April 30, 2019 – While British cuisine may not have the best global reputation, meet two Brits who are raising the level in the land of the UNESCO Mediterranean Diet, Michael Unsworth on Korcula and Jo Ahearne MW on Hvar. And when the two combine…
It is perhaps my favourite of all expat integration stories in Croatia.
The year in 1972, and a young British student meets a pretty Croatian student from what was then Yugoslavia. Things develop, and our lovestruck British hero decides to visit his new love in her native Orebic on the Peljesac Peninsula. While that love flourished throughout the summer, a new love developed for that young British student – Peljesac and Korcula. So much so that when his girlfriend headed back to London, the young Brit stayed on with her family, despite having no language in common.
The Michael Unsworth love affair with Dalmatia had begun. And if burns ever brighter, almost 50 years on.
A very successful financial career in the City of London and in Asia helped to finance some projects in Croatia, including the 5-star Lesic Dimitri Palace boutique hotel in Korcula Town. Having bought the property in 2001, Lesic Dimitri Palace, one of only four Relais Chateaux hotels in Croatia, and with its own Michelin-recommended restaurant, opened in 2008. It quickly set the standards not only for Korcula but also for the region.
There are few locals who will disagree that the arrival of Lesic Dimitri Palace has been the inspiration for the raising of quality of Korcula’s restaurant and accommodation offer.
Not content with simply running and enjoying the hotel, Michael has also been very active in helping to extend the season and promote the island’s considerable culture. Great examples of this are the Korkyra Baroque Festival in September, and the Korculanske Pjatance Spring Food and Wine Festival, the latter of which was responsible for bringing another overachieving Brit over from the neighbouring island of Hvar.
I first met Jo Ahearne MW five years ago at Dalmacija Wine Expo. Her love affair with ‘my’ island of Hvar began soon after (although she had visited back in 2003), when she moved to Hvar and became the first Master of Wine to make wine in Croatia, and from indigenous Hvar grapes. How better to describe her background that her biography on the Master of Wine website:
Jo is a winemaking consultant. In 1998 she completed her Oenology Degree in Australia where she has worked with iconic boutique wineries such as Charles Melton and Pipers Brook, as well as making wine for global brands such as Jacobs Creek and Hardy’s. During the early 1990’s she worked with UK wine merchant Oddbins, returning in 2004 as winemaker/blender for the influential supermarket Marks & Spencer. In 2011 Jo moved on to become the Head Wine Buyer for Harrods. In Europe she has had a variety of consultancies in Spain, France, Italy, Hungary and Macedonia working with wineries to refine and improve the quality of their wines in general and to fit the UK market specifically. Since 2014 she has also been making her own wine on the Dalmatian island of Hvar in Croatia.
The occasion which brought these two gourmet Dalmatian island Brits together was a 5-course dinner at Lesic Dimitri Palace, paired with local wines chosen by Jo. As you can read here, it was quite an evening, with the escargot tempura, above, just one of the many highlights..
A true gastronomic masterclass from Lesic chef, Marko Gajski, who is clearly enjoying life working with his British boss.
Both Jo and Michael kindly agreed to a TCN interview on the Lesic terrace the following morning, before just had to rush off for wine judging duties at the Dubrovnik Wine Festival and then the Decanter Awards in London.