July 2, 2019 – Partnering with resident Lesic Dimitri chef Marko Gajski, Emanuele Donalisio put on a night to remember on Saturday’s JRE Chefs on Sea dinner on Korcula.
Before we talk about the food, I have to tell you about the wind.
For it is it one of the great unmarketed gems of life in Korcula Town during the hottest months. As others swelter, guests in Korcula relax with a glass of wine as the constant gentle breeze keeps temperatures at an altogether more acceptable level.
Since first discovering it a couple of years ago, the terrace at Lesic Dimitri Palace has quickly become one of my favourite spots in the country, as well of one of the shining examples of how to do gourmet and luxury tourism par excellence. Arguably the top boutique hotel in the country, Lesic Dimitri Palace takes food very seriously and can be credited with raising the culinary bar in Korcula Town considerably, as other restaurants have followed. The hotel is already in the Michelin Guide and its young head chef, Marko Gajski, is a rising star on the Croatian gourmet scene. Lesic Dimitri is also a member of JRE (Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe), an excellent association of restaurants whose head chefs are younger than 42. The association is very active, bringing together chefs from all over Europe, who learn from each other.
Initiatives such as these are great for Croatia’s young chefs – an opportunity to work with and exchange ideas with their European peers. Last year, the first Chefs on Sea event was held in Croatia, where 6 quality Croatian restaurants and their JRE chefs welcomed an international JRE chef to prepare a culinary feast to remember. This year, the number of restaurants expanded to ten, all of them cooking at the same time last Saturday evening.
An invitation by JRE had me heading to Korcula and dreaming of that beloved breezy terrace. Chef Marko Gajski was joined in the kitchen by another JRE chef from Italy, Emauele Donalisio. Donalisio comes from Ventemiglia, the region where Liguria and Piedmont meet France, in a complex and well-intertwined zone of culinary experiences united by a word “Riviera”. It is interesting to note that Emanuele restaurant Il Giardino del Gusto was part of the travel feature published in New York Times in September 2017, selected as an example of the gastronomy tradition and elements that form the heritage of this Italian region.
The stage was set. The terrace awaited.
A wonderful evening was had by all, as Donalisio’s creations were extremely well-received and washed down by specially paired Korculan and other Croatian wines.
Rather than try and describe each myself, I took the opportunity to spend a little more time on that lovely terrace with our Italian visitor the following morning, and he kindly described each dish in much more detail than I could muster, so the information about each dish are his words, not mine.
A quick note on the olive oil before I hand over to Emanuele. Extra virgin olive oil from Chiavalon, the Istrian brothers who are taking the olive oil world by storm, and are regularly featured among the best olive oils in the world. This was going to be quite a culinary delight.
The tuna canape starter with caper leaf and dried pesto powder.
Dentex sashimi made with flower, which grows locally near us by the sea. We use the leaf from the flower and the seeds. The seeds are very similar to wasabi, for example, and the leaves are very spicy. The flower has a beautiful colour, and so we make this sashimi with a sauce from the leaves and Trebbiano wine. Add a little bit of soya sauce, some extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper.
The scallops are smoked with pine in the oven. In my restaurant I do it on wood. As a sauce we use cauliflower with sugar from the Philippine, which is a good match. And then we make a crispy cloud with rice with black ink. So this is the crusty part, and we also top it with beetroot powder.
The third dish was pasta, tortelli which is made from home-made dough. The tortelli is stuffed with foie gras, put in the oven at 100C for 20 minutes, and add salt, pepper and brandy. Then when it is cooked, we blend everything. We add a little bit of cream. The result is an explosion of taste with the fois gras. We also make a fish ragout with yellow cherry tomatoes. As we do in Italy, we put the cherry tomatoes on a very hot pan, add garlic cloves and sea salt. We cook it slowly on the side and after that blend everything, adding the ragout. We also have some olive foam which is good with foie gras, as well as some spinach leaves.
Sea bass and gambero rosso
The main course was sea bass with red shrimps from Sicily, and mushrooms. A fish version of Beef Wellington! It is all held together with a pork net. We take the fillet of the fish and, just like with meat, make it flat and then season everything with mushrooms which we sautee. The important thing about the shrimps is that they need to be nearly raw, because if they are cooked more, it will affect the texture of the dish. We cover it with foil and keep it warm. The sauce is a demi glace. I like to use mashed potatoes with tamarind, which adds a little acidity.
Dessert was from one of my classic recipes, based on almonds. We use strawberries to give some acidity, then we make some soft meringue, which we burn a little. We put some foam of coffee on top. And at the bottom we have Maraschino. The most important thing is that the taste must remember the almonds.
Marko Galjski was clearly enjoying the stimulating company in the kitchen and brought much cheer with his regular appearances at the table.
And the kitchen team looked happy and relaxed at another spectacular dinner for almost 50 guests delivered to perfection.
A few thoughts from Gajski on the evening.
In an age of overtourism and chasing the money, it is refreshing to find beacons of excellence where the quality of the product and the satisfaction of the guest is the most important thing. The food apart, the rooms are just stunning. Just nine rooms in total, each are themed around important locations on the Silk Road made famous by Korculan explorer, Marco Polo. The rooms are themed to Venice, China, India, Ceylon and Arabia – above a tour of China from my visit during the Korculanske Pjatance Spring Food and Wine Festival.
And what better way to start the day after such an amazing evening that a morning stroll through the empty early-hour streets of this absolute Dalmatian gem. Take a 6am walking tour above.
To learn more about Lesic Dimitri Palace, visit the official website.
To learn more about JRE in Croatia, click here.
You can learn more about Emanuele Donalisio on the JRE page dedicated to him and his restaurant.
To find out more about the island of Korcula, check out the Total Croatia Korcula in a Page guide.