- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - All good things take time. Cheese. Wine. Bread. On a recent Friday afternoon, it was a zucchini bread. That might be considered a “quick” bread to the educated cook, but under Jasna Pantic’s watchful eyes, it was quick bread, slowly stirred.

“You want everything to be incorporated just so,” she said.

The butter she had allowed to melt at room temperature to a just-so state, the Williston Herald (https://bit.ly/1FiV1BP ) reported. The zucchini she peeled, but grated with their centers intact. Most recipes want you to cut out the centers, she explained, but she has a secret ingredient for all the moisture the center holds. She held up a box of flax seeds.

“They will soak up the extra moisture,” she explained, “and they are very healthy for you.”

Healthy, organic foods - locally sourced whenever possible - have been the hallmark of her career as a food chef. And they are key ingredients for the new restaurant she co-owns, Deli to Go in Williston.

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Pantic is here in Williston because of a weird and wonderful journey that began after she broke her leg. She was a chef working for energy sector companies in the Prudhoe Bay area, but one day, as she was heading to work, her cookbooks got the better of her.

She’d packed a number of them in her suitcase - seven or eight at least - and the weight of them plus her arctic gear were infinitely more inertia than her thin frame could overcome. The suitcase caught a rock as she was hurrying out of the airport parking lot, and the weight of those books snapped her back like a rubber band.

Unfortunately, her leg was not quite so elastic. It hit the ground at a 90-degree angle and was shattered. Doctors fixed her up, but the new leg posed a problem in Prudhoe Bay.

“If I go back there, I have a lot of hardware in the leg,” she explained, “and it could actually freeze. So I decided I wanted to be closer to my family and explore opportunities here in the oil industry in the Bakken.”

Her first foray was actually for a little shop in Watford, on which she put a painfully hopeful, but too low bid.

“I was crying for days,” she recalled, “but the guy, he had seen me crying, and we became good friends. You just never know where or how you’re gonna meet someone who is a friend.”

The man told her if he ever did anything else with food in the Bakken that Pantic would be his partner. It was a promise that turned out to be more than words. He called her just before Mother’s Day and told her it was time to come to Williston and open that restaurant she’d been dreaming of.

Pantic was so excited that she got in her car that very day.

“My daughters thought I was crazy,” Pantic said, laughing. “But I was very excited.”

Now she has one of those daughters with her in Williston, helping her work the restaurant, and that makes every day yet another beautiful adventure in her life’s journey.

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Pantic’s adventures started long before Prudhoe Bay, and the broken leg that brought her to Williston. She came to America from Yugoslavia when she was 16. Not long after, her parents lost their employment.

“One day I told mom that I was going to find a job and not come back until I had one,” Pantic recalls.

At the time, they were living in a very small town, with maybe 50 or 60 businesses. She knocked on each, but all of them were closed to the little immigrant girl whose English was so poor.

“So as I’m going back home, I am very sad,” Pantic said. “And then I notice a restaurant on the other side of the street, Olympia Restaurant.”

She was tired, dejected, and more than ready to call it quits. But something down deep inside wouldn’t allow her to give up.

She crossed the street and went into the restaurant, where she met the owner, a lovely and sophisticated Greek lady named Georgia Kolinzas.

“I told her I’m looking for whatever kind of job you like,” Pantic said. “Washing dishes, mopping floors. Whatever you have. And keep in mind, my English was terrible!”

Kolinzas told her to buy a black dress and black shoes and return the next day, ready to work. Pantic did so, and by the end of the day, the only thing Kolinzas wanted to know was whether there was a sister, perchance, who would work just as hard.

“So my sister got a job, too,” Pantic said, eyes shining at the memory. “Georgia taught me everything. How to conduct myself properly in situations in a restaurant. How to conduct myself with food, with the customer, and life in general. She was always looking out for me. If my skirt was too short, she’d criticize me, and my skirt had to be longer the next day.”

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The love of food, on the other hand, was something Pantic was born with.

“I believe food and music are the two universals,” she said. “Although foods are different in every region and music is different in every region, they are the only two things that are understood and accepted by the universe unconditionally. It is something that bonds people no matter what their culture is.”

Much of her training has been of her own making, in her own kitchen, and from an early age. Mothers and grandmothers along the way have been her teachers. And the cookbooks she’s acquired along the way.

She can make the most complicated of dishes, but for her, the simplest are the best. Give her bean soup. That is her favorite.

Her cookbooks fill a large chest at home, and she would not part with them for love or money. Not even those seven or eight cookbooks that ultimately cost her her legs.

Most of her cookbooks are not just recipes. “I have a chocolate and coffee bible that gives the history of it from beginning to today,” she said. “I have a seafood - not cookbook - but preparation book. It gives you every kind of fish in the world. Where it is caught, how it is caught, how it is prepared.”

The cooking, the journey, the adventures all continue, she says, however many painful twists or happy turns may lie ahead.

Good things take their own time. This Pantic has learned in the kitchens of life, and she cannot help but believe that all those good things will eventually find their way to her here in Williston.

“I have traveled all the states except Hawaii,” she said. “During my whole lifetime, raising kids and taking care of family, I did what I had to do for as long as I’ve had to do it. I’m so very blessed, so very fortunate that I’ve been to so many places. I love this place, too, because it reminds me of something where I was born.”

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Information from: Williston Herald, https://www.willistonherald.com

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