Top Slovenia interview: Irhad Jusić and Kristian Zule

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Irhad Jusić and Kristian are the young and dynamic cooking duo from Stara Gostilna in Piran, where they spoiled our taste buds a few months ago, while we were sitting at Donata Krašek’s family-run restaurant.

Let us start this interview off with congratulating you and your team at Stara Gostilna in Piran for receiving the Michelin plate for good cooking! How did it feel to be honored and moreover recognized by the famous red French guide Michelin?

Irhad: Thank you for your congratulations. We were very honored and proud on our work, but we must admit that we are only a part of Stara gostilna story. The heart of the restaurant is our energetic owner, Donata, and her family, who set the vision of the restaurant. However, first and very important milestone in Stara gostilna cousin was definitely set by Gradimir Dimitrić, who ran the kitchen for 3 years.

Kristian: Establishing a new restaurant is hard work, therefore we must congratulate Gradimir especially. But at the end of the day – now we are at the beginning of the new chapter. It is our mission to grow, develop, and to become better and better each day.

Off to more fundamental questions. Who inspired you to become a chef or was becoming a chef something you wanted since you were a child?

We were inspired by old french chefs. It was a thing from childhood, both of us always wanted to become a chef and to act like a chef. So we are moving forward each day, to be the best version of ourselves.

Irhad and Kristian, the two of you such impressive resumes despite such a young age. From working at the two Michelin starred restaurants to being one of the most important chefs at CUBO, and so much more. Could you both tell us more about your culinary backgrounds? Who were your mentors?

Kristian: I started working in Cubo Restaurant when I was 17years old, I stayed there until June 2020. My mentors were Edis Šačirović and Borut Puglj. They were my role models, they taught me how to be and act like real chef. 

Irhad: Among the most important jobs I worked at were Hiša Franko and Aimisir Restaurant in Ireland. Both of these jobs were internships, where I learned everything I know today. M y biggest role model is Jordan Bailey, because he achieved what seemed impossible. He and his amazing team got two Michelin stars in less than 6 months.

You two work as a “well-oiled machine in the kitchen” if we can say so. Irhad and Kristian where did you two first meet and how did your paths lead to Stara Gostilna Piran?

Kristian: For the first time we meet at high school in Ljubljana. We become best friends and we stayed best friends until this day. We came to Piran after our school teacher recommended us to the owners of Stara Gostilna in Piran and after an introductory meeting both of us came to Piran and we started a new story.

In terms of cooking and plating, how do the two of you complete each other’s dishes?

Irhad: That is really simple. We both know each other for so long we know what the other is thinking. If someone imagines the plate in his head another one will know it even before its plated.

Is it easier or harder to cook alongside your best friend? How do you two resolve any fire that might erupt between the two of you?

Kristian: It is easier to cook alongside a best friend. Why? Simple. We both love to cook, have same passion, and we are both taking care of each other no matter what if that’s business or private life.

The two of you took over Stara Gostilna in Piran from Gradimir Dimitrić, how is your menu different from his and how long did it take you to develop it?

Irhad: We both came here by luck; it was not planned. Gradimir ended his story in Stara gostilna in Piran and we came to continue what he started. A la carte menu stayed the same, however degustation menu is changing by season – that was our first creative challenge.

Kristian: For the next year we are already planning something different – with more focus on tasting menu and less on A la carte. We are going to interpret the really best of what the Slovenian coast hast to offer to our new menu.

How is Stara Gostilna in Piran different from other restaurants in the area? What makes it stand out?

Irhad: We are trying to buy everything fresh and local, but moreover our concept of making food in Piran is totally different. All restaurants are making “classic” coast food, but we are trying to make it more refined and elegant. Our dining room is not white, it is black – darker than others but at the same time also full off the light and vibrant details. If everyone goes right, we go left.

We have entered Stara gostilna in Piran, what do you two personally recommend us to try from the menu? Which is your signature dish? What kind of menu will you be presenting to them?

Kristian: We would definitely recommend scallops as our signature dish. We pair them with the hazelnuts and cauliflower. We would also highly recommend our fish menu from which our guests can get a great sea experience.

Irhad: We are also very proud on our rich wine cellar with over 200 etiquetes, which enables our guests the best gourmet experience. Wine-pairing is also essential and we are lucky to work with great serving staff, who can professionally consult our guests according to their desires.

What is the recipe for success in your opinion? Is it a team of excellent chefs, quality ingredients, or loyal returning customers? Perhaps a sweet mix of both?

Kristian: The most important thing for success is to have a great team, with the same passion, same mentally and power of running the restaurant. If we achieve all that, that perfect balance, customers will get it, and they will always come back.

Who, in your opinion, should also receive a Michelin star in Slovenia? Any predictions on who should receive the Michelin star or plate in Slovenia next year? Will it be the two of you?

Irhad: We think the restaurant who deserves it is Grič Restaurant. We were having dinner their last week and their menu and overall experience was outstanding. Also, wine recommendations are spot on. 

Kristian: Both of us are hoping for star one day, but slowly. There is no rush, since we just started. For a Michelin star you need time, knowledge, and a lot of experience but most important – consistency! But it will come one day definitely when the time is right. We sure are working on it!

What is the most important lesson life kitchen or the restaurant business has taught the two you?

Irhad: If you don’t do this job with heart, it’s not worth it. Less overthink about life and focus on working and improving yourself. In the restaurant business, it is also hard or maybe even impossible to have great private life as a chef. You are working every day, all day, and more often you don’t have enough time for your family, loved ones, and other activities. But on the other side of that – that is always the price of success.

What is your personal goal in life?

Kristian: We both fully agree on that – to become one of the best restaurants in Slovenia and reach for a Michelin star.

For more information on Stara Gostilna in Piran click here.