Michael Iavarone talks to Gourmet about staff welfare and workforce productivity

Happy employees mean increased productivity and what keeps people happier than food? Michael Iavarone, chief operating officer of Catermax, a subsidiary of Corinthia Group, talks to Gourmet about how staff welfare creates a more productive workforce

Michael Iavarone, chief operating officer of Catermax
Michael Iavarone, chief operating officer of Catermax

Just imagine this. 1pm comes around, you’re absolutely starving – easy so far, this happens every day – you get up, head to the canteen to find a hot meal waiting for you. For a lot of Maltese workers this seems like little more than a fantasy, however some companies are starting to see the value in looking after their staff as well as they expect their staff to look after their business.

Free lunch is just one way in which businesses can pay more attention to staff welfare. Research also shows that when team members are happy at work, they are better collaborators, work to common goals, and are more innovative. The Harvard Business Review published an analysis of hundreds of studies showing an average of 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, with creativity three times higher. So looking after your staff really does pay.

Michael Iavarone is the chief operating officer, COO, of Catermax, a company that has identified the importance of staff welfare and is working towards a happier workforce – not just in their own company, but helping other companies do the same.

“Until recently Catermax was just an outside catering company, which put emphasis on weddings and events.
Today we have shifted our efforts and have taken a more business to business approach, with a specific focus on contract catering, canteen & restaurant operation, hotel food & beverage sub-contracting, event cash bars & food stalls. Working with various businesses to improve their food offering, create a happier and more productive workforce by offering better quality canteen environments. If you expect five-star work from your employees you need to give back a five-star service.”

Though Michael admits that most of the companies going down this route are foreign, it is a market that is growing. Having spent 10 years time in London working in the same industry, he was thrilled with the Corinthia group offered him the opportunity to become a pioneer in this area in Malta.

Michael is an avid traveller and as his job sees him taking little time off during the year, he takes a long holiday in January and February when it is quiet. At the top of his list of travel destinations is Asia – Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and he hopes to add Vietnam to that list early next year.

This is the source of inspiration for many dishes he likes to cook – and eat. “I love the complexity of Asian food, their culture and love for eating. Though food is pretty cheap in Asia, the people have a great respect for quality ingredients so even if you buy something on the street, you can expect the ingredients to be fresh.”

He uses this for inspiration in his job, seeking out the best of local ingredients and pairing them with interesting flavours from around the world. Menus are seasonal and change regularly. “Keeping ingredients local and seasonal not only helps local farmers but also allows us to keep our menus innovative and prices reasonable.”

For more information visit www.catermax.com.

Thai red snapper in coconut broth with rice noodles and stir fried veg

Serves 2


  • 4 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1-inch fresh ginger, trimmed and crushed
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed, bruised
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 lime leaves
  • ½ long green red chilli, thinly sliced
  • ½ long green yellow chilli, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • ½ tbsp Thai red curry paste
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 2 x 180g red snapper fillets, skin on
  • Handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 100g mange tout
  • 150g brown beech mushrooms (or similar style of mushrooms)
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 150g dried rice noodles
  • 2 lime wedges


  1. Heat 2 tbsp sesame oil in large saucepan over high heat.
  2. Add fresh ginger, shallot, garlic, red and yellow chilli, curry paste, lemongrass and turmeric.
  3. Cook, stirring regularly until shallot, garlic and ginger has softened.
  4. Stir in coconut milk, fish sauce, lime leaves and ½ cup cold water. Bring to the boil.
  5. Add the fresh red snapper fillets with skin on as otherwise, the fish will flake into the sauce. Reduce heat to medium-low.
  6. Stir the sauce gently and cover the red snapper with coconut infused broth until fish is just cooked.
  7. Add fresh coriander, reserving some for garnish.
  8. Place noodles in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water for approximately 5 minutes or until tender. Drain.
  9. Meanwhile, in a separate wok or medium pan, add the remaining sesame oil and soy sauce on high heat.
  10. Stir fry the mange tout and beech mushrooms until just tender, approx. 1 min.  
  11. Divide and place the cooked rice noodles in the bottom of the bowls and gradually add the coconut infusion on the noodles until you have a bed of broth in the bowl.
  12. Place the poached red snapper fillet (skin down) on the noodles. Add your mange tout and beech mushrooms on the side and gradually add more sauce on the fish.
  13. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and lime wedge.

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