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  • Joe Lilly

My food philosophy

Another community meal is over at Lilly's Cozy Cove, and another family is hooked on the comfort of our apartments decorated by Laura and the yumminess of my food. We started offering cooking classes and meals to our guests this spring, on the 41st anniversary of the beginning of my cooking career. In that time, I have seen a lot of fads and trends in cooking food, to mention just a few. The partially cooked black beans were a big hit in the 80’s; the “mile high” plates in the 90’s were in; the combine-whatever-flavors- together just to get noticed in the early 2000’s, and now the appetizer portion sized entrees with 3 dots of sauce, and a full-size entree price tag. With us starting a new business and living in a country where quality fine dining places are true rarity, I am not interested in eating dots of sauce on my plate and paying the full-size entree prices for appetizer-size portions.

I was trained in a formal culinary school, where they teach the basics of classical French cuisine. In my late teens I thought that cooks who made stuff that someone else created were boring and uncreative. My opinion changed when I went to work in a French kitchen and studied under a Japanese chef. Our cuisine, which I would describe as classical French with a lighter Asian flair, ranked us the 3rd best restaurant in the Chicago area at that time. This Japanese chef has remained my inspiration to this day, because he showed me that classical cuisine, with added personal flair of a chef, gives excellent food and leaves plenty of space for creative expression, without losing the real look of the food on a plate.

Now that I am older and have had a chance to travel a bit and meet people from different parts of the world, my dream cuisine is international cuisine with a twist. I love to learn about national dishes of different countries and to try them out at home, with some additions of my own, based on either the ingredients I think would add to the overall dish, or the ingredients that are indigenous to the area and that are in season. If judged by our guests returning from last year and our friends and family coming back for another one of my meals, looks like my cooking flair is popular.

Living in a small coastal town of a country with its own, well-known, traditional cuisine that is a novelty to me has allowed me a chance to explore the traditional Croatian dishes and add my own flair, just like my role model chef Terou Kinoshita did, years ago. For example, when I make peka, which is an old world type of cooking here in Croatia, where the food is cooked in a steel cauldron and buried in coals, I marinate the meat in chermoula sauce. Chermoula historically comes from Algeria and Morocco, and is often used on seafood. I think it is the perfect marinade for the long-roasted peka meat to add flavor, but also to help keep the meat moist. We love to do community meals here with our friends and family, and they keep coming back and asking that I marinade the peka meat. This to me, is an excellent feedback that my peka is good, despite it being different. People can get peka anywhere in Croatia, but there is only one place where they can get chef Joe’s peka, and that’s at Lilly’s Cozy Cove. I also like to visit a nearby fish market for some fresh fish, caught the night before, fillet it and cook it in a salt crust. Or, whip up a good ol’ home-made pasta with seafood. Yum!!!

I could spend days in my kitchen and create menus that will enchant any eater and make them come back for more. Yes, for right now my food comes with a room at our b&b, since I only cook for our own guests, friends and family, but who knows, maybe one day soon we’ll find a way to serve more people in the relaxing atmosphere of our back yard.

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