Chef Interview | Joseph Xuereb

Joseph Xuereb, head chef at The Palace Hotel, talks about how food has always been at the centre of his world.

Head chef at the Palace Hotel Joseph Xuereb has had food at the heart of his life, all his life. Both his mother and grandmother taught him to love food at a very early age, and he was always welcome in their kitchens.

Food was just a hobby for the young Joseph, but one he took seriously. One Christmas day, when he was only 17, the entire family meal was his responsibility.

Cooking for the 30 people that make up his family is no mean feat for such a young boy… but he managed it, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

As a young boy, whenever he went out to a restaurant he tried to replicate the dish at home. In the beginning, making a dish that competed with the one they were served in the restaurant was a good enough achievement, but eventually he began to make small improvements.

At 16, he got his first summer job in the kitchen of a restaurant as a meagre helper, but within two weeks he was left to manage on his own. After school he got a job in a hotel as a receptionist, but found he was spending as much time as he could in the kitchen getting advice from the chef and learning new tricks.

Eventually he decided to embark upon formal training at the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS). Here he gained important experiences both locally and overseas in Jersey and at London’s five star Selfridges hotel.

Food presentation is something of an art, and Joseph definitely possesses an artist’s skill on the plate. “Being artistic with food is not something that you can be taught – though to give credit where it is due I did learn all of the basic skills at ITS –it is something that comes naturally though is made better with experience.”

Joseph has been head chef at the Palace Hotel since its inception three years ago. Three restaurants – as well as the banqueting services – all fall under his command. Unfortunately for Joseph, this means more time in the office, preparing menus, placing orders and doing other work that keeps him out of the kitchen.

“I’d love to spend more of my time in the kitchen, however unfortunately making more money requires more hours in the office.”
After a long day at work, cooking is far from Joseph’s mind and as he lives alone he doesn’t often cook for himself, eating at the hotel or eating out. “Cooking for one person is just not worth the effort. I’d rather have a bowl of cornflakes.”

However, he loves to cook for family and friends when he is off and it is fish that inspires him most. “A perfect day off would involve fishing, then going home to cook the day’s catch for family and friends. The delicate flavours of the fish, and particularly shellfish, are always a favourite among friends. Another added bonus is that fish does not need much cooking so it takes very little time to prepare.”
Fish wasn’t always among Joseph’s favourites as before he started training at ITS he couldn’t even bear the smell of it.

“When I began to take cooking more seriously I realised I had to start expanding my tastes. It is important for a chef to taste everything he is cooking. Those chefs that claim they can cook without tasting aren’t real chefs to begin with. Tasting is the only way to learn which flavours could be married together and precise quantities of ingredients that should go into a dish.”
For someone surrounded by food every waking hour, Joseph is surprisingly slim.

“I try to choose the meals I eat keeping my waistline in mind. When you spend the day in the kitchen tasting everything it is very easy to get fat. Being fat then makes the job more tiring as you have to carry all that extra weight on your feet all day. Being disciplined is even more important when working in this industry.”

Source: Gourmet Today, December 2010.

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