Džanan Hamza, chef on a ship cruising across Europe: I often put Bosnian specialties on the menus

Chef Džanan Hamza likes to say about himself that he is a child of the world, and if you peek into to his biography, you will discover why he says so. This master behind the stow, who revealed culinary secrets by learning from the best Italian and French chefs, was born in Prizren, graduated from the cooking school in Podgorica, and brought this craft  to perfection in Sarajevo, Budva and Viennese restaurants.

Since 2013, he has been sailing seas and rivers of Europe on large ships and cruisers bearing the mark – Five Star – owned by a Swiss company.

Working Hours

On one of them, he is the chef, and he earned that title by filling the gastronomic wishes of travelers arriving from all over the world – from Australia to America. Satisfied with what they would try, they did not hide the enthusiasm, neither the praise, many returned to “his ship” several times.

These days, Džanan is on a shorter holiday in Sarajevo where his wife, children and parents, who are famous delicatessen masters from Podgorica, live; and then he will return to Germany. The cruise starts from Nuremberg and leads to Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and then the same route back.

-To be the cook, and especially the chef on the boat, is quite different from the one in a restaurant on the land. When you are on board, you have to be careful about every little thing. Before sailing, get all the items and browse them in details, because when you sail, and you are missing something whilst preparing specialties, you cannot just go to buy it. Although, as a chef, I make menus in advance, it always happens that a guest asks for some other dish for which you must be ready. My working day is not eight hours, as it was while I was working in Bosnia. Often it stretches to 12, 13 and even 18 hours, but that’s the job. Our mission is that the guest in each segment must be satisfied with the service, and everything depends on the team you work with – says Hamza, one of the youngest chefs in the Swiss company for which he works.

Cruises usually last for seven days, and the sail goes through European countries, from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Holland, Luxembourg, to Croatia and Serbia. It is interesting that the menus on the ship follow the land they are sailing.

-Any good chef is holding on to a local menu, because it proved to be a full hit. When, for example, we sail in Budapest, it is kind of normal for guests to enjoy the Hungarian goulash that day, in Vienna ‘Vienna steak’, and when you are in Bavaria, there is a Swedish table with broiling, pretzels and beer. Often I also add something to the menu, such as somun (Bosnian tin bread) or cheese pie for breakfast. Guests liked it, especially the Americans – explains Hamza.

In the past 14 years, as far as he is dealing with professional cooking, there are plenty of nice memories that he will remember, while he is alive. One of them is one couple’s visit to Australia from a couple of years ago, who, as he discovered to us, are the owners of a famous gastronomic magazine in their own country.

Famous persons

-At that time, the main chief was an Englishman, I and another colleague were his assistants. We were a great team, so the main chef used to leave us alone a lot, because we knew how to do our job. That’s how it was then. The couple asked us to prepare a special menu for them, and we immediately started working. I remember the appetizer we served mushroom and truffle sauce and ravioli, and for the main course we prepared a beefsteak vacuumed and cooked for more than six hours at low temperature. It was a full hit. After returning to Australia, they wrote the text on how they were first in a restaurant in Vienna, which has two Michelin stars, where they paid lunch, without wine, 800 euros. Then they came to our ship and ate for 40 euros. In the text, they wrote that two guys, who were assistants to the main chef, prepared a much more expensive, tastier and more beautifully presented menu than the one in the Vienna restaurant. Even today, in the book of impressions of guests on board, we keep their comment; Džanan recalled one of many events, which, he says, blew the wind in his back to be even better in what he is doing.

Although he has cooked for many celebrities, he does not like to separate guests, as everyone, he emphasizes, is equally important. However, he wants to point out for which names he had the honor of preparing meals, starting with Nermin Hodžić, President of the BiH Chef Association, through Gian Luce Tomasi, president of the Italian National Culinary Federation, to Michelle Voirin, general corporate chief of the Kempinski Hotel.

He also proudly speaks of traditional Bosnian cuisine, but says he is angry that some do not take it seriously.

-Bosnia cuisine is very similar to French, especially by techniques, which we, of course, did not name like French people did, but if we return 600, 700 years back, going through to some historical books, only fine dining is served in Bosnia, in Sarajevo. 17 gang menus were served in the time of Gazi Husrev-bey, and that means something and talks about us. I proudly emphasize this, wherever I am in the world, and with whomever I sit. I show people the old menus, the dishes that were then prepared, because we have something to be proud of – says Hamza.