Interview | Victor Borg

Monique Chambers meets Victor Borg, executive chef at The Phoenecia Hotel and talks about his role, the amazing food and venue.

Pulling up to work for Victor Borg, executive chef at The Phoenicia Hotel must be a joy. I can’t envision ever entering the building and not saying WOW. I do have a weakness for Art Deco and one can only imagine what the scene must have been like in 1920’s Malta. This majestic hotel will have always been a place where people wanted to go, and the British Royal family have a penchant for the place but don’t let that intimidate you.

The hotel boasts, and rightly so, its brasserie, a lounge and a bar. Having worked here straight after training at ITS, Victor is the perfect chap to oversee the operation from a food, drink and service point of view. His love for the place is evident and he will not let anyone spoil the experience for a guest or even a member of staff. Believing in impeccable service, he is determined to keep the standards sky high, whilst being able to experiment with the product to deliver to the regular and incoming traveller market.

You will still find Victor in the kitchen – in fact, if one of the 20 strong team is away, he personally mans their station; be it chef or pastry. His job now includes managing costs; but with a strict policy of buying seasonal and local for the majority of the menu, this is kept in check and ensures that the plate you receive is good, fresh food that doesn’t cost the earth.

The vision of the cuisine is basically Mediterranean touching on French, Spanish and Italian. The chef loves all the food he cooks but his current favourites are the conqullia with ricotta and smoked salmon. His favourite food seasons are Spring and Autumn, just entering one of them now, you will soon see one of his signature dishes on the menu: goats cheese custard with steamed asparagus with herbs, pumpkin seeds and cress and hand-made wafer thin flavoured biscuits. Victor’s attention to detail is such that he aims to have different textures, complimentary tastes and a range of temperatures all on one plate.

He loves to read cook books and has a ‘serious’ library at home -  and dedicates at least 30 minutes a day reading up on ingredients etc., The hotel has a herb and citrus garden and the suppliers are also handpicked and trusted, deliver daily. A weekly menu plan is shared amongst them and specials devised from what crop is about ready.

“I’d like to see more people enjoying the food and the hotel. Because of our history and the stature of the building, we are perceived as aloof – our service is welcoming and warm and there are choices of where to eat to meet your mood and your appetite,” states Victor.

I can vouch for this – and the pricing is less that in many restaurants in St Julians for example, but the setting and the service is just wonderful. It’s certainly a place I will revisit and not just for special occasions. So where does Victor enjoy to visit when he isn’t working? “It depends on my mood” though after a little coaxing La Cucijana, Rebekah’s and Guisippe’s are named as his favourites.
Victor also oversees the catering for the vast number of events held at the hotel. 2010 sees 60 weddings booked – the smallest being just 400 of the bride and groom’s closest friends (biggest was 900 guests to date).

“Our wedding offering is slightly different to other venues, we have themed tables in accordance with the couple’s wishes; South American, Italian tables, Morroccan...”  But because of the hotels vast pool of staff and masses of experience, Victor doesn’t get stressed. “It’s all about co-ordination,” he coolly adds.

So how does one rise through the ranks to what has to be the best hotel on the island? “You have to be ambitious, work hard and be willing to grow and be flexible. Being a good chef is not just about being a good cook.”

“We look for staff that have a genuine love for food, they must have a good attitude and commitment.”

Victor will not tolerate disrespect for ingredients – and believes his staff are as lucky as he is to be working in such an environment, and that they earn that right every day.

Go and see for yourself if the man is as good as his word.

This interview originally appeared in the January 2010 edition of Gourmet Today.

More in Restaurants