BORN: 1944, HVAR, CROATIA
MOTHER TONGUE: CROATIAN
GRANDCHILDREN: FLORA, LUKA, XENIA
WHAT THEY CALL HER: NONA
I learned to make this dish almost fifty years ago. It was my uncle’s recipe. He was a sailor and had only a few dishes that he could cook really well. As a sailor his repertoire was mostly fish and he would do this octopus salad. It’s actually much harder to get hold of octopus now though. Here in Hvar when I go to the fishmonger for it, sometimes it’s all gone because the restaurants get the best of the catch. I have to rely on my friends to provide it. Tourism has changed Hvar and Croatia a lot in that respect.
The rest of my culinary knowledge is all from my grandmother and my mother. I learned these dishes very organically from them. I even wrote and published a book of family recipes “The Sweet Taste of a Dalmatian Love Affair” inspired by my grandmother Flora’s handwritten recipes. It’s combined with the love letters from her fiancé, Viktor, written during their long courtship while he was studying and working abroad between 1903 and 1909.
Many of the dishes my grandmother sent to Viktor carried strong allusions to physical passion and love symbolism in an era when love and passion couldn’t be declared so openly. She interpreted the recipes, using her imagination to reflect the love with which the dishes were prepared.
I do think it’s important to have some imagination and not follow these cookbooks like the bible. Imagination and a sense of freedom is what you need to be a good cook. I sometimes feel sorry for people who have to stick to a recipe and don’t interpret recipes and dishes in their own way. That’s part of the joy of cooking. I am happy that my sons and older grandchildren are developing into creative cooks.
When I cook, I cook out of love. Love for cooking and a love for the person I am cooking for. Love is different according to the man you’re with. With my first husband I shared a love for our island of Hvar, history of art and literature. We lived in Zagreb and had a great group of friends that would meet regularly in our small flat. I started to cook for these gatherings, punctuated with lots of wine and heated discussions. My husband was not interested in food, he could survive on poetry, but understood the importance of sharing it and the atmosphere of warmth and welcoming that home cooked dishes can create. Even when he admitted to an affair and eventually decided to leave us, I tried not to be bitter and managed to maintain the normality at home for the sake of our son.
I met my second husband through our work as curators in our respective museums of Applied Arts, in Zagreb and London. Our encounters were romantic and passionate, but still it was not an easy decision to move permanently to London and I was delaying it to the point that our son was born in Zagreb. Eric was aware of this big decision and wholeheartedly helped me in my new career as a journalist and diplomat and supported my son in his new environment and through English education. Sometimes I tease him that his love for me and love for Dalmatia and my cooking are inseparable. There’s no rule and there’s no one way to love. You have to have trust and to laugh together and of course, have a passion.
If I have one lesson to pass on to my grandchildren, it is to be kind and to try to understand. Even if someone has hurt you, you should try and see things from their perspective. Don’t keep love and sentiment to yourself, always be free to express yourself.