About half an hour north of Split, Croatia sits the charmingly picturesque island village of Trogir, a UNESCO world heritage site that has witnessed the arrival and departure of a host of tribes, religions, political conquerors, and merchant plunderers over the years. Today it is a stunning collage of Hellenistic and Roman city planning and architectural flourishes. And tucked away in the heart of this “must visit” gem, Tatjana Ciciliani, a true local, offers home-based cooking classes and a, “cook and stay” option that favor local ingredients, highlight her family food traditions, and include a friendly, hands-on approach that is sure to inspire even timid cooks.
Due to some schedule conflicts I must admit that I was not able to actually cook with Tatjana, but had to settle for an afternoon-long discussion of Trogir and local food practices in which she plied me with glass after glass of her homemade sage-flower cordial.
Walking into a stone-walled courtyard overflowing with colorful flowers, potted herbs, and ornamental decorations, the tone in Tatjana Ciciliani’s home is set for things culinary. Then when you step inside and sit at her table, surrounded by a lifetime of personal history and the nuances of her life, you catch glimpses of her small open kitchen, and can’t help but ask her about food and when/where/how she learned to cook.
Tatjana learned to cook from both her mother and her father, and it’s those lessons that she passes on. The menus for her classes vary based on market availability and student preference. Tatjana’s classes are taught in English and consist of a minimum of two and a maximum of eight participants. When everyone is present she leads the group through the local markets where Tatjana is a faithful customer and an old friend to most of the merchants.
Based on student preferences and a sense of what looks good she’ll suggest a menu, which might include local fish, or lamb, and vegetables (such as baked beetroot with lemon and honey). Some of the ingredients used in the class come from Ciciliani’s family members, who produce their own olive oil and other products (as is common for families throughout Croatia).
With ingredients in tow, the class adjourns to Tatjana’s home, where the menu is executed with Tatjana coaching students and providing background on the ingredients, the dishes, and their place in Trogir’s (and Croatia’s) food culture, and her family cooking history. According to Ciciliani, her mother showed her how to cook by simply cooking in front of her, a technique Tatjana found only marginally helpful. By contrast, her father taught her by watching Tatjana cook, and interrupting: “Do this”, then, “Do that”.
Ciciliani has been running cooking classes for 4-5 years (as of June 2015), and offers participants the chance to stay at her home during the course (for example: arriving the afternoon of the class, and staying over through the next morning). Classes run €150 plus accommodation costs, which include two meals (for example: a light lunch on the day of arrival and breakfast the morning after) in addition to the dinner prepared in class.
I have it on good authority that Tatjana is the real thing. I was introduced to her by a Croatian restaurateur friend who has been cooking and working in the local restaurant scene for years, with family members involved in the local food business for decades. He couldn’t recommend her highly enough. And if Tatjana’s cordials, homemade lavender sugar, and snacks are even a faint glimmer of what’s tasted and learned, then missing out on her class may be the biggest mistake my palate has ever made.
text and photos by Glenn D. Kaufmann
Tatjana Ciciliani – firstname.lastname@example.org
Tatjana has no website set up for her classes yet, so it’s best to email her to make arrangements.
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1. Personal Interviews and experiences