“I love to fly, I used to fly a lot with Adria Airways. Flying is a special thing. I am sorry that Adria is gone. They were among the best pilots in Europe. Skilled pilots, crews, and mechanics suddenly had their wings cut. Their work, their effort, and their hours have been wiped out. Those were tough times for pilots. Some worked almost for free. I know a military pilot who flew all the big planes but had to settle for one of the smaller ones. He said it was better than nothing, as the other pilots were at home. It is a pity for our boys, in particular, these were their lives. They were trained.”
Martin Bibič is a cosmopolitan chef who doesn’t like titles and stands behind what he does. He caught our attention with a fantastic collection of photos of pilots he hosted in his hotel over the years. Besides a large number of famous faces, he has dedicated a special wall in the hotel restaurant to them.
He started as a young chef at Terme Čatež, before being called up for military service in Ljubljana. At the command of the border guard’s military, he was transferred to train as a kitchen chef. He continued his military service as a chef in the Radovljica border command barracks. He was also the castle cook at Mokrice Castle, and a pizza baker, he is trained in grill and fish and also specialized in Japanese and Thai cuisine. “When I cook, I like to do everything, Indian dishes, grilled meat, it’s a challenge for me. And a good “pasulj”. Pasulj is the king dish”, he says. “I enjoy cooking “pasulj” outside for a crowd of people.
How come you started collecting photos of the crews who have eaten at your hotel?
We were pioneers, we had a hotel, but we started from scratch. Although I knew people, I did not beg for help on the basis of connections. We have struggled very hard to start living. When we were told we had no chance and would fail immediately, we knew how to appreciate everyone who came. And so I started collecting pictures. Our first guests were children from Denmark. I was happy and we slowly got more guests. We hosted Miss Slovenia finalists, singers, and actors. And then the pilots. During all this time, various crews have come from many countries. I personally cooked for and served all the pilots and crews. Everyone was happy, they respected me and we looked forward to each other. They send all these pictures to me. Some of them like coming back.
How did you fall in love with aviation?
I’m from Pišece, it’s my hometown. Next to it is the Cerklje ob Krki airport, and from there, military pilots I knew flew over Pišece and greeted us. That was fantastic for us. I am not a pilot, but I have many friends who are. I was invited to fly with them several times. These were fantastic experiences.
I see in your guest books that during the period of closure due to “Covid-19” you hosted many crews from China.
Civil Protection Ljubljana asked us if we were ready to help as a standby hotel, to receive and look after guests. It was a terrible feeling, but we are trained to do it. I have military kitchen skills and can cook for a thousand people in three hours if necessary. So I decided to accept it and then we waited.
Soon we received a call and a crew from China, that brought masks and other medical equipment to Slovenia. At that time, we didn’t have enough masks here. In total, nine Chinese crews of eight people each arrived. Then the DHL pilots followed.
I see that you have quite a few airline trolleys and even airline seats.
I have a friend who works in technical services at the airport. I told him I wanted something from Adria Airways as a souvenir. I know quite a few pilots and flight attendants. So I got ten food trolleys and then I served the pilots from them. They are better than ordinary trolleys. You can cover the food and push them. They told me that they felt like their food was served by a steward.
I have Aeroflot airline seats to entertain guests. Especially children. After the lockdown, the guests were so happy to see them. They were taking pictures and saying, “I’m flying in an airplane”.
You have cooked for many people in your life.
In the army, when someone gives you a job, you have to do it. They taught me – to work hard, be independent and be strong as concrete. The army gave me knowledge.
When I was called up as a young chef in 1985, it was an honorable thing for me to do. First, we cooked for all the barracks in Ljubljana, for 5000 soldiers. Then I applied to be a cook at the border. So I gained more and more knowledge. I learned how to bake fantastic military bread. I became the head of the Radovljica barracks kitchen and instructor to other kitchens. I had two assistants. We cooked for twenty officers every day. Pilots from Lesce used to come to me for food. Later I also cooked food for civilians. “Pasulj” for 500 postmen, 500 portions at a cow ball in Žirovnica, and had the challenge to cook for 2300 people at a meeting of disabled people in Slovenia. At that time we had three military kitchens, three soldiers stirred, and one was keeping the heat on. They said that at that time every man from the Gorenjska region ate my “pasulj”. Being a cook in the army was a big thing. I have taught them a lot.
What’s the secret to cooking for so many people so quickly?
You have to have good, equivalent material. One type of bean of the same age. Otherwise, one is hard and the other comes out cracked. For meat, the same applies, so it doesn’t fall apart. And to have someone who is good at keeping the heat and stirring.
Your recipe for a good “pasulj”?
You must have soaked, first-class Tetovec beans. On the second day, the first boiled water is poured out. Then add lots of finely chopped onions and carrots and cook slowly until browned. It is important to have good meat, but above all to add it in time so that it does not fall apart. Add the whole dried peppers, soaked in water, to bind and give a fine color. Finally, it is crowned with a colored roux. The color should be red like lava. Not brown, but red. And so let it simmer a little longer. It is served with a winter salad or onion and bread.
Recipe for JNA pasulj.
What is it that keeps you going in life?
It is important to know how to do things yourself and never look too far outside yourself. If you have too many “connections”, it means you didn’t do it yourself. You must have your carved rock because even if it is rubble, it is yours, indestructible. This is your power.
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Just don’t whine. Do it the military way: first, do it and complain later. These are powerful things. It is necessary to be patient, grit your teeth, and breathe. When you work, work to your maximum. When you’re not working, enjoy yourself to the fullest. For me, there is no middle ground.
I like to look people in the eye. This means I must not cheat. With all these dishes, I have nothing to hide. People know I’m not cheating them. You have to put quality ingredients in your food, and it must not be stale. Good fresh food is medicine, other stale food is poison. And eat when you’re hungry. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat.
Written by: Eva Kraš