chef interview: Robert Cassar

We recently sat down with award winning Chef Patron Robert Cassar to find out more about Malta’s food culture as well as his passion and steadfast devotion to creating memorable customer experiences at his restaurant Root 81 in Rabat

As Malta’s food culture grows, people are becoming more ‘food-literate’, as it were. What sort of impact has this had on the local restaurant scene?

In today’s culture, the internet and social media have begun to dominate even more of our lives. With foodie culture featuring so prominently on the internet and social media, the standards for what is expected of restaurants is higher than ever. People are travelling far to find new and exciting flavours and exposing themselves to different cuisine. They can easily compare what they see online or in other countries to what they are being served in Malta. People are becoming more knowledgeable and appreciating the beauty of food. In Malta you’ll find that there’s a good selection of restaurants with a  high standard of food.

It has been argued that there is such a thing as ‘traditional Maltese cuisine’, but it has been overshadowed by a constant influx of foreign influences. What’s your opinion on this?

It is true that we do have foreign influences, but I think it is the creativity that wins. I believe that an interesting menu should offer dishes using local ingredients with a traditional Maltese cuisine twist, whilst also offering other dishes with international influences. We need to work hard to keep Maltese traditions alive in the culinary world. However, adding some foreign influences to the menu make the dishes more exciting and allow us to be more creative.

The job of a chef is reputed to be among the most stressful in the world. Is that true, in your experience... and if so, does the stress affect the way you work?

Being a chef patron, I literally do everything from placing orders to ensuring that the restaurant operates efficiently. So yes, it is very stressful but also very rewarding.

It’s a tough industry and I obviously dedicate part of my life to my work, however, I am able to balance by family life with my career.   Being constantly stressed affects one’s creativity in the kitchen and that is why it is very important for chefs have a balance in their life if they wish to succeed and have longevity in their career.

You’ve won a number of awards last year and now you’ve just won the Chef of the Month award in May. What does this mean to you?

It’s hard to round it up in one answer. I feel truly appreciative of all the people who believe in me and in what I have to offer. These awards are judged by knowledgeable diners who love to dine out, so being voted for by these people is exciting and overwhelming.

The Best Food Award is an award I’ve been wanting since the opening of my restaurant, and shows that patrons really appreciate the taste and quality of our dishes.

Winning the Best Chef of the Month competition and placing third in the Best Chef of the Year was super exciting. To have my name alongside previous winners, all of whom are chefs I have always looked up to, is something that I will always be hugely proud of.

Telgha tas-Saqqajja, Rabat
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