BlogChefChristmasFood articlesInterviewsIssue #21MagazineSeasonal

Q+As with the Chefs of Xara Collection

By December 12, 2022 No Comments

Kevin Bonello, Culinary Director

The Xara Collection

Trendsetters in their respective niches, The brands within the Xara Collection represent the evolution of the Maltese restaurant culture and have consistently set the bar for unparalleled dining experiences and Michelin-rated cuisine in Malta. The Xara name is known internationally for the globally recognised accreditations, however as is often the case, we know very little about the driving forces that work tirelessly to maintain the Xara standards of excellence – The Chefs! Served interviews all nine chefs from the various outlets to get a feel for the team dynamic and ultimately the individuals that make up so much of what the Xara Collection is today.



Pictured: Cliff Borg, Rosami Chef


Discover the Xara Collection


Xara Catering

Xara Catering is for those who wish to extend the finesse of Xara’s cuisine to their own events. Our range of exclusive venues include some of the most prestigious and historically significant locations on the island, and we can also extend our expertise to virtually any venue of your choosing.

Xara Gardens

Educating and paving the way towards a more sustainable future and inspiring others to follow through regenerative farming and aquaponics.

De Mondion Restaurant

A one Michelin-starred decadent dining experience, perched atop Mdina’s historic bastions. The concept is inspired by local ingredients and cuisine, and curators of international gastronomy. Consistently rated amongst the top restaurants in Malta for the soul-nourishing cuisine, refinement and excellence, the De Mondion promises discreet yet impeccably attentive service.

Trattoria AD 1530

Trattoria celebrates over 250 years of knightly administration, a force that has contributed to the character development of Modern day Mdina. The Trattoria AD 1530 is a charming eatery that prides itself in serving traditional and tasty food typical of the name ‘Trattoria’.

Rosami at The Villa

The latest edition to the collection, Rosami is a produce-driven restaurant breaking down the walls of fine-dining idealism. It’s a beautifully curated space in which guests can indulge on a feast for all the senses.

OKA’s at the Villa

OKA’s is a destination brasserie with intimate spaces where friends can gather over a meal and drinks. Paired with the stunning views from the terraces and calming ambience, OKA’s presents a varied menu of divine dishes ranging from sharing plates, fresh seafood platters to homey dishes such as the beef wellington.

Medina

Opening its doors in the beginning of next year, Medina will be offer an experience that will take guests back to another era as diners sit within honey-coloured stone walls and the prettiest internal courtyard with classic garden attributes.


Discover The Chefs


From Left: Clint Grech, Senior Sous Chef – David Debono Pastry Chef at the Xara Collection. – Adrian Bonello, Chef de Cuisine at The Xara Lodge and Xara Catering. – Kevin Bonello Culinary Director – Kleaven Debattista Senior Sous Chef at The Xara Lodge. Dorian Sammut, Sous Chef. – Jonathan Bonello, Sous Chef for the Medina restaurant. Alessandro Gravino, Executive Sous Chef.


1. How would you describe the collection of restaurants under the Xara name.

(Kevin) The quality of restaurants we open have the right mixture; attracting all markets with the variety of concepts.
(Clint) De Mondion offers a fine dining concept with a sustainable approach.
(Adrian) Our dining concept at The Xara Lodge and Xara Catering is quite vast; from high end gala dinners, weddings to conferences. We serve everything from canapés to buffets always using the freshest ingredients.
(Alessandro) OKA’s is a place for friends to hang out, share some starters over a cocktail, then enjoy nice piece of aged beef, whole fresh fish or our signature Beef Wellington.
(Cliff) Rosami offers a fun and interactive fine-dining experience.

2. What would you say was the key ingredient that earned you the Michelin star in 2021?

(Kevin) As a team at De Mondion we kept on developing the menu, experimenting with ingredients and flavours. We invested in spending time on creating a unique experience for guests. Sustainability also plays a key part in retaining the star. De Mondion was always at a high level of service and food offering. Then the team at De Mondion pushed with the authorities to introduce Michelin in Malta, and we became the first restaurant to achieve a star.
(Clint) Consistency is key. As well as giving importance to local produce and sustainable cooking.

3. In your words, how has the dining/food scene in Malta evolved over the years and how have the restaurants within The Xara Collection adapted to that?

(Kevin) Diners are increasingly seeking new experiences and flavours. The culinary scene over the years has improved, with new outlets opening and more competition. However, I still believe that there is room to grow. With the opening of outlets and continuous development of the brand; The Xara Collection is always seeking to offer dining options and experiences to diners.
(Kleaven) Before diners were more oriented towards bigger portions and value for money. Nowadays diners are more appreciative of flavours and finer cuisine, even if these are presented in smaller portions, however more importance is now given to flavour and presentation. Dining has evolved into a form of art. The Xara Collection has adapted to this change by investing in various outlets that cater for different budgets.
(Cliff) I believe that with the arrival of the Michelin guide in Malta, the food scene here imploded with chefs pushing their boundaries. Within the Xara collection I think that we have always maintained a high level of quality which we constantly evolve and work on.
(Jonathan) My family owns a pub, so ever since I was a little kid I was working or involved in the catering business, I’m 42 now so I remember quite a bit. I would say the food/dining scene has evolved both in good ways and bad ways, I would say the hygiene, equipment, knowledge and product quality improved by leaps and bounds, but unfortunately I would say the human resource declined immensely, which is a shame considering the Maltese were once considered as very welcoming people, you hardly see any now working in the catering industry.

4. Kitchens are notoriously high-stress environments. How do you overcome this to maintain a peaceful working environment amongst the team?

(Kevin) I always love to have positive vibes in the kitchen, so we often play music. I want my teams to love what they are doing, to feel comfortable and share their ideas.
(Clint) After work I try to organise a few drinks to reduce and flush away the stress.
(Adrian) I totally agree that the kitchen is a high stress environment, especially The Xara Lodge where we deal with very large banquets and cater for outside functions. We try to keep calm and very organised, working as one team in all the sections. There is also a good level of communication between us all which for me is key.
(Dorian) Through trust, loyalty and open communication to discuss and implement any changes as a team.
(Cliff) I believe in synchronising the team in such a way that they become a family to make it a safe environment for discussions and expressing oneself.
(Jonathan) I found that being brutally honest all the time is the most important factor keeping everybody informed of their performance whether it’s good or bad, sounds weird but it keeps everything easy and fair. Also a couple of drinks after works always helps to blow off some steam.

5. What are the greatest influences on your menus and what inspired you?

(Kleaven) My desire to create new and innovative dishes is the main drive for my suggestions to chefs Kevin and Adrian when it comes to menus. Creating new flavours and innovative dishes is what drives me most.
(David) I’m mostly inspired by local chefs as they bring out the best in Maltese cuisine. We use local ingredients and create a dish the best way we can.
(Jonathan) My greatest influences are my previous experiences, in all the places I’ve worked, learning from the bad and trying to improve on the good. As inspiration I believe you can find anywhere, anything and everyone can and will teach you a lesson.

6. How important is it to represent Malta in the dishes that you create? And can you describe some dishes was that is really present?

(Adrian) It is important that we use Maltese dishes to represent Malta as it is from where it all started. Maltese cuisine is delicious especially braised rabbit with garlic and thyme. Snail ragout with Jerusalem artichoke and fried octopus with olive oil in garlic, chilli and herbs are also my favourite.
(Kleaven) It is very important to represent Malta in the dishes as this is what makes us unique. The Xara Collection is also going a step further in this trying to use locally sourced produce and also introducing the farm to fork concept – using genuine local products to create dishes.
(Cliff) For us it is vital as we need to showcase how high our standards and our ingredients are. We adapt to our island by using more vegetables even in our desserts, using more olive oil rather than butter for less heavier dishes regarding to our tasting menus.
(Jonathan) I would say it would be essential to represent Malta, dining is an evolution of our customs, history and heritage, it’s a picture in our past of how we ate henceforth how our culture evolved. As a dish I would say my favourite would the humble rabbit stew and the unassuming Maltese sourdough, on of the best breads in the world.

7. What are the most popular dishes on the menus at your restaurant/during events at the moment?

(Clint, De Mondion) The snails, the BBQ Rabbit dish and the suckling pig.
(Kleaven, Xara Lodge) At the moment the most popular are the BBQ menu and also a variation of street food stall set-ups.
(David, Xara Collection) Some popular dishes include ‘Ricotta Cheese Mousse’, ‘Fior di Latte ice cream’, which are both locally produced.
(Cliff, Rosami) One of our most loved dishes is a scallop with local butternut & cultured cream. Inspired from Nordic simplistic style and flavours.

8. How does Maltese cuisine stand out from Mediterranean cuisine on the whole?

(Adrian) Maltese cuisine is very powerful because of the position the island is situated at. Fruit and vegetables ripen with extraordinary flavours. In my opinion we have the best honey, figs, olive oil and summer fruits amongst others. All you need is to cook from the heart and use traditional techniques.
(Kleaven) I think that you cannot really compare Maltese cuisine to the rest of the Mediterranean cuisine. Since over the years we were influenced by many different cultures. I think it is more a case of local produce than local dishes.
(Cliff) I do not believe we are standing out at the moment. I think we are doing a better job than a few years ago but we still have a lot to do to be able to stand out next to strong countries such as France, Italy & Spain.

9. How do you incorporate sustainability in the kitchen or on the menu?

(Kevin) Sustainability is the way forward. The world is overpopulated. At The Xara Collection we have changed our mentality to using what is really needed and have started with home-grown ingredients and crops.
(Clint) Our sustainability projects manifest themselves in two forms; our regenerative gardens, as well as the roof top aquaponics at the Xara Lodge. Our regenerative farm provides us with farm-fresh produce and a true farm to-fork experience as the produce does not have to travel far before it finds itself in our kitchen.
Through the multitrophic aquaponic microfarm on the roof top of the Xara Lodge, food waste goes into the system, and high quality produce goes out. This happens through a process where food waste is fed to the grubs of black soldier flies, and all the outputs of the black soldier fly lifecycle are inputs for the rest of the aquaponics operation.
(Kleaven) We try to make the most out of all the ingredients we source – for instance if we have a joint of meat, we use what we can to be part of the dish, less common parts for mince, bones and trimmings for stocks etc.
(Alessandro) Vegetable trimmings are used to make soups, purees and sauces as well.
(Dorian) Bones are used for jus and stocks, and herbs from our own gardens are made into herb oils.
(Cliff) Sustainability plays a large role in our menu. The dishes are created using the freshest produce from Xara Gardens, and from a variety of other local suppliers. The ingredients are then paired together in a distinctive way to entice conversation amongst guests.

10. What can restaurant/event guests look forward to over the Christmas and New Year festivities?

(Kevin) Our theme this year is ‘Christmas Time’  – with emphasis on ‘time’. Time for us to spend with loved ones, time to spend on our hopes and dreams, time to safeguard our future.
(Clint) Time to enjoy a range of game dishes.
(Adrian) Guests can look forward to joyful events such as staff parties and get together with delicious food and different flavours.
(David) The great ambience, our mince pies and Christmas cake.

11. What does the future look like for the restaurants within The Xara Collection, are there any exciting new ventures on the horizon?

(Kevin) We are currently concentrating on what we have in order to be the leader in offering the most elite food and beverage on the islands.
(Clint) I agree with Kevin, and add that we’ll continue evolving and improving the product, using sustainable processes and highlighting local ingredients in their peak seasonality.
(Adrian) We are constantly creating new menus and new ideas to keep our level up as much as possible. We consult each other and all our outlets so we help each other with ideas.
(Kleaven) The Xara Collection is always trying to explore new sectors and rowing in such a way to cater for today’s mindset – so the opening of more outlets with innovative cuisine would not be a surprise.
(Cliff) Rosami has only been open for a few months so that is still very exciting for us, but also we have a new restaurant coming up soon in Mdina with a very different concept in mind.
Julia Ripard

Julia Ripard

Homecook, writer and good-food enthusiast. Julia takes from her experience in the kitchen - running her own wine bar in Valletta, to help create relatable and genuine food stories.