When chefs get hungry
We know what they like to cook, but what do chefs like to eat? Veronica Stivala gets a table with two of Malta’s finest chefs and learns what makes their mouths water.
The green chef
A ndrew Borg says that he has no romanticised story of how he came to love being a chef. But what ensues is a tale of flavour-filled passion and an almost tangible relentlessness to create perfect meals and mouth-watering dishes.
Indeed Andrew admits that he never remembers himself as being skinny. Nor does he remember not ever wanting to be a chef. As a young gourmand, aged 12, he knew that his future was in the kitchen and bought himself his first copy of the Michelin Guide.
“I had given school a shot but it wasn’t for me. I enjoyed working as a chef and from a very young age I was obsessed with having my own restaurant,” enthuses Andrew, 31.
After much hard work and 15 years of patience, Andrew’s dream came true last September when he finally became the proud owner of his new restaurant – The Black Pig in Valletta.
Needless to say, Andrew waxes lyrical about the care he takes to choose only the best fruit and vegetables that are in season, going to painstaking lengths to concoct delicious salads or juicy steaks.
Visibly thrilled by this season’s produce, Andrew explains: “I get so excited by vegetables. Jerusalem artichokes have just started. I’ve been waiting so long for them I feel like a child waiting for Father Christmas.”
In case it’s not evident, Andrew adores vegetables. And they are not, lest any one dares suggest this, a complement to meat.
So what does someone who is so enamoured with food actually eat? Ironically not the best meals because he’s always so busy creating appetising dishes for others. However, Sundays are dedicated to eating a better-cooked meal at home, or out, because both he and his girlfriend “need to get out a bit”. Andrew’s two favourite restaurants in the world are Hibiscus in London and L’Astrance in Paris. For both restaurants we’re talking months-long waiting lists – yes, they’re that good. Andrew recalls the first time his taste buds savoured a meal at Hibiscus.
“I remember the nine-course meal. I couldn’t believe what I was eating. I’ll never forget the white asparagus tart with white chocolate and goat’s cheese ice cream. The food was so mouth-watering I was on the verge of tears.”
This chef draws his inspiration from such innovative restaurants and humbly dreams of being inspirational in his creations. His motto is that you need to take risks. He compares his aspirations to the band he adores, Radiohead. “They remain inspirational up to today. Their music never grows old and they constantly find ways of reinventing their music.”
One looks forward to savouring a Caramel Police or perhaps a Thom Yorkshire pudding?
Nuts about Brazil
Roberto Soares Gomes de Oliveira’s baptism into the culinary world has an unlikely beginning as it all started with a degree in Communications. During his last year at university in Brazil, this charismatic chap took a credit in gastronomy. His teacher noticed there was something special about him and told him he clearly knew what he was doing even though he was still a novice.
Roberto has always loved food and it was love at first sight when he stepped into a professional kitchen on the advice of his University lecturer.
“I spent the first two weeks just peeling potatoes. But I didn’t mind – what mattered was that I was in a kitchen,” recalls Roberto.
As chef at Meat & Co in St Julian’s, Roberto effuses a fervent adoration for all things food. Adorned in his chef’s kit, this Latino lad switches from English, which he struggles slightly with, to a passionate Sicilian outpouring of his ardent relationship with food.
Following his studies in Brazil, Roberto pursued his desire to travel to Europe because he believed this continent was the place to learn new languages, to learn about food, to learn about life.
On arriving in Sicily, Roberto fell in love with Italian food.
“Italians have a passion for food,” he explains, recalling with almost incredulity how there is a different sauce and temperature for each shape of pasta.
“I realised that the food I knew was not real food. In Italy, everyone knows the nitty-gritty details about food. I’ll never forget the first typical dish I tasted – a gigantic arancina,” Roberto recalls, gesturing the huge rotund shape of this delicacy.
“We eat rice in Brazil,” he says, “so why did we never think of this?”
One of Roberto’s favourite places to eat is at a market in Palermo. After hours, when the market sellers close their stalls, they put out a grill in the street and cook meat or fish.
“It’s one big street party,” he tells me.
Perhaps Roberto’s passion for all things Italian lies in his Italian roots – his grandfather was Italian. But lest anyone think he has forgotten his Brazilian ties, they would be mistaken. Roberto’s favourite place to eat will always remain his grandmother’s home.
Interestingly he is reminded of Brazil in Malta because it is so international. At least here he is able to find Brazilian and American products in the supermarkets. The Maltese share his pastime too: eating. Yet his heart will always remain in Brazil.
“I feel saudade for my homeland. I want to be there.” There’s no direct translation for this word, but nostalgia comes closest.