The Slovenia Times

Dining al fresco in style in Maribor

Science & EducationTravels
Guests enjoy the Maribor Velvet Dinner at dusk. Photo: Andreja Seršen Dobaj/STA

A long table stylishly laid at the foot of the most remarkable vineyard in Maribor set the stage for the finest feast of the year in the city, served by young talents with great panache.

Under the watchful eyes of their mentors and three star chefs, some 80 Maribor hospitality students served 150 guests at the Velvet Dinner among Vineyards on 6 June to what everyone agreed was a great success.

Even though the dinner had to be postponed by two days due to bad weather and a brief shower threatened to upset the plans again, the sun came out just in time to make the third edition of the event perfect.

The guests arrived at the foot of the Kalvarija Hill in late afternoon to be welcomed with glasses of champagne, delightful titbits and music.

They then strolled through the grounds of the Maribor Biotechnical School and sat down at a table decorated with wild flowers, next to descendants of the Old Maribor Vine, arguably the world's oldest.

Their arrival sent a flurry of activity among the students in smart waiter and kitchen uniforms at the other side of the estate as the time came to put on their best show.

New twist to an old favourite

The five-course menu was prepared by Lan Verko, a student of the Maribor Secondary School of Catering and Tourism (SŠGT), and Klara Šmigoc, a student of the Maribor Vocational College of Hospitality and Tourism (VSGT), in cooperation with chefs Jorge Zupan, Luka Jezeršek and Sebastjan Plevčak.

The dishes served included a rolled lasagne with freshwater crayfish, a modern take on the local favourite - fried chicken, a side dish of green beans and cracklings, and pumpkin oil ice cream.

Students Antonio Pintarič and Ana Marija Šavli, preparing for the event under the mentorship of the lecturer Lovro Visočnik, barman David Možič and sommelier Jernej Lubej, took care of the finishing touches, the surprise cocktail and the wine accompaniment.

The gathered party reacted with the biggest smiles to the announcement of a cocktail called murkin zos (cucumber sauce).

Rather than pampering the guests who were lucky enough to get their tickets in time, the main purpose of the event is to promote careers in hospitality and tourism, an industry facing chronic staff shortages, even in Štajerska.

"A happy student is the best promotion. Even though a bit reluctant when invited to take part in the event, they are all euphoric and proud after to have been part of the Velvet Dinner. When they pass this enthusiasm to others, we have achieved what we set out to do," VSGT director Tanja Angleitner Sagadin says.

Learning to keep your cool

The students get the opportunity to show their innovation and skills to a wider audience, to work with top experts in their field, and, above all, to gain valuable experience for their future work.

"What I will remember most is that even if it's a madhouse, you have to keep your cool and organise your team," said young chef hopeful Lan Verko.

Even though the preparations were long and there was some nervousness on the day of the event, everyone agreed it was an experience they would never forget.

"The event brings together the Maribor Secondary School of Catering and Tourism, the Vocational College of Hospitality and Tourism and the Biotechnical School. The rest of us here are just a platform for these young people to show themselves," Jure Struc, director of the Maribor Tourism Board, told the Slovenian Press Agency.

Tickets for the event sell out faster each year. "The Velvet Dinner proved a success from the start. We sold tickets within five days the first year, in an hour and a half the second year, and in no more than 20 minutes this year," Struc explained.


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