“Working in the kitchen is also a game”

Maša Salopek is especially afraid of boredom at work.  The best pastry chef in the world does not like sweets and conventional recipes.  Photo: Franko House / Suzan Gabrijan

Maša Salopek is especially afraid of boredom at work. The best pastry chef in the world does not like sweets and conventional recipes. Photo: Franko House / Suzan Gabrijan

Everyone who works in the kitchen is inspired by the fact that every day brings personal and professional challenges. If, at the end of the day, you can happily see that you’ve created something good and surprised yourself and your colleagues, that’s a good start.

That’s what he thinks Masa Salopek, who was named the best pastry chef in the world at the prestigious The Best Chef Awards in Amsterdam this year. The path to the top in the world of gastronomy had quite a few turns, it was mostly about finding yourself. But the story of Maša Salopek is also the story of working in a team brought together in Kobarid by Ana Roš. It’s all about the NaGlas! (you can find the video in the video under the news) said Maša Salopek, one of Franko House’s main confectioners.

You are from Čakovec, you first studied law in Zagreb, then Croatian language and literature and librarianship in Rijeka. Then a trip to Asia changed everything. What happened?
My life partner was lucky enough to get a master’s degree from one of Beijing’s universities. I had just graduated at the time and figured I wouldn’t let the man of my life travel without me. We left and had the most beautiful and eventful 10 months of our lives. It was also reason enough to think about what I wanted and if I was ready to return to the reality that awaited me. Upon my return, I realized that the life I had created until then was not for me and that I wanted to leave this haven of peace. I asked myself what I really wanted. I realized that hospitality, cooking, dining, food, drink are what give me a personal stamp, and I decided to go on an adventure. I enrolled at the Culinary Institute, specializing in confectionery.

Well done. Why confectionery?
I have to be honest: I was also a little calculating. Why? Because it’s an elegant and undemanding profession compared to the work of a chef. I can’t imagine lifting 30-pound lambs and chopping them up (laughs). I no longer imagine myself with elegant food in my hands. It was a great recalcitrance, because I don’t like sweets at all.

Maša Salopek says that the Franko House kitchen team is multicultural, so the language of communication is mainly English, and all foreigners also learn some Slovenian words.  Photo: Franko House / Suzan Gabrijan

Maša Salopek says that the Franko House kitchen team is multicultural, so the language of communication is mainly English, and all foreigners also learn some Slovenian words. Photo: Franko House / Suzan Gabrijan

What drew you to Kobarid? Did Ana Roš discover you or are you her?
Certainly, Ana Roš attracted me, but later I attracted her. I found myself in Kobarid by intuition, I was ready to abandon my previous work, because I realized that only two and a half hours from my river is a small town where culinary miracles are made. I was attracted by the strength of this team and its achievements, I wanted to join it and grow professionally and personally.

This team is multicultural. How do you communicate?
In the kitchen, we mainly speak English because we come from different parts of the world. The second language is Spanish-Croatian-Slovenian. Of course, the Greeks also know a little Slovenian and vice versa. We use English the most.

Maša Salopek likes to create daring desserts.  Photo: Franko House / Suzan Gabrijan

Maša Salopek likes to create daring desserts. Photo: Franko House / Suzan Gabrijan

This year you have been named the world’s best pastry chef in Amsterdam. How did you convince the jury?
I have wondered this many times. I came to the humble observation that I had not done everything alone, but it is a group work closely linked to Ana Roš: how we think about sweets, how we approach their philosophy, because everyone has their own own history, unusual, sustainable, encouraging the use of local cultures from the surrounding area.

What foods do you use?
The pork, bean and Japanese knotweed pastries were quite provocative. There were a lot of unusual foods, such as whey, skorš and others, which no one would have thought could turn into a very tasty dessert.

Masa Salopek:

Maša Salopek: “I found myself in Kobarid by intuition, I was ready to quit my previous job, because I realized that only two and a half hours from my river is a small town where people do culinary miracles.” Photo: Franko House / Susan Gabriel

Why do you think chocolate is boring?
It would be rude to say that chocolate is boring. I can’t stand boredom. Chocolate is just very common. If I can choose between the ordinary and the unusual, I will always choose what is provocative, presumptuous, unusual.

But how are people reacting? Do you adapt to tastes from different parts of the world or is it quite the opposite?
I would dare to say that others have to adapt to us. We rarely adapt. From others in the world, we like to take only the knowledge of the techniques.

What inspires you? How do you decide what to cook today?
The decision is usually joint. Ana suggests flavors and opens a space for us to prove ourselves. We try to accept some of the dessert ingredients and shape it that way. We don’t always succeed in one day, sometimes it takes ten days, sometimes we end up putting everything in place all season long. Everyone who works in the kitchen is inspired by the fact that every day brings personal and professional challenges. If, at the end of the day, you can happily see that you’ve created something good and surprised yourself and your colleagues, that’s a good start.

So work is play?
It’s true.

He also plays.
Yes. And fun, of course. It is very varied, alive. No two days are the same, so the space I live and work in is invaluable to me.

Photo: Franko House / Suzan Gabrijan

Photo: Franko House / Suzan Gabrijan

Of course, we will also ask you for a New Year’s or Christmas recipe. The holidays are fast approaching, what would you recommend?
‘Cause I’m getting ready for work funky sweets, I avoid it at home and give my favorites sweets that are close to my heart. I would especially recommend my mother’s Međimurje zlevanka. It’s very easy to make, but it reminds me of my childhood, when my mother would indulge in brandy dashes and we would gather over this dessert to honor community and family.

Masa Salopek

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