Taste of Abu Dhabi 2016 was a great opportunity to see chefs perform cooking demos and taste each special dish that each restaurant had to offer. But amidst the weekend, it was also a great opportunity to meet the chefs in person and talk to them about life…in general. Chef Marco J Morana is one of the chefs who taught me at ICCA. An absolutely wonderful human being with whom I’ve had an absolute privilege to work with! He might look a bit older in picture, but he’s got the youngest and most vibrant heart!
Some might say if I studied with him, why did I have to interview him! Well with experience from all over countries of Western Europe like Scotland, Italy, France and Spain, it was just mandatory that he would definitely have an amazing story! And from the looks of it, he does indeed! I have transcribed a small interview that I had with him, and written it all down. Do let me know what you think!
(CM stands for Chef Marco and T stands for Trevor)
T: Well first off, How are you Chef?
CM: I’m fine, thank you Trev!
T: How has Taste of Abu Dhabi been so far?
CM: It’s been really good! Busy obviously! Certainly, for me, its a far better venue than it was last year! Obviously, its a new venue!
T: Do you think there’s a specific reason for that? (For being busy)
CM: Maybe because it was still kind of in its younger, infancy stage. So obviously a lot more people have heard about it and a lot more people know about it now, and hence a lot more people will get to come here.
T: Okay, just a funny question here, “Do you always eat your veggies?”
CM: (Laughs) Do I always eat my veggies?! You know what, its not a funny or a weird question. My diet does consist of lots of vegetables. More so in the evening, I tend to do what I call “One-Pot Wonders”. So basically I use white meat – it could be chicken or lamb, organic obviously, and then I add a lot of seasonal vegetables – Asparagus, Broccoli, Spinach. I love Cannellini Beans – full of proteins and vitamins. What else, tomatoes, i love little cherry tomatoes – nice and sweet. Peas as well! It depends what vegetables are there in the market. And then yea I buy it accordingly!
T: So do you do a sort of “Slow-Cooker” thing?
CM: Not really, its not a slow cooker. When I come back from the gym, just a light workout by the way (laughs) predominantly swimming and running, I just put the pot on and bang that’s it! Throw everything in, stir fry it, little bit of water, maybe some chicken stock and that’s it! A bit of goat’s cheese (I love it!) or maybe even feta cheese, so I try not to put too much salt (cause of the cheese), and that’s it really!
T: So I’m guessing most of your gym workout is at ICCA itself? You know, running around behind students!
CM: Probably yeah! (Laughs). Well of course it is! Yeah it is ICCA obviously, and it gets quite hectic at times. You got to be on your toes and you have to be kinda of focused! Can’t really show any signs of weakness to the students.
T: (Laughs) So I guess in a way you need to show them who’s boss? (Laughs)
CM: I know where you’re coming from. I don’t want to say yes, neither do I want to say no. Cause the thing is mate, and I’m sure you know this yourself, a lot of these kids come from all over the world. Its the first time they’ve set foot outside their own country, their own comfort zone, and well to be brutally honest, the majority of them are entering this industry, and it’s not what some people think its cut out to be – you know this wonderful thing, in other words ,a wonderfully painted picture of being a chef! So we have to show them the reality of it, and sometimes it does hurt. So we have to let them know that not all chefs will wrap you in cotton wool. Basically yeah, we have to show them a little bit of discipline.
T: When did it strike you that you wanted to become a chef? Any nostalgic moment you’d want to touch on?
CM: Actually I do Trev, its a lovely question! To put it in a nutshell, there’s a time in my opinion, a lot of chefs might disagree with this, in a cook’s life or a chef’s life where doing 6 days a week with getting up at 7AM being at work by 8.15AM and working right till midnight or sometimes even past midnight, it’s just too much for them! You know, you’re hammering 15, 16 or even 17 hours a day, obviously it depends on the restaurant that determines the hours you’re working. As you know my background, I worked in some of the best restaurants in the world, in Spain, Italy, France and the US, and they were very high-end restaurants with 1, 2 & 3 Michelin stars, and there they do not suffer fools gladly. You’re in there by 8AM and right there till the very end. It got to a point where I said enough was enough. I thought about what else I could do. So a very good friend of mine told me, Marco you have got so much of knowledge, you’ve worked in so many beautiful restaurants, you’ve ranked in 20 odd restaurants at the height of your career, you’ve worked with over 250 chefs in 3 and 4 starred hotels, why don’t you go to teaching. So I thought about it and I decided…let’s just apply! And obviously, as a chef, you are a sort of teacher – when you run your own restaurant or are in charge of a restaurant. Because you are teaching these wonderful people!
And Trev, the amount of people I’ve been blessed to work with, and I’m not just saying that, I think I am so lucky to see 16 years old kids and people of older age and more experience that I’ve come through my career. And I see them today, and some of them are chefs, head chefs in their own right, and some are extremely successful! So I thought why not, I took a teacher’s training course, got a certificate, came to Dubai with an off-chance, and I was lucky enough to be accepted at ICCA!
T: Any particular dish that you would call your favorite or go-to meal? I mean everyone has a comfort food. Do you have anything like that?
CM: My comfort food Trev, is what I cook at home. And its very simple ingredients, there’s nothing pretentious about it. Its wholesome! Also my food-blog (http://www.chefmarcojm.com) is all about simple, seasonal and quality ingredients! It’s all about simplicity where moms, dads, people who have just finished work can just go home and nail it in the head. For me, I love just doing that! The fine dining thing has just gone out. Also, I have been so lucky to work with my mentor, Marco Pierre White (you know my story), such a wonderful gentlemen. I took a page out of his book and I went down that route. You know, nice and simple produce that’s readily available in any supermarket and I actually feel so hungry right now! Not just to eat food, but its got my fire burning again! But yeah with the whole fine dining thing, it got to a point where it just became enough. So yeah, I just did that.
T: What would you say is the best ingredient you’ve worked with so far in your career?
CM: (Laughs and swears at me) I have so many wonderful ingredients that I had the pleasure of dealing / working with. Produce that some people may never work with because of the establishments they are working in. Obviously once again to re-iterate what I said earlier, some restaurants might have the beautiful Pata Negra which is a beautiful ham that comes from España. You have the beautiful Prosciutto. You have beautiful Risotto from Italy. Truffles from France and Italy. You know beautiful vinos that you cook with. Closer to home you have beautiful ingredients like Venison, Beef, Fish.
But for me, one of the most versatile things that any chef
could might not do without, is the onion! Its such a versatile vegetable that goes with pretty much anything! The funny thing is that, well its something that I say to all my students is that “Know your onions!” I mean you got a big variety of onions, the Red Onions, the White Onions, Shallots, Spring Onions, etc. Get to know your onions! Each onion is extremely versatile, yet so different in flavors. Well obviously, one could argue that beef has different flavors too. But you don’t add beef in everything, do you? So for me…its the Humble Onion!
T: Tell me the best part of being a chef!
CM: Wow! Okay let’s say from the last four years to this present moment of time. The best part of being a chef has to be, for me, teaching my ICCA students. The knowledge or experience that I have learnt through some wonderful chefs! Prior to that, during my time in the kitchens…I drowned myself in cooking. From there it kind of snowballed, I got to love it! For me it was a passion and an addiction. It was in my blood. And I knew that I would see these beautiful and wonderful head chefs and the respect they commanded – and I thought to myself, one day I will have that respect! I don’t know if I have that respect today but I suppose it was a way of “escapism”. You know how like driving or riding a bike is in your blood. I’ll say the same way about cooking. It has become 95% a part of me. The rest 5%? Well I don’t know really…(Laughs)
T: From whatever I have experienced, which is very minimal, and now that you’re on the teaching side of the food industry, would you say that there might be a bad part of being a chef? Because from my experience, probably the worst part is the long hours, but again that’s only me.
CM: So the bad points of a chef? Well, you know what, I can actually answer that whole-heartedly! One of the things of being a chef is that your social life goes out the window. It becomes very very difficult. My social life was practically non-existent. And because of the restaurants where I was first officially working in a kitchen and drawing a good salary, my first 17 years of being a chef, it was very very difficult – as you mentioned, the long hours, and my social life was down the drain and it became quite difficult because my head was so “into” food. So yeah, it’s a little thing like that that I do regret. I’m sure there are many chefs who would agree with me on this. Although in saying that, I just also want to mention that it has a good side of positives as well. You know, you get to meet so many people along the way that are just wonderful (its amazing how many people still keep in contact with me!)!
T: Say there is an apocalypse, the world was ending soon, hypothetically, what would your last meal be?
CM: My last meal? Well, what would my last meal be. My last meal would be something that I would be cooking, and it would consist of several things – an Italian dish – an Osso Bucco, some nice, fresh grilled prawns with a little bit Garlic Butter, Lemon Zest, Roast Garlic obviously, nice quality Pernod, Anise from France, a lovely bowl of Salad, or actually you know what, a nice bowl of Paella! A nice Rabbit Paella! That would be one of the dishes of course. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be by myself. I would have a couple of guests with me and if I could choose anyone (or pluck anyone from the past), I would love to sit down with Mahatma Gandhi (such an inspirational person), the wonderful Roald Dahl (the writer), and I would have to say Marco Pierre White, and last, but not least, probably another wonderful chef that means a lot to me, Keith Floyd (actually an inspiration for me to go and work for MPW). I think we would all have one hell of a conversation, and I don’t think we would even notice the world ending!
T: With all your years and experience with teaching at ICCA, would you say you’d want to get back into the restaurant industry?
CM: Good Lord Trev! It’s a wonderful question! I love it, and so many people have asked me that question, my students for example. I am happy where I am, however, that’s not to say that someone would not be able to entice me to invite me to a restaurant where I would like to work at! So I can’t answer that question completely truthfully. What I can say is that I love working at ICCA and I still have that hunger for teaching. But sometimes when I am doing these wonderful shows, these demos, or I am a guest chef for a particular chef, I’m like Wow! Do I miss it? And then at the end of the evening I’d sit down with a cup of tea and think, nah I don’t miss it. But, that question or the answer is open….(watch this space)…Maybe you and I could do something!
T: Alright, that’s it Chef! Thank you so much!
CM: It’s been a pleasure Trev!
About Chef Marco J Morana
You can follow Chef Marco J Morana on his blog at http://www.chefmarcojm.com/
You can also follow him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/marcojmorana/
You can also check out his Youtube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYja90_jdAX_Q7Q47DwlL_g
Until then….that’s me signing off! Shall roll out a few more interviews over the next couple of days!