An Interview with Executive Chef Victor Borg

Victor Borg speaks about his latest project, Grain

 

Victor Borg is a household name in Malta, as well as on the international culinary scene. His latest undertaking is the role of Executive Chef at Grain, the innovative restaurant comprising of three distinctive concepts in Valletta. Grain Street is where you’d go for a casual meal to share, while underGrain is the ultimate destination for refined luxury. Soon, overGrain will be opening on the top floor of Rosselli – AX Privilege. But Victor won’t give a way too much just yet…

 

We caught up with Chef Victor to find out where it all began:

 

Hi Victor! How did you get started in the food industry?

I was 15-years-old when I knew exactly what I wanted to be – a chef, and one who works hard to be the best that I can possibly be in the profession. I was very enthusiastic, interested and hardworking; I always wanted to work with the best names in the industry, both locally and abroad. So, I began working at the Dragonara Hotel in Malta as part of the poolside kitchen, while my friends were off enjoying the summer. At the time, Malta was seeing positive developments as the Institute of Tourism Studies had just opened in 1989 and investment was blooming, creating more opportunities for work and more hotels. I spent my time reading about the craft and asking questions. To put it simply, I fell in love.

 

What was your training like?

I attended a two-year Food & Beverage Diploma course at ITS, right when it was still starting out. I learned both service and kitchen, before choosing a specialisation. My training experience was mainly in local 5-star hotels such as the Phoenicia, as well as at the Bellevue Palace in Berne, Switzerland, which is one of the leading hotels in the world. At the time, it was quite difficult to go abroad as Malta was not a member of the European Union. In fact, it wasn’t easy to tell my parents that I planned to go to Switzerland, but after seeing my determination, they didn’t try to convince me otherwise.

 

After that, I went to London and starting working with Gordon Ramsay at his first restaurant, Aubergine, when he won the second Michelin star. Since then, I have also worked in a two Michelin Star restaurant in Norway, called Bagatelle, before running my own restaurant, Mangetout, which was voted best overall restaurant in Malta for seven consecutive years. Now we’re focusing on Grain at Rosselli – AX Privilege, having opened two restaurants in the span of three months. I was involved from the very start, and it’s been an exciting and challenging journey to bring two different concepts to life!

 

You’ve become a household name in the culinary scene, having won several awards. What is the experience of competing like?

It’s a big sacrifice to try and balance our profession with competitions; we work long hours, so our preparation has to take place during our free time. I’ve been competing for the past 15 years, and I’ve been the captain of the National Team for the past eight years too. Competing in the World Association of Chef Societies (WACS) helps us to mature in the profession and see things differently, it’s like the ‘FIFA World Cup’ but of Food! We begin preparations at least one year before the actual event, leaving us with little to no free time. But the experience is invaluable. I was the youngest chef to ever win the title of National Chef of the Year, at age 24, and I was also the only Maltese person to win two WACS gold medals abroad. If you want to succeed, cooking has to be much more than a job – it must be your passion.

Grain - Chef Victor
Grain - Chef Victor

Is there a person you admire most in the food industry?

Locally, I look up to two great chefs; Silvio Briffa, who used to be my team captain and put me on the right track when I was just starting out, and Christopher Farrugia, who I worked with for two years as a sous chef at Christopher’s. On the international scene, I’ve learned a lot from Gordon Ramsay, David Everett from Le Champignon Sauvage, where I spent two stages, and Brett Graham from The Ledbury, my favourite restaurant in London. Gastronomy is like fashion, it’s changing all the time. You need to keep yourself updated, so I have a big library of books on gastronomy at home, I travel to lots of different restaurants, research the chefs, and go to eat in cities such as London, Paris and Rome. One of my favourite parts of this profession is that I’m constantly meeting people. It’s a very creative profession that requires you to push yourself and evolve – there are no limits to what can be done.

 

What makes your signature dishes so unique?

I create dishes as I go along. Some of them are made for a couple of months before we get bored of them, while others tend to stick as clients simply won’t allow us to remove them from our menus! While all my dishes are different, I’ve been making some of them for 20 years – such as the VB baked and glazed white chocolate with passionfruit sorbet. I wanted to create something unique, thinking outside of the box, so I put a lot of thought and experimentation into the process, and the product has evolved over the years. Recently, I created a new dish consisting of seabass confit and sweet and sour pork crust. I consider this a ‘Trip to Japan’, with the fish cooked slowly in duck fat to make it soft and tender, complemented by the crust of the pork skin. I was inspired by both Mediterranean cuisine and Asian ingredients, and the dish has proven to be a great success in our restaurant.

Grain - Chef Victor
Grain - Chef Victor

What are you most excited about in the coming year?

To make these two restaurants successful, definitely. Grain Street is a new concept as it is a restaurant without any rules. It’s a bistro, essentially, but of exceptional quality and affordable prices. People can walk in for anything from a coffee to good charcuterie. Sometimes we even get people asking for the chef to create something for them, in which case I would usually start with some snacks (ricotta and anchovies are a match made in heaven), followed by pasta or risotto and a main course of either local pork, beef yakitori or wild seabass.

 

I will continue to push my staff to make these restaurants successful and where they deserve to be. The journey has just begun, and the first stages are always hard. But, I have faith that we will succeed not just as one of the best restaurants in Malta, but also by seeing that our seats are filled, which is a satisfying feeling for all of us. For the time being, however, I cannot reveal the upcoming concept of overGrain!

 

We’ll just have to wait and see! Finally, how do you wind down after service?

I spend time with my family, first and foremost. I also love going out to eat, of course! During the winter, I love going to cinema because I don’t watch much television, and I enjoy watching football when I have time. Other than that, you’ll probably find me reading cooking books during my free time!

 

Discover Grain and underGrain, located within the 5-star Rosselli – AX Privilege on Merchants’ Street, Valletta.