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

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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.



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