Friday, 14 January 2022

International Food in Zagreb: Fuego Fresh Latin Food

January 14, 2022 – Open less than two months, Fuego Fresh Latin Food is the Croatian capital's latest international food offer. TCN visited to check out their authentic South American and Caribbean Latin cuisine.

Slightly hidden at the foot of a residential building on the edge of Lower Town, immediately behind Zagreb Holding, the capital's latest international food offer is definitely worth finding. Fuego Fresh Latin Food serves rustic and affordable dishes of Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba. Think homemade tortilla chips, corn, salads, spices, lime juice, salsa and chilli sauce. Its authentic menu is the creation of American-Croatian Richard Gruica, a chef with 20 years experience making Latin cuisine. Total Croatia News went to meet him and get the story behind his Fuego Fresh Latin Food.

FuegoRichard.JPGFuego Fresh Latin Food's Richard Gruica-Plešivica © Marc Rowlands

My name is Richard Gruica. I was born in Jamaica and grew up in Miami. My parents are both from here, Zagreb. They lived in Jamaica because my dad had a fibreglass business there.

My parents split up when I was about 7 and my mom had a time where she was deciding where she wanted me to grow up. So, we came back to Croatia, we tried Scotland, England and Spain. Then we went to Haiti, but on one of the layovers, we stopped in Miami. My mom liked it there and we ended up staying.

I have fewer memories from my early days in Jamaica. But, we still have friends there, like my Godparents, and we go back to visit every few years.

My mom was just 15 when she left Croatia and she moved to Venezuela. So, long before I was born she was tied into the Latin community. Miami has a big Latin community. It is huge.

FuegoHand.jpgFuego Fresh Latin Food

When we first moved there we lived in downtown Miami. These days, it's all multi-million dollar properties. But, back then, it really wasn't the best place to live. Living there, I was always exposed to Latin life and culture. Those were our neighbours. My mom's best friends were Cuban, Venezuelan and Brazilian.

Even now, there are not so many Croatians there. More Serbians and Slovenes. I remember back in the day we all used to go to the same club – this ex-Yu place. But, when the war started, that all went to shit (laughs). We couldn't go there anymore.

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My dad was actually trained as a chef and an engineer. He just chose to do something else. But, my uncle had the top French restaurant in Miami. My first job was working weekends there as a teenager, peeling potatoes and chopping onions. Over time, I learned the techniques of classic French cooking, from the bottom up. Originally, I was supposed to go to university to study law. But, I ended up instead going to culinary school.

After studies, I worked my way up - from line chef to sous chef to executive chef then restaurant owner. I had a 20-year career as a chef, almost exclusively within the top echelons of gourmet cooking – the total opposite end to the casual, approachable food we're doing here at Fuego!

AnyConv.com__FuegoFull.jpgFuego Fresh Latin Food © Marc Rowlands

Miami is the home of 'Nuevo Latino' – New Latin American cooking. Basically, you take traditional Latin food but execute and present it in an elevated way. Very fancy. During my career, there were five chefs in the USA best recognised for pioneering this style of food. I worked for three of them.

These days, I split my time between the US and Croatia. I have business in the US. In the earlier days of the internet, before Facebook got really popular, I founded some meet-up groups, based on the common interest of food. I started off in one city with a group of thirty people. That thirty became three hundred. Then, three thousand. Then, thirty thousand. Now I have active groups in seven different cities. We have one hundred and fifty thousand members.

I organised trips for group members around the US. We would go to food festivals. But, because of my heritage, I had this urge to better reconnect with Croatia. So, I decided to start doing tours to here. That was in 2016.

FuegoSnacks.JPGFuego Fresh Latin Food © Marc Rowlands

In a way, Fuego is a product of the pandemic. Travel and tourism were hugely affected by Covid. I had extra time on my hands and Fuego is the result. I also run 808, the bar next door, with my partner.

Coming from somewhere else, people like us can see that the food options in Zagreb are really quite limited. But, it's getting better! Certainly, it's a lot better now than it was when I first started to come here quite regularly.

We're going into our second month now. Right now we're only open for lunch (11am – 3.30pm), Monday – Friday. We're hoping to soon open for dinner too. People can eat the food next door in 808, or in any of the other cafe bars in our building.

Some of our dishes are genuine, authentic dishes of Mexico, Peru or Cuba. Others take inspiration from other Latin sources, like Venezuela or Chile.

Fuego2hg.jpgFuego Fresh Latin Food

Corn is a big staple in Mexico. And also in Croatia! In Croatia, you get corn in sandwiches. Or on pizza. That's really weird. But, OK. I can go with that. One of the dishes we have is Mexicorn. Basically, it's a cross between the crazy popular Mexican dish Elote and Croatian Francuska salata, with corn, sour cream, cream cheese, spices and some chilli.

Another dish is Bananas Latinas – bananas, black bean puree, sour cream, avocado, garlic sauce and pickled onions. It's sweet and salty, with citrus too. In Latin food there are a lot of overlaps.

FuegoSpices.jpgSpices and chilli sauces at Fuego Fresh Latin Food

People ask “Is your food spicy?” Well, it can be. If you want it spicy, we can make it like that for you. But, generally, our food is just very well seasoned. We do use a lot of spices, but that doesn't necessarily translate to food that's too spicy or too hot.

FuegoBowl.JPGIta's Aji de Gallina Bowl at Fuego Fresh Latin Food © Marc Rowlands

This dish is Ita's Aji de Gallina Bowl, named after my mother-in-law. It's based on a traditional Peruvian dish, with pulled chicken in a creamy chilli sauce. It's served next to Papa a la Huancaina - another Peruvian dish - boiled potatoes in a creamy sauce.

We make our own corn tortilla chips in-house. Yes, it's a lot of effort to go to, a long process. But, the ones you can buy here just aren't the same. We couldn't serve those. If you taste them, you'll immediately know the difference. I wanted ours to stand out from anybody else's. And, we've succeeded in doing that, we've perfected them. Right now, we're in the process of perfecting our own tacos. I anticipate they'll be on the menu in a month or so.

You can visit Fuego Fresh Latin Food at Zelinska 7 on the edge of Lower Town (it's immediately behind Zagreb Holding) and you can check out their menu here.

You can check out more of Zagreb's international food options on Total Croatia News Gourmet pages here.

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Get a Taste of Zagreb County Jastrebarsko on Wine Country Getaway

January 12, 2022 – Celebrated Croatian-American Chef Richard Gruica has a big enthusiasm for local wine and food. This Saturday he'll lead curious gastronauts through a culinary tour of Zagreb County Jastrebarsko on Wine Country Getaway.

These days, it's easier than ever to find great local food in Croatia's capital. But, if you're searching for authentic Zagreb dishes, what you'll actually find is a cuisine of shared provenance.

For the most part, Zagreb food is actually the traditional menu of Zagreb County and Zagorje. These largely rural areas supply the homes, hotels and restaurants of Zagreb with much of their best food and wine.

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In villages and towns surrounding Zagreb, traditional skills are used to get the very best from the land. Often, this know how has been passed down over many generations.

Croatian-American chef Richard Gruica has a big enthusiasm for local wine and food. Splitting his time between the US and Zagreb, there's actually nothing better he likes than setting off on a voyage of culinary discovery in Zagreb County. Thankfully, there's lots to explore.

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This Saturday, 15th January, Richard is sharing some of the secrets he's found in Zagreb County Jastrebarsko on Wine Country Getaway. He'll take a small group from Zagreb to one of Croatia's premium wine-growing regions. There, you'll try some of the best wines made in continental Croatia, while learning about indigenous grapes and traditional methods. After sampling the wines, you'll be treated to a meal of traditional local food, with wine paired to the dishes.

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Richard's Wine Country Getaway will visit Plešivica, Jastrebarsko, the Samobor Hills, and the southern part of the Žumberak mountains. The tour will visit the estate of a renowned local winemaker. You'll also drop in on a traditional copper – he's the only one in this region still making wooden barrels in the traditional way. After taking in the tradition, you'll head into the hills to enjoy a traditional lunch in a rustic wooden hillside tavern. Richard's tour will conclude with a trip into town for a famous dessert.

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Richard's tour of Zagreb County Jastrebarsko on Wine Country Getaway includes

• Transportation

• Cooperage visit and tour

• Wine tasting and tour

• Gourmet lunch with appetizer, choice of entrée and paired wine

• Dessert

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All guests will be picked up in front of Hotel Academia (Ul. Ivana Tkalčića 88) at 11am on Saturday 15th January. You'll return to Zagreb at approximately 7.30pm. The cost for Zagreb County Jastrebarsko on Wine Country Getaway is 500 Kn or 75 USD. You can book your place and get more information here.

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Monday, 5 October 2020

O'Hara's New Menu: A Pizzeria Without Capricciosa

October 5, 2020 - The competition on the pizza market is growing, and they have decided to take a classic off the menu. Boldness or experience? TCN meets O'Hara's new menu.

Malesnica, on the west side of Zagreb, hides a not so big restaurant, but it does have a pretty big name here in Croatia. Namely, O'Hara serves only the best food prepared by their expert chef's hands. Domagoj Kralj, the current restaurant manager, told us that they have a lot of food from Italy.

“We pay a lot of attention to quality; that’s why we have even San Marzano tomatoes from a subvolcanic area. It is sweet as it should be, without the acids of pasteurized concentrates,” said Domagoj, who spent a couple of months working on the new menu, along with his colleague Martin Karabajic.

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O'Hara

But, as Domagoj stated, everything paid off; now, they have a new menu with more than the usual combination of food, and it will overshadow the existing menu. For example, a pizza named Imperatore gives quite the rhapsody of taste: truffle cream, fior/mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella, beef carpaccio, mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, shi-take, chanterelles, sheep cheese, basil, and olive oil.

“It was a pretty big deal to design 18 new pizzas; when you get the idea of a new pizza, you have to make it several times to get the right ration,” said Domagoj, who worked in many different places and learned from the ideas and knowledge of various chefs.

The goal of their pizza is to be entirely soft. “The enzyme alpha-amylase processes it, so the dough becomes sweeter, the palate and the tongue stick together, and there is nothing sharp,” said Domagoj.

O'Hara

But another important thing is not to feel heaviness in the stomach after eating the pizza - that's why the dough ages for a very long time, even up to 72 hours. The O'Hara team provides a lot of attention to the dough-making technology. In addition to the fact that they make the dough from just four ingredients, one of the secrets they have revealed to TCN is that there is little room for the yeast.

“You know those small black marks on the edges of pizza? Those are leftover flour crumbs. We have a fantastic pizzaiolo, Ivana Petrovic, who makes pizza without these dots. This is very difficult to achieve, but there should be no flour left on the pizza's edges,” said Domagoj, who also explained that the Maillard reaction is more than needed on pizza.

O'Hara has been the state champion for the past few years, and they also went to the world championships. As Domagoj said, it is branded pizza; everything is rigorous. There is no room for mistakes. “People were thinking we’d gone crazy when we introduced Napolitana to Croatia, it is the most difficult pizza to make and is known as the 'queen of pizzas'. It boasts highly hydrated dough, the dough's temperature in the preparation, the oven temperature, should be 460 degrees, the temperature of fireclay, conduction, convection, and of course, the hands of the professional.”

Now, many pizzerias have Napolitana on offer, so the competition is showing. And yet, the classic pizza, the Capricciosa, didn't make it to the new O'Hara menu. “People like to try something new, and we have always enjoyed impressing people. But there is no compromise here: no lower class food or bad ingredients – we built our reputation precisely on our quality, and we will continue this way,” said Domagoj, who noted that the dough is the base for everything.

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O'Hara

The flour they use is top class, and some ingredients are taken from Croatian family farms. They are currently also collaborating with Food Innovation. Proof that the O'Hara team pays attention to detail is the fact that they don't use stick mixers for tomatoes. When it comes to San Marzano, the chef crushes it with his own hands and spreads it on the pizza - this way, every part of the tomato is used.

With the change of ownership, they changed the dough a bit, too. The current team worked at O’Hara in its golden age. They separated briefly, and now the whole team is together again, led by the new owner Zorana Savic. The O'Hara cooking team is made up of the above-mentioned pizzaiolo Ivana Petrovic, Ivan Kavelj, the winner of many competitions and the Croatian Cup, and Aleksandar Maricic, an expert in pasta. As a chef himself, Domagoj will occasionally hold a daily special.

The new menu will have salads and desserts, but again, not ordinary ones. For example, a salad named Chiaroscuro hides in it arugula, smoked salmon, toasted walnuts, fresh dill, honey mustard dressing, Creme Fraiche, radish, and champignons. For those who prefer something sweet but yet bitter, the dessert is a must: vanilla cream, bread with special dough, toasted walnuts, pear, and one cube of dark chocolate. The cream, which will be baked in the oven, will swell and be fluffy because of the eggs, the dark chocolate's bitterness will hold the balance, and crunchy walnuts and the refreshing pear will give the final touch.

“Every new dish we design is done with lots of knowledge, but also love. Our idea is to achieve umami and show this passion to our customers,” said Domagoj.

Malesnica is often used as a synonym for a remote part of town, but O'Hara is a pretty big reason to visit Zagreb's west side. As Domagoj told us, they don't feel the cons of not being in the center of the city. O'Hara has its parking lot, a quiet neighborhood, and above all, carefully selected ingredients, processed by the chef’s hands only.

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O'Hara

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Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Ayurveda Flavours of Love in Zagreb for Valentine's Day

For a very unique Valentine's Day experience this year, consider Ayurveda Balance Health Centre in Zagreb, and their "Ayurveda Flavours of Love" menu.

The unusual Valentine's Day event will be held in the restaurant of the Centre, in the centre of Zagreb, in Preradovićeva 20 on February 14, and also on February 15th, the Friday after the Valentine's. The menu for those two days will offer to the fans of the Ayurveda cuisine (but also to those who want to experience it for the first time) the special "love" meals, including the wealth of Ayurveda seasonings, many of which have been used as aphrodisiacs for centuries. There will be nutmeg (sometimes also called "the female Viagra"), cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger and the other Ayurveda flavours used to incite passion.

A respected Indian doctor from the family with a long tradition in Ayurveda healing, dr. I. Kalyan Chakravarthy, a permanent member of the team of the Ayurveda Balance Health Centre will share with the two Croatian chefs, Višnja Lažeta and Eta Čačilo, the secrets and the importance of those ingredients, as well as the importance of the ritual of the meal. He explains that it's important to eat with the understanding of each specific flavour, and the awareness of the love needed to grow each of the things in your meal. Ayurveda tradition also teaches us that the best time for love-making is during the full moon, at least two hours after a meal, and each day between 10 and 11 pm.

The meals prepared for the Valentine's menu will be offered as a buffet, so all visitors will get the chance to taste a bit of several different meals. If you enjoy the meals, you might become a regular customer of the restaurant, as it offers meals daily, including deliveries each day. More about them, in Croatian.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Top 5 Zagreb Restaurants Serving Best Local Food

These are some of the best restaurants in Zagreb where you can taste the traditional Zagreb food.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Gluten-Free “Brag Trend”

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Russian Delicacies

Another great place for lovers of international specialities – Ruske delicije.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

JRE Gala Lunch

An exclusive charity gala event.

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