Malta’s restaurant scene has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years with the arrival of Michelin raising the bar for fine-dining establishments across the island. But behind the scenes, the industry has been grappling with a new set of challenges – from the unforeseen difficulties of lockdown to staffing shortages, rising produce costs, and more. Business Now speaks with six of the island’s leading Chef Patrons to uncover their insights, challenges and hopes for fine dining in Malta.
In the second part of this six-part series, we delve into the insights of the Chef Patron at Azar, Michele Zahra.
“My love for cooking is rooted in the most basic method of food preparation: cooking over an open flame. The idea inspired the concept behind my restaurant, Azar, which offers a different take on modern dining in Malta.
“We specialise in open-fire cooking, cold smoking and hot smoking, and draw from a mix of international influences. My passion for creating new dishes is inspired by the books I read but also the places I travel to. Whenever I travel, I love to meet people, learn about their unique food cultures, try different street food, and incorporate these elements into my cooking.”
“The introduction of Michelin to Malta has been a healthy challenge for us as it pushes us to be better. However I believe that more needs to be done to support local producers to ensure that the quality and consistency of the ingredients we use in our restaurants are maintained at the highest level possible. Staffing also continues to be a problem. And while it’s important to attract talent from abroad to tackle the issue, it’s equally essential to ensure that foreign nationals possess a solid level of proficiency in the English language. Perhaps an English proficiency test could be incorporated into the visa application process to ensure that our service workers can provide a more enjoyable dining experience for visitors and locals alike.
“Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and rising costs, I remain optimistic that the worst is behind us and that we’re starting to see an upward trend. As more tourists and diners return, I believe that the summer season will bring a further boost to the industry.”
Photos by Daryl Cauchi
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