Robert Cassar crowned Chef of the Year at The Definitive(ly) Good Guide to Restaurants awards

Robert Cassar, Chef Patron at Root 81 and TV chef on Gourmet Challenge, awarded Chef Of The Year at 2020 Definitive(ly) Good Guide to Restaurants awards

Robert Cassar - Chef of the Year
Robert Cassar - Chef of the Year

The 2020 Restaurant Awards announced on the 9 December 2019 at the Restaurant Awards Ceremony Gala Dinner are the result of The Definitive(ly) Good Guide to Restaurants in Malta and Gozo's  2019 Malta and Gozo Restaurant Survey and includes the 150 highest rated eating establishments in Malta and Gozo out of over 3000 restaurants on the islands. Chef Patron Robert Cassar was crowned Chef of the year. 

Gourmet Today chats with him about his achievments, food, the culinary world and what it’s really working on a TV set.

The team at Root 81
The team at Root 81

You’ve won a number of awards last year and have just been crowned Chef of the Year. 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.

Winning the  Best Chef of the Year is super exciting and a dream come true. 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.

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.

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 makes the dishes more exciting and allow us to be more creative.

What do you think the goal of a cooking show such as Gourmet Challenge should be? What should viewers expect?

Firstly, I think it’s got to be fun and entertaining. Not only do the participants create great meals, which the viewers can try at home, but it is also fun, educational and entertaining.

What is it like working on a TV show with other people?

Nothing short of great!  It gives me a sense of freedom by allowing me to experiment with weird ingredients and be creative. I also get to appreciate the work that such a show entails - not only on screen but also behind the scenes.

Robert Cassar on the set of Gourmet Challenge
Robert Cassar on the set of Gourmet Challenge

Is there a particular chef from whom you get inspiration?

Daniel Galmiche, a French Michelin starred chef whom I worked with for a year at The Vineyard Hotel in Newbury in the UK. He constantly creates irresistible recipes based on French classics with his own twists, which indeed inspire me in what I do.