Ana-Marija Bujic for Lives.in.Blossom: “My professional life is like a two-lane road”

I’m sooo late with the newest edition of Lives.in.blossom. Let us just say “some technical problems got in the way” and concentrate on what matters 🙂 For the first time I’m publishing it in English hoping that you will appreciate the initiative. For the late summer/early autumn issue of my favorite blog series I picked up Ana-Marija Bujic, one really special lady. She is all about being successful but modest, being the first but having two feet on the ground. This lady from my hometown Dubrovnik really amazed me.

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Why Ana-Marija? Well this young lady is a really rare example of a nice and simple person who is everything but simple (when it comes to her career-building, of course). So what is it she’s got in her CV that attracted me? A bunch of things: firstly her blog “Da mi je nesto slatko” (I’d like something sweet), then her experience as a former editor in chief of the website “Dobra hrana” (Good food), also her own cookbook written in English “What’s Cooking in Dubrovnik, furthermore her experiences as a translator and one of the co-owners of Polyglotte Institute, a school for foreign languages and finally her entrepreneur career as one of three proprietors of the new restaurant in Dubrovnik called Pantarulthe other two being her boyfriend Milan Vasić and their friend Đuro Šiljug.

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A few days before the official beginning of the summer I was invited by some friends to “save one night for Pantarul”. Obviously (and finally) the city of Dubrovnik has got a new restaurant/tapas bar. Just a note – its name really attracted me before knowing anything about the place. It just felt like home! And here’s why: the restaurant got its name after the word fork’ but not using the standard Croatian word for it which is  ‘vilica’, but ‘pantarul’, a word that stands for fork in the region of Dubrovnik. I read about it and was happy to find out that Dubrovnik’s gastronomy scene now offers a tapas restaurant based on products from the Dubrovnik region which are prepared in a modern and innovative way (so uncommon in our veeeery  traditional region).

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Pantarul’s philosophy (as I’ve understood it) is somehow on the crossroads of the following meanings: traditional products, chic vision of  cooking, high level of the chef’s savoir faire, all of this paired with an elegant and minimalistic interior design where you have enough time and enough space to really relax and enjoy your food. No doubt it sounds simple and familiar but is it really like that? Can everyone working in the restaurant business fulfill these criteria?  I was curious so I sent a request to Ana-Marija asking her if she would be so nice to present herself on my blog. And she kindly said yes! So here is your long awaited interview. Enjoy it!

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>>It’s time to let her speak. So let’s just start from the number 1 (according to TripAdvisor) restaurant in Dubrovnik, THE place to be.

“It’s great to hear someone calling Pantarul THE place in town, but it might be a bit of an overstatement. What made our restaurant rather popular is the fact that  the concept and prices are primarily geared towards locals. We firmly believe that people living in Dubrovnik need a place where they can relax and hang out with their loved ones without breaking the bank.”

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>>What were your reactions to this number one position of your new restaurant among 283 other in the city of Dubrovnik?

“We were happy because we saw it as a sign that our philosophy was headed the right way. There’s much more to a restaurant than its TripAdvisor ranking, but it is heartwarming to read all those lovely comments left by our guests.”

>>As I mentioned- this girls is really modest!

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>>Which meal got the most LIKES on your menu?

“I would say that the winners are vegetable spring rolls with crème fraîche and tapenade as well as veal rib confit”.

>>I just adored the Duck breast with cold vanilla sauce  (miamm) and Homemade ricotta ravioli with spinach sauce and fresh shrimps (miamm once again)!

click HERE for the MENU

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>>Speaking of interior design, who was in charge of the simple but catchy interior of Pantarul?

“We’ve had professional help from two wonderful ladies: Ana Žaja Petrak and Marita Bonačić. Ana Žaja Petrak is a Croatian graphic designer and illustrator specialized in food illustrations.  Her portfolio is quite impressive as she has worked for IKEA, Jamie Oliver Magazine, the BBC etc. We thought her style would be perfect for the homey feel we wanted to convey. Another very important link in the creative process was interior designer Marita Bonačić who pulled off a wonderful interior design project using rather limited resources. Kudos for that.”

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In love with Ana-Marija’s MICICA ring ❤

>>Do you consider opening of a new Pantarul in some other city in Croatia in the future?

“For the time being, we’ll do our best to ensure that the one Pantarul we’ve opened retains the high standard of quality we’ve established right at the beginning. It’s really difficult to say whether we’ll venture into something similar in the future, but… You never know.”

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>>I would like to take a glimpse of your career. Everything started with your food blog, didn’t it?

“I like to say that my professional life is like a two-lane road. One part of it is dedicated to languages (teaching and translating, mostly subtitling), whereas the other part has to do with everything imaginable concerning food (cooking, writing, food photography, food styling, etc.). The blog is a sort of fusion of all these food-related passions of mine. I’ve been writing it for eight years and it has been a great joy – especially now that it has enabled me to publish the cookbook you’ve mentioned. What’s Cooking in Dubrovnik is a cookbook featuring 120 traditional recipes from the Dubovnik region. Each of them is accompanied by a full-page photo and a short story explaining the origin of the dish or something else related to the recipe. What makes me happiest are the positive reactions I keep getting from people who’ve read it and tested some of the recipes – few days ago I got some photos of our Dubrovnik dishes (one of them the famous Croatian sarma, pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat) prepared in a 5-star hotel in India!”

>>I have a hard time imagining Indian people eating sarma but it’s great fun!

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>>Apart from recipes and cooking on your blog one can find a variety of subject such as shooting of the food editorial. So, your blog is not just an online cookbook?

“No, I sometimes like to include notes on everything that makes me happy – and that’s not necessarily a chocolate pudding. When I take a look back, seeing all those stories and photos is like a trip down happy memory lane. I also try to keep the blog true to my life. For instance, due to my recent move back to Dubrovnik from the capital Zagreb, at the moment I don’t have a kitchen. So there is no point in forcing myself to publish recipes when I don’t have a place to cook. This is the reason why some of my recent posts focus on the authors I follow or organizing a food editorial photo-shoot.”

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Voilà- the dream team, Ana Marija with the co-owners: her boyfriend Milan and their friend Đuro.

>>Imagine one day Croatian Masterchef invites you to participate in the show. What would be your answer and who could be your hypothetical contestants?

“I would politely refuse 🙂 . I am not a fan of reality TV (probably because I have to subtitle so much of it) and generally speaking, I prefer being behind the camera. As far as my hypothetical fellow contestants in this hypothetical show are concerned, I think there would be quite a lot of candidates: Nevena from Ebba’s Cusine, Andrea from Voće i povrće and Monika of Bakenoir to name just a few of those I know personally.”

>>OK, but let me tell you one thing you are maybe not aware of- there is a loooot of people who would be really happy to watch you in that hypothetical show.  Just to mention 😉

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>>In our home we can pretty often hear someone’s whining for something sweet. And you know what? They are not satisfied with a chocolate. No, no, no, they want a cake, real cake, DOLCE as Italian people say. Am I right to think that your family is blessed with all these pastries you are making all the time?

“Yes and that is a huge part of the reason I love these photo shoots. When I used to live in Zagreb, I would often take a lot of the food I’d prepared for the editorial to a neighbor and a great friend of mine, Nataša. This even encouraged her otherwise very careful husband to try some of the more extravagant concoctions coming from my kitchen, such as black bean brownies.

And now that I am in Dubrovnik, I prepare all the food for the photo-shoots in my mother’s kitchen. Just the other day, after having found a pile of cookies and pavlovas and berry loaves on the kitchen counter, she phoned me to let me know that she would gladly have me cooking in her kitchen even after I’ve got my own.”

>>I told you they are pretty much blessed!

This is a way too long interview, but what can I do with a person having so many ‘layers’? 😀

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>>The last but not the least: HUGE thanks to VEDRAN LEVI, our photographer who managed to take it really easy with two girls talking without taking a breath! I almost forgot he was there taking pictures of us. This is the way professionals do it! I kindly recommend him 🙂 Even though he found himself in the event shooting (mostly concerts) he never turns down some other ‘interesting projects’. I was pretty much flattered that he excepted this one. Finally I really loved the result and appreciated this simple and productive collaboration!

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>>As we spoke the telephone rang all the time. She was smiling as she was taking the reservations. I’m amazed ‘cause I really don’t like my telephone ringing at all. Ana-Marija, how on earth do you handle this crazy rhythm?

“As far as the restaurant goes, it is a bit hectic, but the three of us enjoy it. It’s a pleasure when you can do something just the way you’ve imagined it. It has already become a bit easier as we’ve had two valuable additions to our waiting staff team.”

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>>Hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did. It was a great pleasure to meet those enthusiastic and hard working people. Can’t wait for the new rendez-vous in Pantarul.   

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