We have met executive chef Susy Massetti for an interview. She is working at the Masso Restaurant at The Palace Hotel, the first “green”, ethical and sustainable Southern European restaurant in Bahrain.

What drove you to become a chef?

I’m not really sure, I believe I was born with this desire!  Seeing my mother and my grandmother in their kitchens definitely inspired me but I knew since I was very young that i wanted to cook and be a cook, a darn good cook… chef is a full of itself and at time empty sounding word!

Where did you learn to become a chef?

From those two strong and unknowingly talented women.  From them i learned to be just who I’m, to stay true to myself not to take on a persona just to suit the “market” and to become something I’m not. to know my worth, just to be who I am.

Susy Massetti and her restaurant

Lots of chefs start their own restaurant after several years and stations. You opened and manage a 70 seats Italian restaurant in Tuscany, Italy, quite at the beginning of your carrier. What have been the advantages and disadvantages for you, of being such a young chef and restaurant owner?

Actually well before that and for almost 10 years I worked in my first husband restaurant in Milano, a great training ground in years where the chefs were some obscure figures behind the kitchen door and the fame was all on the Restaurateurs

Are you missing sometimes your one baby and being your own boss?

No because Masso is my baby ; I’ve created this restaurant from concept to building it to operating it on a daily basis, I consider myself (like another great chef said recently)  the spiritual owner of Masso.  I have a lot of freedom, I write my own schedule and I’m my own boss quite literally.

After running your own restaurants for more than 7 years, you performed as private chef at Private Yacht Worldwiede Sea company. How did you came up with this idea?

well, it was almost a forced decision, the owner was a very regular customer of my restaurant and when he heard that I was closing down he offered me the position of personal chef, I resisted for few months but I was so bored at home that I decided to accept his offer!

Did you ever feel seasick?

All the times, I was the skinniest I’ve ever been, well exercised and tanned as I tried to stay either up on the deck or out of the boat and on solid ground as much as I could

How did you manage to have privacy?

The boat was a 50+ meters, the crew accommodations are very nice and I had a cabin all for myself

What is the best part of this job and what is the downside?

The absolutely best was the complete freedom I enjoyed as the owners were very experimental and loved food, of any kind, and moreover money was no object so, best ingredients and I could play with and anything I could dream of!

Fresh fish should be part of the menu: Who did fish on board? And did you get/ cook fishes you never saw/ knew before?

Yes and yes, was very very much part of my menus and yes I’ve experimented with a lot of fish some of which I didn’t even know the name since it was caught while in navigation. most of it was amazing but we got a couple of terrible ones as well!  The owner was an avid fishermen so most of the time was up to him to provide me with the “daily catch”

During this job you maintained a 5* level World Wide cuisine and presentation, service and wine cellar. Where the menus your proposals, or did it depend on the mood of the guests.

It was almost entirely up to me, as the new me from my restaurant they kind of new what they were getting but at times they will request favorites and my roast chicken was on the menu at least once a week! The simply loved it!

After some time on board does the quests get back to the wish for simple food/ dishes?

The owners were actually very simple, excellent, no short cut on quality and lots of variety but they were not eating just lobster and caviar, quite the opposite, rustic, delicious and artisanal food was their absolute favorite.

The next years followed several Executive Chef positions at large hotels such as Sheraton, Radisson, Starwood in the Middle East. Did your work became higher level but less individual in a certain sense meaning that you got more and more involved in management instead of cooking?

Yes and I must say that it was not fun, challenging at times being a woman (the only female executive chef in the whole region) at the helm of an almost entirely male team and frankly boring since your creativity it’s really not stimulated (hotels are very slow elephants when it comes to changes) it was more of an administrative job. Overall I missed terribly the direct contact with the guests and making my apron dirty by being in my kitchen with my team.

Susy Massetti and her international life

What was your leering, personal leering within these years of your career?   

The unwillingness from most management to listen, to give someone the chance to do their job to their maximum capacity

Did you have time to learn from the chefs, with so many different nationalities, which worked for you during that time?

Yes and I continue to do! One of the reasons I love my job is the people I work with, the things I learn from them and with them. Every day. Nonstop. It is the most fascinating thing!

In 2010 you moved from the Sheraton in Dubai to the Masso Restaurant at the Palace Hotel in Bahrain. In which sense are Dubai and Bahrain different for you to work as a chef?

In Bahrain you feel part of a country; you feel part of a community. You get to know your customers and Bahrainis have such a welcoming attitude and they are very loyal if you treat them with respect. Respecting values, using local ingredients and appreciation for the country are very important for them. In my years in the UAE I’ve never encountered such a thing, you are an expat there to work and somewhat live, here you are amongst the locals, appreciated and welcomed.

From  2010 and until today you are leading the kitchen of the Masso Restaurant at the Palace Boutique Hotel in Bahrain. Opposite to the large skyscrapers hotels the restaurant is part of small boutique like property hotel. Was it you wanted to get back to more privacy and time to create and cook personally?

Yes absolutely! Masso although in the compound of The Palace Boutique Hoel is very much a stand alone restaurant, it is physically separated from the hotel and it is run separately, I get to be a chef, I get to meet my guests and I get to cook personally for them. It is exactly what I wanted to get back to!

Susy Massetti in Bahrain

The Masso is the first “green”, ethical and sustainable Southern European restaurant in Bahrain! What does it mean?

We have created an organic garden where we produce most of all our vegetables and herbs, we don’t waste anything as all the kitchen refuse ends up in the compost to fertilize the garden. Water is from a deep well and used very sparingly and we have a cooling system that utilizes all the water by dripping it on a corrugated cardboard wall and misting the vegetables with the use of large fans. We are in the process of installing solar panel to power the fans. We do not use ANY fertilizer except for our compote and chicken manure that we get from a privately owned organic chicken farm. The edible left overs such as old bread of green leaves feed the chicken so it is a 360 cycle and very sustainable.

Does the Masso still serves the fruits of the own organic vegetable garden?

Yes with the exception of the 2 hottest summer months where a supplier from KSA bring us his organic produces. The garden is owned by one of our best Saudi customers so quality is guaranteed!

You use locally & traditionally produced charcoal in your charcoal-fired oven, utilizing a cooking method that was discarded for many years in order to bring back flavours and textures forgotten for far too long. Can you explain it?

Well we use an iron cladded charcoal oven that can reach very high temperatures but can also hold very low for a very long time making it perfect for cooking great steaks and vegetables amongst others, but also to slow cook (overnight) some of our best sellers such as our wine leaves wrapped lamb oyster. It is labour intensive but the flavors are awesome!

It seems you found the perfect suited place for you. Do you have any other exotic place in mind to be a chef where you have not been so far?

Would love (when I retire) to work in Sri Lanka, it is in my bucket list! I love the incredible produces, fruits and the seafood is amazing over there!

Back to Italy with your own restaurant again in the future?

NEVER, love my country but I’m much happier when I don’t have to deal with the not so nice stuff that happens over there! Still go of course, but no Italy has become way too tight for me!

Your advice for young chefs who want to work in the Middle East; shall they start with big houses to gain experiences or should they start at smaller and more unique places?  

Both are great and different, I personally love the creativity and the upkeep with times and culinary trends (discipline and focus) of the stand-alone restaurant especially if they do offer the guidance of a great chef.

However, it has to be said that if he/she’s not coming from a good culinary school and from a learning stand point, the large kitchen of a hotel might be a good start as for basic culinary training, but move and move up! Don’t be static especially at the beginning of your career.

I will leave one last suggestion to the young aspiring chefs out there, try to really understand what you are doing, enjoy the process rather than trying to dominate it or do it “better”.  Let yourself belong, immerge yourself in the concept. Once you understand it you will be able to produce in the same exact way each and every time, this is the only secret of consistency!

Thank you so much!