Ludvik Štefko, a Slovenian chef and artist with a passion for herbs and spices

Ludvik Štefko, a Slovenian chef and artist with a passion for herbs and spices who has developed his own mixture LAI-CHI taste, of 72 ingredients. He is currently residing in Sydney.

As a chef you gained a lot of experiences from different European countries. Can you tell us more about your paths?
I have been trying to experience knowledge from different cultures. I didn’t want to stay only in one kitchen for 25 years. When I was 15 years, I worked in Polana near Murska Sobota at Gostilna Horvat Lovenjak. This was only restaurant in Slovenia with 3 stars that time. I worked also in restaurant Rajh, Bakovci. When I was 16, I worked at Verban restaurant in Tropovci, Slovenia. I worked there one-and-a-half year to prepare the basic, pizza, but with electric oven, not woodfire. In Hungary I learned how to prepare goulash from an old lady who has been preparing it for 50 years by the same recipe.

Later I went to Ljubljana where I was in a compulsory military service for seven months. Then I decided to find a job in Ljubljana. I worked in a Greek fast-food restaurant Ati near Kino Komuna for two years preparing gyros and 24 different salads with feta and gorgonzola cheese, dressing and vinegar. I have been chasing different spices and realised that when I put the spice in, I have always feel something changed, and I like that. At that time I also worked at the Mediterranean restaurant Grill pod lipo in Murska Sobota for two-and-a-half years. That was a very good time. From Murska Sobota I moved to Munich, from there to Innsbruck. I realised it is not all about Austrian kitchen and I must move on. Later I also worked in Gorizia, Italy. In Strunjan, Slovenia, I was a chef assistant preparing pasta with different sauces. I stayed there for two seasons, and then moved to Murska Sobota where I opened my own business for music. For 10 years I worked all around, every day or every weekend, much more at private parties and some big events (Lent festival, Škisova tržnica), and clubs (Jazz Club Satchmo). I played two times to Slovenian president national song. I also worked with Cindy Blackman, Melvin Taylor, Dubioza Kolektiv, Magnifico, Vlado Kreslin and Orlek.

Before you moved to Australia?
I came to Slovenia to stay and help my mother because she has diabetes. I lost my father when I was 15 and she is all for herself. Then I met a right girl. I already wanted to move on. I had enough Europe. I wanted to go somewhere where is a beautiful summer because there you can always work. When it is sunny and beautiful it is always something to do outside. I thought it would be nice to move to Australia then. This is not a coincidence, but the way. I found Suzana and we hang around with each other for 3 months. I explained to her that I must move on and I will be glad to visit or to stay in Australia. She said, “I have the citizenship.”

You didn’t know that she has it?
No. She didn’t tell me before. My dream came true and finally I moved.

As a chef was Australia something that you expected, or it was another surprise for you?
My first experience in Australia was in the Slovenian kitchen. I was surprised that they still use Vegeta. Vegeta is a commercial brand that was much in use at the time of Yugoslavia. Every food, anything that you prepared at the end of the process had one spoon of Vegeta.

In Slovenia they don’t use it anymore?
In Slovenia, I don’t think. Ok, my mother still has it. This generation has it like a secret weapon. This is why I have developed a new secret weapon LAI-CHI taste spice. It is not so salty, it is natural, only spices are inside. Smells like “šunka” [ham], this Slovenian meat, because a little smoky paprika is inside.

Have you been trying to sell it in Australia?
Not yet, but people say to me I must do it. It is very difficult to do on another continent in another country with different system. In Slovenia I tried to protect it with patent but they said to me that it cannot be done. I came here and went on a business seminar where their also said that I cannot protect it. That’s why is so difficult to sell something.

Jamie Oliver has just opened his restaurant in Sydney. Tell us about your experience with his team.
I saw advertising for his new restaurant Trattoria Jamie Oliver in Parramatta just 5 minutes from my home. It is not far away, so I saw it as a potential work. From 1,200 appliers I came 60 best. I sent my resume. It was a success for me, to get the opportunity to show them what I can do. They told me to prepare an omelette. I had pistachio, sour cream, eggs, milk and chocolate. I made an omelette with chocolate and on the top I put sour cream. It is salty, but it should be sweet. It is like old system of kitchen where it must be salty, then is salty. If everything is sweet then it is sweet. In Australia everything is extra sweet. Everything that you buy at Woolworths has added sugar because of the system that we have diabetes for the pharmacy.

How many people they recruited at the end?
Ten or more people now work there. I will be visiting it next week. Nice place.

If you compare what Australians eat, how it is different to Slovenia?
They eat in McDonalds and they eat fast food. The youngest people are fat, there is no exercise. People should eat more healthy food and be more connected to nature. In 1960’s JF Kennedy and also Nikola Tesla 110 years ago, they said if you work with your mind, you must work with your body as well.

Would you like to add something else for the conclusion?
If people want to find their selves, to find inner self, they have to keep on doing what they like and what they want to do. Value is that you can learn. That is the highest value that people can imagine. You can be who you want to be, but don’t let the people tell you who you are.

So Australia is not your final destination?
I would like to go all around. This spice island is all around. I would like to go anywhere that I can stay for two-and-a-half or three years. Then you feel if you want to stay or not. Like with the job, first two years you jump in the game, in the next year you know what to do. In the third year you decide to stay or to move further. It is our time which let us know what to do. It is like our consciousness. If you vibrate too much, you must move. This is not for you anymore. As Nikola Tesla said, when you think about the energy (inner self), you know the way and what you want. Our heart is a frequency. I work with frequency, I’m a sound engineer producer and I know that everything must be on the right frequency. Even a song is successful if it is in a right frequency.

May 2015

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See also:
– Dr Elizabeth Tomažič, author of the book From Hands and Hearts: Slovenian Recipes in Australia. Read more.
– Nevenka Golc-Clarke, Hon. Consul for Slovenia in Queensland. Read more.
– Father Darko Žnidaršič OFM, Head of the Slovenian Catholic Mission and Church of St. Raphael in Merrylands – Sydney. Read more.
– Draga Gelt OAM, the HASA Archives and the Slovenians in Australia websites. Read more.
– Jana Jereb, Sarah Robinson, Frank Pristov and Kate Pristov, participants of the Slovenian language course with a cooking lesson. Read more.
– Sasha Kos and Alenka Caserman, the Facebook groups Slovenci v Avstraliji and Novi Avstralci. Read more.

This is a website of a research project exploring digital technologies for communicating the culinary heritage of Slovenian Australians in collaboration with the University of Canberra under the 2015 Endeavour Fellowship Programme (PDR).