Friday, 30 September 2022

Best Man to Best Croatian Chef in Vegas, Music by Elvis

September 30, 2022 - It has been quite a year for Mario Mandaric, who was named by his peers as the best Croatian chef, just a few months after getting married in Vegas, a wedding attended by a vey underdressed best man. 

The only other time in my life that I have been a best man was the second wedding of my father, and that was pretty weird. And as I don't have many friends, and even less single ones who would consider me to be best man material, I thought my best man career was behind me. 


But then came Vegas. 

I only met Mario Mandaric for the first time late last year through a mutual friend. We were all looking to work on a project together, as well as me covering his wonderful initiative to dig wells in remote villages in Uganda. We quickly became friends, and soon ou regular meetings included a lovely young lady from Imotski called Matea, who he apparently met while renting a car in Zagreb. Strange things can apparently happen in car rental parking lots. 


Despite a huge fear of grasshoppers, Matea decided to accompany Mario to rural Africa. I was sure she would not return, but on the contrary. Not only did she survive, she blossomed, taking to remote African village life like a true champion. There is a new dance sweeping the villages of Uganda called the Imotski Shuffle, as Matea showed the ladies how they shake that ass back in inland Dalmatia. 

After three months in Africa, the couple returned to Zagreb and I met Mario alone for a drink.

"Man, I think she is the one. 3 months, 24/7 together in rural Africa and Zanzibar - she is really great," he said.

"As in you are thinking about getting married?"

"Yeah, I am going to propose. I know that getting married in Vegas with Elvis singing is a cliche, but it is not in Croatia. What do you think?"

"How about this," I suggested without thinking. "If you set the date for April 8, I will be happy to be your best man. I need to get from New York to the West Coast, so can pop in for a night to Vegas, and then pick up a car and take you to San Francisco."


And so it was.

But almost wasn't. As people who follow me know, nothing i ever plan works out the way it should. This is one of the reasons my next book is called Around the World in 80 Disasters, which you can follow on its own YouTube channel, a chapter at a time. 

Rarely for me, I had actually planned everthing, booked two nights in a hotel and a flight that would get me there the night before. 

I got to La Guardia 3 hours before my flight, and I was proud of myself. I haven't really travelled for 20 years, and this was my first time in the States since 1994. All was going smoothly.


And then... 

Flight cancelled. All flights cancelled. A storm on the east coast. Where to find another flight? Join the queue for customer service. Two hours later, I was told that the ealiest they could get me to Vegas was 20:00 the following day, almost 8 hours after the wedding. There must be something you can do, SURELY?

I was told that there was a flight to Chicago at 06:00 and I could be on a waiting list and report at 05:20, but there was no guarantee I would make the flight. There was no point going back into New York, so I spent a sleepless night on the floor and was rewarded with the last seat on the plane. Hurrah! But Chicago was not Vegas, and I touched down at O'Hare with around 6 hours to go until Mario and Matea were due to walk down the aisle. 


Customer service in Chicago was a lot less stressful, and there was no queue whatsoever. There were two ladies behind the counter, one a grumpy middle-aged white woman, and a young and more wholesome African-American lady who I sensed had a bit of personality. I chose her.

"Good morning," I started, in the cutest British accent I could muster. "You look like a lady who enjoys making dreams come true."

"You are at the right address, Honey, what's your dream today?"


I explained the situation, how Mario was my best friend from childhood, that we had saved for 10 years for this moment where he would wed his childhood sweetheart, with Elvis doing the tunes. I told her how beautiful Croatia was - and how far away - and that she was welcome to visit any time if she could help me.

She raised her hand. I stopped talking. She tapped something into her keyboard, the printer sprung into action, and she presented me with a boarding pass.


"What a beautiful story. Time to make your dream come true. Your flight to Vegas leaves in 20 minutes. Gate 19."

And so it did, albeit with a 30-minute delay. A taxi to the airport and I arrived with 45 minutes to spare. The lovely couple forgave me for arriving to perform my best man duties without a shower and sevely underdressed. 

And so the lovely couple tied the knot. As for what happened after that, remember the saying - What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. 


I have been meaning to write about this little chapter for quite a while, but time the enemy as usual. But I was giving a little push by the fact that Mario has just been voted Best Croatian Chef 2022 by his peers at the recent Raise the Bar awards. Congratulations and fully deserved. Having tried his 10-course taster menu at Kinoteka in Split recently, I can fully understand why. 

The best man to Croatia's best chef, one more random chapter in my 20-year jourrney in this incredible land.  


What's it like living in Croatia, and where can you get the best survival tips? TCN CEO Paul Bradbury and TCN Editor Lauren Simmonds have teamed up to publish Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.


Sunday, 23 January 2022

Mario Mandaric Expands Ugandan Well Project: Aims for 100 a Year

January 24, 2022 - After an incredibly successful start, celebrated Croatian chef Mario Mandaric aims to expand his Ugandan well project to 100 wells a year.

It all started at a car rental counter in Zagreb.

Boy meets girl. 

Within days, he had convinced her to spend the winter with him in Africa. She suspected that he was probably trafficking people under his cover of digging wells in remote villages in Uganda, she had never been to Africa, and she had a fear of grasshoppers, as we have documented previously on TCN, but she decided to join him. Even though it was grasshopper season. 


Together they would work with Water Help Uganda to donate and dig a well in a remote village in rural Uganda. In order to try and have a bigger impact, celebrated chef Mario Mandaric held a series of charity dinners with Zagreb's only Michelin Star chef, Bruno Vokal from Noel, with one dinner alone raising enough for a new well. Check out one of the meals of my time in Croatia in Michelin Starry Nights in Dubrava as Vokal, Mandaric Cook for Uganda. With Matea Kristic the charming hostess and donation collector, the couple soon had enough for three wells. 


And so off they went...  

To be honest, I feared for Matea. As lovely as she was, she seemed a little frail to endure the challenges of rural Africa, especially with that fear of grasshoppers.

How wrong I was! 

Not only did she overcome her fear of grasshoppers by eating a large portion of them, but she more than got her hands dirty, and she certainly taught the locals how to dance. 


The Imotski Shuffle is now going viral around the villages of Uganda. 


And a small investment can have a huge impact on the lives of village residents, who previously have had to walk for miles, often in swampy terrain which has claimed the lives of many of them, just for the most basic necessity of life - clean water.  

As Mario explained to TCN:


"Building a well has the power not only to save lives but to transform them too! Women and children in Africa walk for hours every day to collect water, often from dangerous and unsanitary sources, and must carry heavy loads of water, all just to fulfill their basic needs.
When you build a well in Uganda, you are liberating these women and children can go to school, crops can be watered and women can learn skills or just take the time to enjoy life with their families!" 


"Most of the kids in the villages have fathers who died by trying to get water from the swamps. This is a high-impact, low-cost initiative, with each well directly impacting about 300 people. We have been overwhelmed not only by the hospitality here, but also by the level of support for the project. From the original plan of our well and the ones from the dinners, we have already completed 14 wells, with three more in progress currently. 


"Now the plan is to build 100 a year and by crushing the prices, so more people can afford to donate the well now. By connecting with the company from Kenya we managed to get the prices of the wells down to 1800 euro each. These now are the cheapest wells in Africa and they're the same quality as they were when they were 5000 euro.


"When you donate a well, you get all the info about the village where the well will be, pictures of it being built, pictures of it in use, and stories of the people who benefit directly from it. Plus the 4 years warranty." 


After a few weeks of experiencing Africa at its rawest, a well-earned break for the couple as they headed to Zanzibar to stay with Croatian tourism legend, Toni Raguz, whose luxury 5-star Baraza Resort and Spa Zanzibar Collection was named in the top 20 beachside hotels in the world, as well as the best in Africa. And Mario brought a little luxury cooking to the table, as part of the project awareness.  

17 wells funded, 83 to go. Are you interested in donating to this great project? If yes you can contact Mario by WhatsApp on +255 772 323 468, via Facebook, or via his website. And if you do donate, think of the Croatian cultural promotion - the Imotski Shuffle could become a global thing. 

And when the couple do return to Zagreb, he will be diving into rather a cool new gourmet project - teaser in Local Knowledge with a Foreign Eye: When Gourmet Visions Collide.

Monday, 20 December 2021

Split Chef Mario Mandarić Fulfills Promise, Brings Water to Ugandan Villages

December 20, 2021 - Split chef Mario Mandarić fulfilled his promise - he brought water to two small villages in Uganda, in the Kibuku District.

One well has already started to come to life, and clean drinking water has brought indescribable joy to the village. Residents of another village, where the construction of another well under his direction is nearing completion, will soon experience the same, reports Slobodna Dalmacija.

Mario is in Uganda accompanied by his girlfriend Matea Krištić, a 25-year-old student at the Faculty of Law in Split and native of the Imotski village of Zmijavac, who also embarked on an adventure of a lifetime. According to the latest news from Africa, Mario has plans to build another well from donor money. 


"Matea and I financed the first well; the second was built from donations collected at three charity dinners. And along the way, we raised money to build another one. As donors continue to respond, some more villages will receive water.

Building a well does not just mean bringing water to those people, for whom it has been a pure luxury so far. It means changing their lives. There are no fathers in the villages we visited because they died while trying to pull the liquid that means life to them, from the swamp, in buckets. That makes this action even more significant. Fills you with happiness. It is amazing to see their explosive happiness as they play under the drops of water coming from the well," says Mario.


At one point last summer, Mario read about thirst in Ugandan villages and decided to help. After three donor evenings, they were greeted by a long flight to Uganda and a mountain of paperwork.

His only connection was Amar, a man who owns a well construction company. Immediately after their arrival, they went into action, and they were lucky to find drinking water in the first village, after drilling the ground for 15 meters, both by hand and with a drill.

The well that has already been put into operation has a plaque next to it with the names of the donors, Mario and Matea, with the inscription - water is not for sale.


"Yes, the message 'water is not for sale,' says a lot because water is a treasure here, and we do not want anyone to trade in it. We want it to be accessible to all, free.

The inhabitants of these villages have never seen a white man before. They are shocked by Matea's green nails. After a while, they put babies in our arms because they think they will be blessed if white people hold them.

They have an immeasurable temperament, dancing for hours, singing, thanking, thrilled to finally have what they need so much. Before we left for Africa, they sang 'Welcome to Uganda' for us.

And now the song carries the words - 'we have no water, you will give it to us.' Most of the children in these pictures are fatherless. They drowned as they went into the swamps to get the liquid that literally means life here. And it hurts because Uganda has exceptional underground river flows," says Mario.

Mario said that great corruption, restrictions, and poverty rule the state. So they found accommodation in a small town four hours away by car from the capital. They sleep in a hotel with water and electricity, but goats are also a common sight and are free to meet in the hallways in the morning.


The city is full of old Toyota vehicles. People are otherwise very kind and constantly stop them because of their skin color and because of Mario’s tattoos. They say they only saw something like that on TV.

And what does Matea think of Africa? Before she left, she had to overcome a terrible fear of locusts, so she is happy that it is not their season, although she admits that something is constantly flying around them. She also said that there is a lot of chaos, and she continually wonders where everyone is running as if they were in a state of war.

They have also adapted to the Ugandan diet, on bananas in all forms, and were even served pasta and fried eggs for breakfast. They were delighted with the natural juices.

"Passing through the villages, we give the children sweets, lollipops. You have the impression that you are watching a scene from a popular movie about Africa. Everything is somehow on the verge of survival, crowded with many people in the cities, crowded on the unpaved streets. At first contact in the villages, the kids marveled at my nails.

At first, they were very careful, then she would start touching us, then they would give us a high five, and after a while, they would begin shaking hands. We later became friends. These children are so wonderful, happy, even in all their poverty. Water is a gift from heaven to them," says Matea.


Other donors joined Mario's well-building action in Uganda, and among them is Toni Raguz, a Croatian businessman who has several exclusive hotels in Zanzibar.

"He invited us to celebrate Christmas and New Year with him, and when he heard about our action, he decided to donate to construct several wells. So we are happy," concludes Mario.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Grasshopper Revenge, as a Dalmatian Digs Wells in Uganda

December 9, 2021 - As one Dalmatian breaks ground digging a well in a remote Ugandan village, another conquers her fear of grasshoppers in style. 

True love can be intoxicating.

And dangerous.  


It can make you follow your new love blindly, without any thought of the consequences. 

And, to be perfectly honest, I was a little bit concerned about what would happen to young Matea after meeting her for just 5 minutes. 


Matea is a beautiful and very nice young lady from Imotski, who I met at the recent incredible charity dinner for Uganda organised by Michelin superstars Bruno Vokal and Mario Mandaric.  

Matea was the host of the evening, helping our new boyfriend chef Mario to run the evening, which was raising money to dig wells in rural Uganda.  


Mario held three such dinners and raised a sizable sum to fund the digging of the wells. He invited Matea to join him on a 2-month adventure in the Pearl of Africa. 

Without a second thought, she agreed to follow her new dečko.  

But there was only one problem. Young Matea was a game girl, but she had one huge phobia. Grasshoppers. 

And Uganda was entering the peak grasshopper season. 


Mario is known as a very resourceful chef, who made his name on a campaign against food waste in restaurants. He decided to help Matea overcome her fear before departure by introducing her to an African grasshopper he managed to meet in Zagreb called Flipper.  

Matea bravely confronted her biggest fear, and allowed the moment to be recorded.  

Holding Flipper was a huge psychological barrier that she crossed successfully. But how would she cope in Africa?


I lived in Africa in 1994 (Rwanda) and Kenya and Somalia (2002). it is a continent that often brings out the very best in people. But how would young Matea cope? 


Rather well, it seems. The ultimate grasshopper revenge - lunch.  

Fast food, Ugandan style.  


She lost no time getting immersed in the local community, where the kids had never seen a white person before. Or nails quite like that.  


And so to work. A true Dalmatian is never far from his motika, and young Mario was soon breaking ground for the well for the village.  

Many of the kids do not have fathers, as they have drowned in a nearby swamp, where villagers are currently taking water. 

The villagers were waiting for their Croatian guests, and they welcomed them with a traditional dance and song, which had the refrain 'We don't have water, you'll give us water.' 


Africans are famously great dancers, but they were pretty impressed by the Imotski Shuffle.  


Locals believe that it is good luck for a child if a white person holds the baby. I am not sure I would entrust a baby to the arms of Mario, but each to his own.  


The wells are dug to a depth of 5 metres. After that, the drilling starts, down another 5-10 metres. Once they hit water, construction begins.  


Ugandan village fashion.  

Progress on the well construction has been swift, and all should be finished in another 10 days or so. There are two wells being financed by Mario's charity dinners, and he is 1,100 euro short of enough money to fund a third.  If you would like to donate, you can contact Water Help Uganda directly, or Mario Mandaric via Instagram.


The couple will soon be heading off to Zanzibar to prepare another luxury charity dinner to raise funds for the project. They have been invited by Toni Raguz, a Croatian owner of 4 hotels on the beach that were put on the list of the 20 best beachside hotels in the world.


As for Matea, having conquered her fear of grasshoppers, it seems there is no stopping her now. 

"Matea, this is the River Nile, and there are crocodiles. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Mario and Matea will be returning to Zagreb in January, when Mario will start a rather cool new gourmet project - read more in Local Knowledge with a Foreign Eye: When Gourmet Visions Collide.

Friday, 26 November 2021

Of Grasshoppers & Water: Croatian Couple Off to Uganda to Dig Wells

November 26, 2021 - Croatians spend the winter in various ways. Meet a young couple off to dig wells in Uganda hoping to overcome a fear of grasshoppers while there.  

Could this be the Croatian car rental story of the year?

She: a young student working for a car rental company part-time.

He: an internationally famous young chef with working experience in a Michelin 3-star restaurant, as well as being listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the 30 most influential people under 30

The car: just a regular Suzuki. 


Nobody will ever know what happened in the car park on that fateful day, but a few days later Matea found herself in a new role, playing hostess at a 5-star luxury dinner in western Zagreb, which was raising money to dig wells in rural Uganda. 

It was one of the finest meals I have ever had, prepared by Zagreb's only Michelin Star chef, Bruno Vokal of Noel, and the man renting the Suzuki, Mario Mandaric. Read more in Michelin Starry Nights in Dubrava as Vokal, Mandaric Cook for Uganda.

The couple had become close very quickly, and Mario invited Matea to join him on his winter project in rural Uganda, to build wells with the non-profit organisation, Water Help Uganda.  

There was just one problem - Matea was terrified of grasshoppers. 



That fear did not subside when Mario showed her photos of where they were going. Apparently, now is peak season for grasshoppers. 

How to go on this incredible and worthy journey to dig wells, while also overcoming her fear of grasshoppers?

Mario is known as a very resourceful chef, who made his name fighting food waste in the restaurant industry. He is a very capablee young man, and he came up with a rather ingenious way to help his new girl tackle her fear.  


Meet Flipper. 

African grasshoppers are hard to find in Zagreb in late November, but Mario always finds a solution to the problem, and this was to be no exception. He wanted his girl to go to Uganda, and if he had to help her overcome her fear of grasshoppers in order to make that happen, then so be it. 

And I have to say, didn't Matea do well?

Matea and Flipper became best buddies almost (ok, maybe not almost) instantly. 


I caught up with the young couple earlier today ahead of their departure tomorrow, and I was there as their negative PCR tests came in. 

The journey is about to begin, one which TCN will be reporting on in the next few months. Mario has kindly agreed to become the first ambassador for our new CROMADS project, which launches next month, and we brainstormed a little during our meeting. Stay tuned, for what we came up with is quite exceptional. 


The couple will be gone until January, when Mario will start work on a very cool project in Zagreb, on which we have already published a teaser: Local Knowledge with a Foreign Eye: When Gourmet Visions Collide


It promises to be quite a change of scene for the couple, but their Ugandan hosts are very excited about their arrival.


You can follow their progress on the Water Help Uganda Facebook page

TCN is proud that our first CROMADS ambassador is off on such a worthy journey, and we will be reporting on both the progress of the well construction project, as well as Matea's ongoing love affair with grasshoppers. 

And I leave you with some photos of the project and what awaits. So next time you rent a car in Croatia, who knows where it could end... 





Sunday, 7 November 2021

Zagreb Michelin Delight: Mario Mandaric, Noel's Bruno Vokal Uganda Charity Dinner

Novmber 7, 2021 - Are you a foodie in Zagreb? There is only one place to be on Friday, as a Zagreb Michelin Delight will be served up by two chefs with a Michelin pedigree to raise money to build wells in villags in rural Uganda. 

I love everything about this story 

Success stories of the little guy in Croatia should be told more in my opinion, especially those which then go on to give back.

We have written about the incredible story of Mario Mandaric before. A school dropout aged 17, his passion for gastronomy had him named on the list of the 30 most influential people under 30 in the Art and Culture category just 12 years later. 


(Bruno Vokal, photo credit NOEL)

Giving back has been a strong theme in Mandaric's career, and he is about to head off to Africa for his latest escapade - to construct wells in villages in Uganda from money he has raised. In a country where 2,696 children under the age of five die every year from diarrhea caused by consuming dirty water, a well means life.

"And I don't want to stop at one well; that's just the beginning. I will finance them; without thinking, I decided to set aside 8 to 12 thousand dollars for them. But when I’m already going down, when I can already help, then it would be a shame to keep it on just one, and that’s why we’re organizing a charity donor dinner."

And this will be no ordinary charity dinner. Mandaric will be joined in the kitchen by the only Michelin Star chef in Zagreb, Bruno Vokal from NOEL, who is almost like a brother to Mandaric, as he explained in his social media announcement of the event:

Bruno Vokal and I - the only chef with a Michelin star in Zagreb and my brotha from anotha motha are making a 5-course dinner!

The date is Friday, 12.11.

The minimum donation is 600kn

The location will be revealed two days before.

Reservation with me in the inbox or on the number


That is a lot of Michelin goodness in one night. See you there. 

Mario will be retrurning to Zagreb after his Ugandan escapade to start work on a very cool new project which will be announced soon. A little teaser in Local Knowledge with a Foreign Eye: When Gourmet Visions Collide.

Monday, 11 October 2021

Forbes 30 Under 30 Chef Mario Mandarić Readies for New Journey in Uganda

October 11, 2021 - The already famous Croatian chef Mario Mandarić, whose name was included in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for his innovative waste-free Michelin-style meal, is readying for a new journey outside of the kitchen and in Uganda.

Mario Mandarić, welcome to Uganda - a group of Ugandan children shouted with a smile, sending a warm welcome to the famous chef in a video, reports Slobodna Dalmacija.

Madarić, currently employed as a chef at the Time Hotel in Split and the popular Baraka pub, will soon arrive in East Africa, bringing what is most important to them in life - water!


Namely, Madarić bought a one-way ticket and decided to live in Uganda and finance the construction of a well. In a country where 2,696 children under the age of five die every year from diarrhea caused by consuming dirty water, a well means life.

Madarić shared the children's excitement in a video on his Instagram profile, as they will finally be able to quench their thirst with clean drinking water for the first time without fear of fatal consequences.

"And I don't want to stop at one well; that's just the beginning. I will finance them; without thinking, I decided to set aside 8 to 12 thousand dollars for them. But when I’m already going down, when I can already help, then it would be a shame to keep it on just one, and that’s why we’re organizing a charity donor dinner on October 16 at the Time Hotel.

I will prepare six top fine dining courses for guests, who will eventually help build more wells with their donations. It will be a minimum of 400 kuna per person. All the funds we collect at the dinner, and donations that will be sent to an account opened for that purpose, will go to Uganda," says chef Mario.

Mario is already well-known in the public eye. Last year, the prestigious Forbes included him on the "30 under 30" list from Europe in the "Art and Culture" category.


This was decided by a series of articles in a British newspaper praising his charity dinner of seven Michelin-style dishes made entirely from produce and ingredients that would have ended up in the trash.

He then explained to a crowd of dignitaries who attended that 47 million tons of edible uncooked food end up in waste every year in Europe, while at the same time, tens of millions of people have nothing to eat. Chef Mario forwarded donations from the dinner to the London Center for Young Homeless People. Mandarić also worked at the famous "The Fat Duck" restaurant with three Michelin stars. 

"The idea came to me one morning during this summer, which I spent cooking in a Hvar restaurant for higher-spending guests. I sat with colleagues from a restaurant over coffee, scrolled Google news, and at one point read about the problems of Ugandan children caused by dangerous, dirty water. I said I have to do something. I'm going down there; I'll build a well. I will make that money again, I am young, on the verge of 30, and it will mean a lot to them. I can change the life of an entire village that way.

So if I can do that, if I can impact their lives with that money, I want to help. And when I'm already building one, then I can make more, so I decided on a donor dinner," said Mario.

He contacted many people and finally got in touch with Amar Gader from Uganda, who is building wells in small villages with a few workers. An agreement was reached, and Mario will take off in a few months. And this all in a country where children are dying from not having clean drinking water, and which at the same time has vast reserves of drinking water underground.

"What an absurdity. The construction of the well costs from 8 to 12 thousand dollars, and the expectations are that the work will be completed in about 15 days. Amar has found the village, he is waiting for me, and then we go into action.

Yes, I will take an active part in it, I want to do it and help them. Maybe there are more people like me. If they are there, I invite them to join us," concluded Mandarić.

For more on lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Friday, 24 September 2021

Forbes 30 Under 30 Chef Mario Mandarić Plans Next Move: Digging Wells in Uganda

September 24, 2021 - Forbes 30 under 30 chef Mario Mandarić is trying to do something meaningful before his 30th birthday and decided to swap the high-class clientele of Hvar for Uganda, where he will dig wells this offseason.

After a successful season at Hvar restaurant Passarola, young Croatian chef Mario Mandarić, recently included in the Forbes 30 under 30 list, plans to spend the next few months digging wells in Uganda, reports

"One morning, I scrolled through Facebook and came across information that in Uganda, children are dying from infectious diseases due to lack of drinking water. Then I researched and realized that Uganda ‘lies on the water’ because of the Nile river source. Some companies dig those wells, but that drilling is expensive. So I started inquiring, I found out a little more about it; I saw that Uganda is beautiful. I sent a couple of emails to some associations and Caritas, and I was contacted by Amar Gader, who has dug more than 200 wells so far. Digging a well costs from eight to 12 thousand dollars," says Mandarić for Index.

The chef plans to go to Uganda with his restaurant team, fund one well, and launch a campaign to raise money to dig a few more wells. He says that he wants to do something big before his 30th birthday and that he will finance the digging of one well, but that his goal is to dig at least five of them.

“Since I have nothing to do until next season, it occurred to me to do a crowdfunding campaign, raise money, and dig as many wells as possible when I’m already there. Then, if there is still money left, I plan to leave Amar to continue digging those wells even after we leave," adds the chef, who also plans to organize a humanitarian dinner in Split.

“I don’t like to fall into monotony after the season; I don’t like routines. I want something exciting. I think I can influence someone to help. It is better to travel and help someone than to travel and spend money," concluded Mandarić.

For more, follow our lifestyle section.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Young Croatian Chef Mario Mandarić Makes Forbes 30 under 30 List

April 11, 2021 - Forbes magazine has released its 30 under 30 Europe list for 2021. In the Art & Culture section is Mario Mandarić, a 29-year-old chef from Split.

The young Split chef was among the 30 most influential people in the world under 30, and ended up on the list because of his interesting Food Waste Awareness project, which he worked on in London last year, reports

The Food Waste Awareness project has proven extremely successful. Mario made a seven-course dinner of food that was supposed to end up in the trash and wanted to raise awareness about just how much is thrown away in the world’s big restaurants.

"I worked in England, and I wanted to make a pop-up dinner for clients I met in Thailand. However, I wanted to stand out with something, and the whole time I had in my head how much food is thrown away in restaurants. Food that was not processed at all and that was supposed to end up in the trash.

So I came up with the idea of making a pop-up dinner out of food that the chefs knew would fail. One gave me 10 pounds of zucchini because he accidentally had excess, the other had some thawed ducks to prepare for a group that canceled, and so on. So I gathered many groceries, went to the kitchen, and started stacking dishes from what I had. I created a seven-course menu," said Mandarić.

He invited people from the industry to dinner - chefs, restaurant owners, and people who are connected to gastronomy. Between courses, he gave lectures on how to reduce restaurant waste, reduce waste at home, recycle food, and even taught guests how to compost.

“It wasn’t until the end of dinner that I told the guests that all seven courses they had just eaten were made from food that restaurants would throw away. I threw them some facts like that 47 thousand tons of unprocessed food in European restaurants are thrown away every year," Mandarić added for Index. He did not charge for dinner but collected donations. The smallest donation was £55, and everything he raised he donated to Centerpoint, a center for young homeless people in London.

“That project continued, but the lockdown prevented the organization dinners,” he said.


Mario describes himself as boring - he doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and goes to bed at 11 pm.

Mario Mandarić grew up in Omiš, where he enrolled in cooking school after primary school. He revealed he was attracted to that school because of the friends who enrolled in it and the stories about large chef salaries in big restaurants.

"A cooking professor knocked me down for years and told me I would never be a chef. Then I dropped out of school," said Mandarić, who really threw himself into cooking when he dropped out.

"I started working for free at restaurants around to learn the basics, and then I applied for a job on a cruiser going from Split to Dubrovnik. It was a good salary, and the boat took one week from Split to Dubrovnik. I thought, if I'm not satisfied, they wouldn't throw me into the sea. Still, I was satisfied and endured the whole season there. That was when I was 17," he said.

"By the way, I loved to cook," said Mandarić.

"I never wanted to be an assistant chef. That was a big mistake. I had to finish that school and go through some basics. I knew how to come to a restaurant and make foams and emulsions, and I didn't know how to make bechamel and soup. Still, I always pushed myself to learn as much as I could," he added.

After spending several seasons on the Adriatic, he traveled to Thailand as a tourist with 600 euros in his pocket. The trip ended with him opening a restaurant in a bay where there was no kitchen, electricity, or water.

"I went as a tourist for 20 days and met a guy who cooked for National Geographic and those who pretend to survive. He told me about a cove in Thailand where there is no water and electricity, where a group of 200-300 foreigners live like hippies or run away from some reality. That guy and I once went to a party in that bay, he lost his wallet, and he had to buy a ticket to Alaska. So we came to the idea to make dinner for those people in the bay, counting that about thirty people would come and pay and thus provide him with enough money for the ticket," said Mandarić about the beginning of the project in Thailand.

"We had one gas stove in that accommodation. We made eight courses for 20 people, and more than 100 came. Then we figured we could make money. I went back to Brač to work the season and then went to Thailand again. First, we cooked in a bungalow, and then we rented a beach facility made of bamboo, and it became trendy, especially among the stars, because no one could see them," he said.

He remained in Thailand for several years, worked on a tourist visa, and occasionally returned to Croatia. He raised money, said goodbye to Thailand, and decided to open a restaurant in Split.

"Split was ideal. And, honestly, I wanted to achieve something at home," said Mandarić, who upon returning to Split became the owner of the Šumica restaurant in Bačvice.

Mandarić found himself in the media not because of his chef skills, but because of the fire at Šumica after he became the owner. He said the fire occurred six months after becoming a co-owner or three months after he became the owner.

"We worked superbly; you can check that. I was not insured against such things, but the restaurant was insured against everything else. If I wanted to withdraw money from insurance, I could have done it easily; this is how my money burned," said Mandarić.

He then went to England, accepting one of the offers he had at the time. He cooked at a restaurant in the north of England and then got an offer from Dinner By Heston.

After England, he returned to Roxanich in Motovun and then moved to Noel Buje, which closed half a year later.

Mandarić is now deciding between an offer in Scotland and the chef position at a restaurant on Brač.

"There is one concept that I am planning for Split, but it will not happen for at least another two years. Because of the concept, the restaurant must be in Split," concluded Mandarić.

Read about Mario on Forbes.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.