speaking of guests, do the international awards attract gourmet tourists?
Of course. Such guests jumped from 10% to around 60%. In fact, all the domestic guests that I lost due to the economic crisis have been replaced by foreigners. Perhaps these tourists don’t come to Ljubljana just for my restaurant, but it is on the list of curiosities.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
All in all, I can say that I am somehow 95% satisfied. I hope for just a little more demand which would pay for another person in the kitchen. This would mean a better use of skills in the kitchen and reduce some of the burden on me. My desire is the ability to have two daily menus crafted to perfection.
Mon-Sun, 11am – 11pm
Sat, 5pm – 11pm
Food type: Slovenian fusion
Price range: 4-course menu from EUR 38,50
Reservations: highly recommended
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