[INTERVIEW] Gourmet Challenge season one and two contestant publishes her own cookbook

We catch up with Florina Silvio, home cook and Gourmet Challenge contestant, who has recently published her very own cookbook filled with her favourite food staples

Florina Silvio has recently published her very own recipe book ' Cook With Me '
Florina Silvio has recently published her very own recipe book ' Cook With Me '

Florina Silvio, a very passionate home cook, was one of the very first participants who appeared in season one of Gourmet Challenge but her participation was cut short due to the sudden outbreak of the corona virus in Malta. Florina is currently trying out her luck and making her way through season 2 of Gourmet Challenge. In the meantime, Florina had a new project up her sleeve; a cookbook filled with her favourite food staples to suit all occasions.

Most recipes in her new book,  ' Cook With Me',  are simple, easy to follow, contain minimal processed ingredients and take less than an hour to prepare and cook, providing a balanced yet delicious diet.

Describe your cookbook to us, what should readers expect?

Publishing a cookbook has always been my dream. I like to create my own recipes. So, the recipes in this book are not traditional recipes but unique fusion recipes.

When did your passion for cooking being? What influenced your love for cooking?

I attended international schools as a child and I used to be a very friendly child (may be a bit like Spongebob). This attitude earned me a lot of friends from different cultural backgrounds ranging from Korea to Bulgaria to Sudan to Egypt. My international friends used to invite me to their birthday parties held at their homes, so I would taste traditional cuisines cooked by their moms. I used to ask my friends’ mums questions about the ingredients they used and how they cooked it. This experience influenced my love for not only cooking but also for eating and trying new food.

Define your own style of cooking.

I was born in North Africa to South Asian parents and I moved to Malta at the age of 16. My cooking style is fusion. I blend different cuisines together to create my own recipes. My style is influenced by the foods I have tasted from different parts of the world. For example, I will cook pasta, which is Italian, but serve it with a sauce that is Libyan, add spices to it, which are traditionally used in Indian cuisine and possibly serve it topped with a Korean garnish. I always add my secret ingredient to my cooking, which is love. Cook with love is my motto.

Florina's Greek Mousakka
Florina's Greek Mousakka
Florina's Gambian chicken, pumpkin and peanut butter stew served with rice.
Florina's Gambian chicken, pumpkin and peanut butter stew served with rice.

There are so many great recipes in the book. Which one is your favourite or the one you cook most often?

The recipe that’s closest to my heart is my creamy chicken curry. It was one of the first things I learned how to cook when I was living alone at the age of 17. I was shocked at the result. I didn’t expect it to be so good. I had actually force-fed it to this British gentleman I knew and he had liked it so much. In fact, after some time, this gentleman had asked me to cook it for his family gathering as a private cook. Obviously at the age of 17, I was not confident to cook for a large group of people and I had refused the offer. Pity to have let go of such an offer, but at least it made me realise that my cooking was liked.  Till today, this creamy chicken curry remains my favourite as it is simple and easy to make.  

What did you enjoy most about writing your cookbook?

I always enjoy cooking for family and friends. I enjoy seeing the plates empty and people asking for my recipes. That’s what I really like, and now people can actually have my recipe book to follow and enjoy.

What has your experience on Gourmet Challenge been like so far and what’s it like competing alongside other home cooks?

I love cooking on the set of Gourmet Challenge but my heart doesn’t stop racing during the entire cooking session due to stress of time constraints, skills of my competitors and the critique of the judges. The other contestants I cooked against were all very good cooks and therefore the competition was really tough.

Florina Silvio and Patrick Attard Baldacchino during the first season of Gourmet Challenge
Florina Silvio and Patrick Attard Baldacchino during the first season of Gourmet Challenge

Are you looking forward to the third phase of the competition?

Yes and No. Yes, because I am really passionate about cooking and I love the challenge of creating a dish in 30 minutes to impress the judges. No, because it will make my heart race, make me sweaty and my hands will have roda (tremors) because of the panic.

If you had to choose anyone local to cook with in the kitchen, who would it be?

Since I am very passionate about cooking and food. I have huge respect for all the chefs. If I had to choose someone local to cook with, I would choose the two judges, Daniel and Alain of Gourmet Challenge. Reason being, they have been watching me cook and then judge the outcome of my cooking. So, it would be nice to cook alongside them to see their cooking skills and possibly learn a trick or two from them.