Since opening three years ago, the Mandarina cake shop has developed something of a cult following among Belgrade’s foodies. The lust for their colourful, irregularly shaped cakes and crunchy croissants occasionally results in small queues forming in front of this smartly designed shop in Gracanicka, a short hop from Knez Mihailova.
Behind it all, is the sibling duo Kamelija Radojcic and Krsto Radovic, and years of hard work, dedication and passion.
“We grew up in our parents’ bakery and we were milling about the workshop from the time we could walk. There was always this desire for us to open something of our own,” explains Krsto, Mandarina’s pastry chef. While Kamelija honed her skills working in marketing agencies, Krsto’s path towards crafting dazzling cakes and other tasty treats took him to London.
After training to become a pastry chef in Belgrade’s best hospitality schools and a brief stint in the US, where he was also playing hockey, Krsto answered an ad for a job at Claridge’s. One of London’s iconic hotels, Claridge’s is famous in equal parts for its glamorous guests and the high calibre of its restaurants and bars. Many of the world’s best chefs led or passed through its kitchens, including Gordon Ramsey and Rene Redzepi.
“I was young and hungry: I wanted to learn, advance and get to know new people. London was the perfect place for that,” remembers Krsto, who stayed with Claridge’s for six formative years.
His training in creating elaborate, beautiful pastries sounds gruelling, as many cooking shows such as Hell’s Kitchen demonstrate.
“You enter this huge system where all those who want to prove themselves go. Nobody works there just for a salary. They are there because they adore their work, and want to learn and build their careers,” says Krsto.
“You need to be extremely dedicated and talented, with great attention to detail and persistence. You spend 75 to 80 hours a week working. Even as you progress through the ranks, the pressure is constant. All the great chefs need to go through this.”