Chef of the Week: Chef Victor Borg, the Executive Chef at Grain Restaurant
This week’s chef of the week is one of Malta’s finest culinary masters. Introducing Chef Victor Borg, Executive Chef at Grain.
Grain is a new multi-concept establishment in the charming old town of Valletta, featuring Grain Street and Under Grain. The latter is Grain’s showpiece, without a doubt, as it is one of the very first restaurants in Malta to be awarded a MICHELIN star. Grain Street’s specialises in the concept of sharing while Under Grain offers a refined dining experience to all who visit.
Winning a MICHELIN star with Under Grain followed almost naturally for Victor, as his previous restaurant Mange Tout was awarded Malta’s best restaurant seven years in a row.
Chef’s Pencil has talked to Victor about his career and his work at Grain, as well as Maltese cuisine and advice for young chefs.
1. What inspired you to become a chef?
From the young age of 15, I knew that I wanted to become a chef. I pushed myself to become the very best that I can be. In the late 1980s, the Institute of Tourism (ITS) came out with a number of projects around Malta and I immediately applied. I have always dreamed big and my biggest dream was to have my own restaurant in a five-star hotel.
2. Where did you train to cook?
I started with a 2-year Diploma course in Food & Beverage at ITS. Apart from my studies, I learnt a lot from experience. I worked and trained in London with Gordon Ramsey, and also in other countries such as Switzerland, a two MICHELIN-star restaurant in Norway, a restaurant in Scotland, Luxembourg, Russia, and others. I was also the team captain in Malta’s National Team.
3. Tell us about your work at Grain? What is the concept and what was the inspiration for this season’s menu?
Grain is divided into two parts; Grain Street and Under Grain. Grain Street is what I like to call a restaurant without rules; a bistro that does not offer the traditional menu. At Grain Street, you can choose what you desire from the menu that follows the concept of sharing plates. There is also an extensive wine list that can all be ordered by the glass – a fairly new concept for Malta.
Our MICHELIN-star restaurant Under Grain goes by a completely different concept, that of refined dining. It is heavily focused on the experience. The menu is seasonal and we have recently introduced a tasting menu that can be paired with sophisticated wine.
4. What’s the most popular item on the menu?
This is a very difficult question! At Grain Street, we have ‘Black lasagne with calamari, squid ink, and nduja’, which is very popular. At Under Grain, one of my signature dishes ‘Baked white chocolate cheesecake, passion fruit, and marjoram sorbet’, is extremely popular. I have been doing the latter for 20 years and I’m always improving the recipe.
5. Where do you get your inspiration?
This is a commonly asked question! I find inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, particularly seasons, different ingredients, colors, paintings, and so many more. I do a lot of research, read many books, and travel around the world (pre-COVID-19).
I go to places where there is an interesting food culture so that I can learn more. Before visiting a restaurant, I conduct my own research on the chef and his/her style of cooking!
6. You’ve recently been awarded the highly coveted MICHELIN star. What was that like?
I cannot put the feeling into words. We were over the moon and it has been a life-long dream of mine. I have been dreaming of being awarded a MICHELIN star for 25 years. Every professional chef’s dream is to get this achievement – it’s like the Oscars for artists, you cannot do any better.
We put a lot of hard work into Under Grain but we were also surprised to receive this award since normally it takes years to get it. Receiving the award after 5 months of opening was all the more rewarding.
7. Tell us a bit about Maltese cuisine? What makes it special and what are the top Maltese dishes we absolutely need to try out?
What’s special about Maltese cuisine is that it has a lot of influences and, therefore, so many flavours. You have Italian, African, English – the mix makes it all the more interesting. My favourite Maltese dish is definitely rabbit. I cook and eat rabbit once a week so I would definitely recommend anyone to taste it.
8. What do you regard as the quintessential Maltese ingredient?
Maltese cuisine is made up of a lot of Mediterranean influences, all containing healthy ingredients. It’s what makes Maltese dishes so pure and interesting.
9. What’s your favorite place to visit in Malta?
Malta is beautiful but one of my favorite places is definitely Mdina. The silent city is magical, especially at night. I also love Dingli Cliffs for its spectacular views.
10. What’s the most underrated foodie destination?
When thinking of foodie destinations, no one ever thinks of Portugal. Their food culture is very interesting and they have improved greatly over the years.
11. You are regarded as one of the best Maltese chefs, if not the best. What sets a top chef apart from the pack?
I would never say the best! I believe that passion sets a chef apart. This profession is a way of living and not simply a job. It entails a lot of hard work, focus and detail in everything that you do.
Passion sets a chef apart. This profession is a way of living and not simply a job. It entails a lot of hard work, focus and detail in everything that you do.Chef Victor Borg
12. Do you have a signature dish or a favorite dish that you enjoy cooking?
As mentioned previously, one of my signature dishes is ‘Baked white chocolate cheesecake, passion fruit and marjoram sorbet’. I enjoy cooking everything but mostly pasta, meat, and fish dishes.
13. What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Another difficult question! However, one of the best meals I’ve ever had was in Switzerland. It was so good that I remember exactly what I ordered in this 9-course meal. It was 25 years ago at Hotel De Ville and cooked by a three MICHELIN-star chef.
14. What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a successful chef?
My advice would be to put your head down and do the work.
Try and always work with the best and understand that it takes a lot of hard work to become a successful chef.Chef Victor Borg
15. Your best advice for amateur chefs?
I would suggest always cooking with fresh ingredients. I believe that that makes all the difference. Try different things – you won’t get it right the first time but practice makes perfect. You will get there!Chef Victor Borg