Žiga Gabrovec. Konjice born and bred. Today a budding DJ and passionate chef. A guy who at the beginning of his career turned his hand to almost anything – hotel room attendant, forklift driver, assistant chef, toilet cleaner. He’s almost two metres tall. I dare not even guess his shoe size. Recognisable by his curly moustache and mischievous smile. Finalist of the popular cooking TV show Masterchef, which made his name and face known throughout Slovenia. No, he didn't win. But he feels like he did. Today he is proud of his own bar and pop-up restaurant Žigola, which he opened this autumn in the Renaissance Trebnik Mansion in the middle of Konjice Park. Home. In his beloved Konjice. As a little boy, his grandmother inspired him to cook. About what inspires him today, what he wants to say with his recipes to those on the other side of the plate and what his plans are for the future, we talked casually at one of the retro tables in his bar Žigola.
Žiga, you started cooking with your grandmother. Did you know back then that cooking would be your profession or did it happen by accident?
Basically yes. As a little boy, I really enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with my grandmother and learning a lot from her. My grandmother is a seamstress by profession, but she is also an excellent cook. Her cooking has always brought the family closer in a special way. She made sure we ate well and had a good time together. I somehow overheard my mother’s wishes for me to go into healthcare and my father’s for me to get a job in the blacksmithing industry, and preferred to follow the path my grandmother had charted for me with her love of cooking. And I don’t for a moment regret making that decision. There is still a lot of “the grandmother” in my cooking today. Of course, a lot of just mine…
How did you end up on Masterchef? How would you briefly describe this experience? Did it give you more or take more?
It was one of the most beautiful and at the same time the most difficult experiences in my life. I am very grateful for it, but I would never want to go through all that again. In the meantime, I lost my father and it was really emotionally exhausting. But I found myself there by accident. My girlfriend Katarina and I had completely different plans – a trip that would almost take us to Berlin, but coronavirus happened and we stayed at home. Katarina happened to see an ad for the Masterchef show and encouraged me to sign up. Then I soon felt that I could draw a lot of good from this chance happening. And the rest is history.
This autumn you opened your bar Žigola in Slovenske Konjice. What does that mean to you? What is the concept of the bar and what can guests experience and taste here?
It is a pop-up restaurant. This means that we are not open all the time, but only on certain dates and only for bookings. In addition to the restaurant, we also have a café, which is open all the time and is furnished in the style of my grandmother – it has retro chairs, sofas, ficus plants and other old pieces of furniture and equipment. I want the guests at Žigola to feel at home. That after a good meal they relax on the couch and enjoy the ambient music like at home.
What flavours can guests expect on their plates? Do you play with tradition and modernity? Are you "spontaneous" or more thoughtful when creating plates?
My plates are well thought out to the end. When it comes to culinary events, there is no more room for spontaneity. I am spontaneous earlier in the process when I come up with ideas. My plates are imbued with a lot of tradition that my grandmother passed on to me, but I still add a lot of my own ideas and modern touches to them. I play with flavours, create different harmonies on a plate, use local ingredients, and am generally a supporter of our homemade, local produce. For guests staying at Trebnik Mansion, the team prepares breakfasts, which largely include products with the Tastes of Rogla label and everything else that is homemade.
Why should guests come to Žigola?
Because with me you never know what you’re going to eat. I leave you in suspense until the very end. I promise you a unique tasting evening, where you will get to know me through the plate, listen to the music that inspired me while cooking and I will always provide an additional "sweet" surprise.
You’re always welcome at Žigola!
Portrait of Žiga Gabrovec; photo: Master Chef Slovenia
Other photos: Laura Ovčar