We’ve been granted the wonderful opportunity to have a chat with renowned Slovenian Chef Jozef Oseli whilst on his visit in Malta. Aside from serving various celebrities, Chef Oseli had spent eight years as personal chef and butler to Yugoslav statesman Tito.
What brought you to Malta?
I had been invited by the President of Malta, Her Excellency, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, to mentor children with special needs during a culinary event held at the Hill Top Gardens in Naxxar, with the support of Mr Angelo Xuereb of AX Holdings. My purpose there was to teach the children some valuable cooking skills and help them prepare a set menu dinner for patrons.
I’ve been involved in similar initiatives as mentor for Ljubljana restaurant Druga Violina. Located in the old city centre, this is a very special restaurant, as it employs several people with special needs and hosts creative workshops for children.
What had led you to catering?
Coming from a poor family, food was always a means to get by. I’d help my mother in the kitchen and think ‘When I grow old enough, I’ll aim to excel at making scrumptious dishes.’ That was my primary mission, and despite the ups and downs I experienced by following that route, I did succeed in fulfilling my goal. This is my universal recipe: ‘Stay firm and maintain a strong will, and you’ll achieve anything you wish.’
What have so far been your most memorable experiences in your culinary path?
I had the pleasure of serving statesmen François Mitterrand, Mikhail Gorbachev, Haile Selassie, and more recently Václav Havel and Árpád Göncz. I’ve cooked for many film stars, such as Sophia Loren and Richard Burton, and I was a butler to Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the leader of former Yugoslavia. I’ve also conducted a number of lunches and dinners for various presidents, kings and emperors in the Slovenian president’s residence in Brdo Castle near Kranj. But I must say that having been a chef at the Miss World competition in Seychelles in 1997 and 1998 was the most remarkable.
Of all the people that you’ve encountered, who left their best impression?
Definitely former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who I met at Brijuni National Park in Croatia when he was there as Tito’s guest. Of all the kings and emperors that I’ve served in my life, I never met anyone who was as intelligent as Gaddafi.
Image: Zastava cars in Malta
What are your thoughts and impressions of Maltese cuisine?
People have always wondered why the Maltese like to eat rabbit. Some hundred years back, the island was less populated, but full of rabbits. So these were part of the locals’ staple diet.
I find that here, cooks tend to mix too many herbs and spices into their sauces when preparing one particular dish. If you’re cooking a rabbit, just use sage. You have sea bream, sea bass, but there’s often too much garlic. I don’t think I even use two cloves of garlic per year. The taste is too strong and women don’t like it that much anyway.
Image: Sladki sirovi struklji z rozinami
Have you any advice for Maltese chefs?
I suggest using French cuisine as a source of inspiration, and then adapting it to the local one. In French cookery, one tends to use fresh and local ingredients. They add sauces, but never include more than four ingredients in one dish. Maltese starter portions are rather huge. One day, we went to dinner and I was served a huge portion of risotto as an appetiser. I should have got three spoons! The food in Malta is good, but are there some rules one must follow to achieve good quality.
Our reporter Denise was able to sample some familiar Slovenian dishes that Oseli had presented during an event, where the blending of Slovenian and Maltese cuisine was witnessed on the 16th July at The Tabloid Restaurant at The Palace Hotel in Sliema.
For starters, she had the famous Carniolan sausage – a typical Slovenian sausage of protected geographical indication, locally known as Kranjska klobasa, and which was served with grated radish. Denise knew that a plentiful main course was soon to be had. However, she still had some space left for the fuži – a typical pasta from the Istrian peninsula served with truffles.
Image: Sirovi struklji
She was thoroughly impressed by the chef’s marinated lamb with honey and garlic, served with the very popular cottage cheese rolls topped with breadcrumbs in a savoury sauce. These rolls are known as štruklji in Slovenia, and they take the form of a roly poly. The stuffed chicken a la Metka was also curious, Metka being the chef’s wife!
Image: Polnjen piscanec a la Metka
The sumptuous texture of the štruklji was revisited in the dessert round, but this time the sweet version consisted of a buckwheat pastry with a delicious walnut filling. There was also a dessert of protected geographical status known as Prekmurska gibanica, which is typical of the Prekmurje region in the east of Slovenia, containing poppy seeds, walnuts, apples, raisins and ricotta.
Image: Prekmurska gibanica