Monika Ninčević completed the Grand Diplôme® with Culinary Management at Le Cordon Bleu London in 2019. She has since gone on to become chef de cuisine at No. 20 Restaurant & Bar in the Kornati archipelago of her native Croatia, leading a team of 13 people. She was recently made an ambassador for Med Women Chefs, which, at 20 years old. makes her the youngest person to take on the role.
When did you realise you wanted to become a chef?
"I started tennis training at the of age eight and had trained for it for most of my youth. Through tennis I became aware of the importance of food and after an injury at the age of 15, I decided to dedicate myself to cookery. I began experimenting with flavours, textures and most of all, allergen-free dishes."
Why did you choose to come to Le Cordon Bleu London?
"I chose Le Cordon Bleu London because it is the best place to launch your career in gastronomy. The duration of the programme is optimal for students to gain the experience and knowledge they need to start or progress in their careers. The teachers are focused on sharing all the knowledge young and ambitious chefs need, while making sure we understand and are thinking about each task we perform."
How did the knowledge gained from the Grand Diplôme® help your career?
"The Grand Diplôme® has helped me a lot as a young chef, in the beginning of my career. It ensured I learnt the right cooking techniques and taught me the different components of suitably managing a kitchen, from hygiene to food storing."
You also took the Diploma in Culinary Management, how has that helped your career so far?
"The Diploma in Culinary Management has helped me immensely. It served as a starter kit through which I gained knowledge in food safety, team management, team training etc. After completing the programme, I was able to prepare and manage my team and set up my kitchen on my own with minimal stress."
What would you say the best thing is about being a chef?
"The best thing about being a chef is the freedom of creativity you have when you are preparing a dish or getting it ready to present. There are absolutely no limits to what you can do. There aren’t any rules you must follow and, sometimes, your mistakes end up being an amazing creation. Being a chef is like being an artist, you have to cross boundaries to make something incredible and you have to let your mind run free."
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
"Don’t doubt yourself and don’t be scared of taking risks. Get ready for some hard work and remember that every mistake is a chance to grow, so don’t look down on them, as they are important steps that can bring you closer to completing your goals."
What does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you?
"Discipline, knowledge, encyclopedia."
What does your day look like?
"My day is very busy; I start at 7:30am by preparing the kitchen for our 8:00am breakfast. I make breakfast and, in the meantime, I start preparing for the lunch and dinner service. Simultaneously, I keep up with the restaurant’s orders and a lot of paperwork.
"Planning ahead of time is key when you run an island restaurant, far from land, so I always think ahead and make sure everything is stored properly and taken care of everyday. Most of our customers dine at dusk so that is the time I overlook pretty much everything. I make sure the kitchen is running smoothly and check on my customers and team.
"At the end of the day I run through my check list to make sure everything has been cleaned up and ensure all the paperwork has been done correctly. The most challenging aspect of my job would be motivating my whole staff every day to try even harder than the previous one."
What inspires you every day?
"Our progress. The fact that I doubted myself and my restaurant, to now seeing how much we have accomplished in three short months is very motivating. It keeps me going every day and makes me work harder."
What part of your job are you most passionate about?
"I am the most passionate about creating an environment that people will enjoy. I get the biggest smile when I see people enjoying their time in my restaurant while eating my dishes. It keeps me motivated, makes me think how to improve even more."
Finally, what are your plans for the future?
"My goal is to continue evolving while growing my business. My plan is to branch out throughout Croatia, along our beautiful coastline and inland. I will strive to leave an impact in the world of gastronomy however, more than that, I just want to inspire everyone with a dream to believe in themselves enough to chase it."
Find out more about the Grand Diplôme® with Culinary Management and all our other programmes here and see how you can follow in Chef Monika's footsteps.