Lindsay Peyton
Soccer pro-turned-chef Michael Vujovich is the star player at his restaurant Bistro Baffi in Burien. The romantic spot for Italian cuisines and fine wine is named for his neatly twisted and precisely curled mustache. “Baffi” is Italian for mustache.

Part chef, part soccer pro – Michael Vujovich makes the goal in Burien

By Lindsay Peyton

Soccer players rarely stand still on the field. They bob and buzz back and forth, traversing the green in constant motion, anticipating the next move of the soccer ball.

Similarly, chef Michael Vujovich spins around his kitchen, grilling fresh meats and tossing sauté pans full of pasta, vegetables and risotto at his restaurant Bistro Baffi in Burien. Always on the move, he pops out from behind the stove, between cooking dishes, to greet diners.

A former professional soccer player, Vujovich brings the same energy to cooking as he would to a match.

“The busier it gets, the more it’s a game to me,” he said. “I don’t get stressed. I just synchronize my moves.”

And he keeps his eye on the prize. “I just want to make other people happy,” he said.

His larger-than-life personality is the star of the restaurant, which is named for his neatly twisted and precisely curled mustache. “Baffi” is Italian for mustache.

Each morning, Vujovich heads to Pike Place Market to shop for the freshest ingredients for his menu. He then assembles a tray with fresh seafood to show off special catches to diners. He uses only the best vegetables, meats and pastas – and makes breads, sauces and desserts daily.

“I do it, because my customers deserve it,” he said.

Lately, when he’s not at work, Vujovich is busy writing a book – part biography, part cookbook. He wants to share a few of his specialties, as well as some stories and insights into his sources of inspiration.

Originally from Montenegro, he grew up in a culinary household. His father was a chef and his parents ran a restaurant. He has always loved Italian food – and the dinners following the soccer matches of his youth were his favorite part of the game.

“My father was a great chef,” Vujovich said. “He taught me the technique of everything.”

The rest he picked up from observation. “I have a photographic memory when food is involved,” he said. “When I see someone make food, I know how it’s made. I can remember every ingredient.”

That’s how he created the recipe for his chocolate walnut cake. He simply watched a friend’s sister make a similar sweet concoction – then modified the recipe and made it his own.

When a chef at a restaurant in LA refused to share his grandmother’s secret recipe for tiramisu, Vujovich reconstructed it from observation. He then added Grand Marnier to kick it up a notch.

Still, Vujovich admits that he landed in the kitchen by a happy accident.

He had not intention of pursuing his family business. Instead, he studied business at university in Belgrade with the vague notion that one day he might run a hotel.

Playing soccer was still Vujovich’s aspiration. He moved to LA for an opportunity to play with a team – but broke his ankle the day before he was supposed to start.

Instead, Vujovich got a gig waiting tables at Romeo and Juliet in Beverly Hills.

After a while at the restaurant, Vujovich and a friend decided to venture out on their own.

“I told my business partner that I would only open a restaurant if it was the best in LA,” he said. “All I needed was a good space and a couple of talented chefs. Then I realized that the chefs, except for a few, weren’t that talented.”

He decided to step into the kitchen himself. Instead of using large amounts butter like the others, he cooked Italian food in a Tuscan style -- with olive oil, fresh herbs and a lot of vegetables.

The restaurant was called Centanni – and after seeing the business boom, Vujovich wanted to semi-retire. He took a drive up the coast to check out Seattle, a city recommended to him by a friend.

Vujovich landed on Alki Beach and right away spotted an apartment for lease with a juice bar underneath.

It wasn’t long before he bought the juice bar and rented the apartment – and then transformed the space to the Beach House Italian Café.

The restaurant became a hotspot in West Seattle – and from its kitchen, Vujovich also catered tiramisu and chocolate walnut cakes for a number of Seattle hotels.

For Vujovich, everything just boils down to passion and drive – and soon you’ll be able to read all about it, once his book hits the stands.

“People think chefs are so special,” Vujovich said. “They’re not. They’re just people who love to cook.”

For more information about Bistro Baffi, visit www.bistrobaffi.com.

Lobster Risotto
One lobster (one pound)
Two shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
One king oyster mushroom, thinly sliced
One cup thinly chopped onions
One tablespoon of fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
One cup tomato sauce
One cup whipping cream
One cup lobster sauce
Chile flakes, oregano, Italian parsley, salt and pepper to taste
Half a cup good Pinot Grigio
Two tablespoons parmesan cheese.
In a sauté pan, pour two tablespoons olive oil and heat on a medium heat. Add half a cup of finely chopped onions and a spoon of fine chopped garlic. Saute until golden brown. Add cut lobster, mushrooms, parsley, chile pepper and oregano. Cook until lobster meat is tender and has changed the color to white. Add tomato sauce, cream, lobster sauce, white wine and one cup of Italian arborio rice.Lower the heat to medium, stir and cook for 10 minutes or until the risotto is crooked all dente. Season to taste, add parmesan cheese, Mix well and divide to two plates. Pair with good Barolo wine and enjoy!

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