Maarten Van Steen, chef of restaurant Villa Bardon in Sluizeken, Gent serves Maltese-style cuisine in his restaurant. It couldn’t be different given his wife Anna comes from Malta and he spent two years cooking on the Mediterranean island where he learned all about Maltese food and Mediterranean culture.
Maarten is constantly experimenting making liquors like limoncello and even Maltese sausages. But as he told us in an interview, he would also love to get the mother dough from a Maltese baker which would enable him to make Maltese bread at his restaurant. (If you are reading this and happen to know a baker in Malta who can help Maarten get mother dough please let us know).
Here is our question and answer session with Maarten.
What do you miss most about Malta when it comes to food?
The freshness of the fish is something that I really miss. In Malta, you get fish so fresh it goes from the sea to your plate. It is not something that can be done here even if we have the North Sea.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find my inspiration from experiencing new things, sometimes looking at photos or even by going to a shop and finding new ingredients. When I have one ingredient, I always try to see how I can work with it. Sometimes, if it is something I have not used before, I will experiment, taste it and practice with it. I try to see what works with that particular ingredient and then test it. When I am happy, then it is ready to be served in the restaurant.
What’s your best meal ever?
I love to cook but the best meal ever is the one I don’t need to cook. Sometimes, when we go to friends, they might feel intimidated because they are cooking for a chef. But for me it does not matter. It can be anything. Sitting down with friends at table and being able to talk with friends while we eat is a perfect moment. It’s a feast and that would be my best meal ever.
Best dish ever?
The first time I went to Malta, I ate spaghetti with lemon prepared by Anna’s mother and it was great.
What are the three ingredients you would not do without?
Garlic, lemon and a nice piece of fish like sea bass.
Is there one thing in a professional kitchen which you think should be in a home kitchen?
A good powerful oven.
Favourite places to eat?
We have a few friends who have restaurants in Gent and we love to go and eat at their place from time to time. In Malta, my favourite place would be Tartarun in Marsaxlokk. Whenever we are in Malta we try to go there because it is really a good fish restaurant and similar to what I want to do here.
Favourite Maltese dish?
There are quite a few but my favourite would be to buy a whole fish from the market like sea bass and cook it in the oven with potatoes and vegetables. That is the one thing I really love in Malta. Get a big fish for the whole table and serve it with a glass of wine.
Are there Maltese dishes that you cannot recreate in your restaurant?
I would like to work with lampuki (dolphin fish) but it is obviously impossible to find here. I’ve tried to check how much it would cost to transport the fish but the price would make it prohibitive to serve in the restaurant. I’ve also tried to make spaghetti with rizzi as they are called in Malta (sea urchin) but it is not the same. In Malta, the sea urchin is really fresh that all you need to do is toss it with the pasta and it tastes of the sea. If I use sea urchins here, it is not the same so I prefer not to do it.