“The future is green, for sure, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
In September 2021 my husband and I had an extraordinary adventure to Croatia. We started our journey sailing for a week with twenty other people on a small yacht called the Mama Marija II chartered by Vegan Travel. For seven days we enjoyed the gorgeous Adriatic Sea including several fascinating and beautiful ports. It was an unforgettable experience.
Regular cruises can be a hard place to find vegan food as any vegan can tell you and it’s the reason we only sail with Vegan Travel. We’ve been treated to excellent vegan fine dining on all of their sailings and the Croatian cruise was no exception.
On the Mama Marija II, we were served culinary creations from Croatian vegan yacht chef Marina Minko. Marina created delicious and beautifully presented five-course meals each day that blew all of us away. I caught up with Marina one day while we were at sea and she impressed me with her energy, her passion, and her story. I knew I had to learn more about this vibrant young woman.
After being involved in volunteering in environmental and social justice activism, Marina Minko said she felt her actions and beliefs were not aligning and she needed to make a change. “At a certain moment I realized it was a bit hypocritical of me to try to defend the rights of nature and the animals that live there, while on the other hand, I was still eating some of them,” she said. “That’s when I decided to do the biggest change possible and not have them on my plate anymore.” That was seven years ago and Marina has been vegan since.
Marina started cooking as a child but never considered it as a profession. Instead, she studied Italian, philosophy, and later tourism management. Then, something happened to change the course of her career. “Parallel to my veganism, what started as a hobby and sharing the recipes with friends, I realized that I can show people that vegan cuisine is not as limited as people usually think, and this slowly became recognized and brought me to this moment today.” While Marina hopes for a day when vegan chefs are as famous as big-name chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Guy Fieri for now she’s learning techniques from their books and TV shows that she can implement into her vegan cooking.
It wasn’t until Marina and her girlfriend Matea, a skipper, combined their passions that she entered the yachting business. Now, they’re entering their third season of offering vegan sailing tours in Croatia. “[Matea] is driving the boat, I am cooking. I think we make a very good team,” she says.
There’s no formal training or credentials required to be a yacht chef; just a food handler’s license, an ability to handle potentially rough seas—“the smaller the boat, the bigger the waves”, Marina said—and the usual culinary skills expected from a chef. Efficiency and organization are essential talents to have especially on smaller boats that don’t make regular stops in cities for supplies. You need to be prepared with all the provisions you’ll need for the entire time you’re at sea.
Marina is not responsible for feeding the omnivorous crew on board but they are often open-minded enough to try her food. Cooking non-vegan food for the crew is not an option for Marina. “Being a vegan chef is my current job, but veganism is my lifestyle and although I understand that most of the world is non-vegan, I have to draw a line someplace.”
“As a bisexual woman and vegan, I learned and am still learning how to show strength and power that doesn’t come at the expense of compassion. Compassion is a nonperishable resource.”
As a bisexual vegan woman, Marina recognizes the intersection of veganism and feminism and the LGBTQI+ movement. “Every struggle,” she said, “aimed at liberating and empowering conscious and emotional beings who, without their consent, have fallen into a socially oppressed position is the same fight. The same fight. I mean honestly how I did not see it before? That’s my regret. As a bisexual woman and vegan, I learned and am still learning how to show strength and power that doesn’t come at the expense of compassion. Compassion is a nonperishable resource.”
When it comes to creating a menu Marina takes different approaches—veganizing standard recipes and creating original ones, as well. In the culinary sense, she says she’s not afraid of any challenges. “I love combining traditional and modern techniques and I feel that in the future I’ll describe myself as a vegan chef with an eclectic style but for now I just allow myself to gain more experience and learn.”
One of the best meals we had onboard was “naked ravioli” or “gnudi” a Tuscan dish traditionally made with ricotta cheese. “Italian cuisine is probably my biggest inspiration,” Marina explains, “so in my version of this meal, instead of ricotta, I used some quality domestic tofu, olive oil and cashews, lactic acid (for readers who could be confused, lactic acid is not an animal product), vegan cheese cultures, vegan parmesan, spinach, nutmeg, and good quality semolina. I must say that the quality of ingredients, especially tofu in this case is of utter importance.” It is this dedication to quality that makes Marina’s meals so extraordinary.
Marina has seen many positive things happening in the vegan movement in Croatia saying the country “has changed more in the last year than the past six or seven years combined.” She’s seeing more vegan products on shelves every day as well as new vegan items appearing on restaurant menus. “The future is green, for sure,” she says, “and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
“I am a dreamer by nature, and sometimes it motivates me, but sometimes it also can paralyze me in achieving more. But slowly, I am sure all my dreams will come true.”
Now, in addition to being a vegan yacht chef, Marina is also developing recipes for restaurants and writing a vegan food and recipes blog for an online Croatian lifestyle magazine. Marina sees a bright future for herself. “I am a dreamer by nature, and sometimes it motivates me, but sometimes it also can paralyze me in achieving more,” she confesses. “But slowly, I am sure all my dreams will come true.”
Despite her goals and ambitions, Marina is a realist. When asked what she would eat on her last day on earth she answered, “I would probably be anxious, so definitely chips.”
A woman after my own heart.
To find out more about Marina Minko, visit her beautiful Instagram page.