Jeffrey James Vella – award-winning Maltese chef is causing a stir in Croatia
Jeffrey James Vella discovered his passion for cooking at an early age in his native Malta. His family owned a hotel and some serviced apartments. Chef Jeffrey worked for major hotel chains in London, the United Arab Emirates, Italy and he also creates dishes in Brussel. Belgium, before coming to Zagreb. Chef Jeffrey is also Co-Founder at A Pinch of Design.
Read on to learn how Jeffrey began his career, what future trends he sees and what’s behind A Pinch of Design.
Jeffrey James Vella – Chef’s Portrait
Jeffrey, after a great career as a Chef, you are a now Executive Chef, food stylist, concept curator and co-founder of A Pinch of Design. Where did your journey start as a chef? Why did you become a chef?
I was born in the industry. My family owned a decent hotel and some service apartments. So you can say that part of this business runs in my blood. I have always enjoyed watching cooks preparing meals, so my dream was to become a chef, which was certainly not the best thing for my dad to hear at that time.
Which cooking school did you visit first?
I was never a person who likes to follow, so the school was a struggle. But I have attended the Institute for Tourism Studies in Malta.
What still fascinates you after so many years of working as a Chef and in the food business?
My fascination – it is part of the same word, the fashion, the trends which one can trend and the connectivity between nature and humans, the understanding of terroir plays a key role now a days and using locality is what can really define you.
As a young chef, you worked in London, then spent many years as Executive Chef in Malta for Kempinski. How did the time in Malta influence your cooking style?
Unfortunately, Malta does not have a great food culture, as many people still prefer to get their bellies full and not enjoyment, so this can play a tricky role in the development of cooks. As well being a mostly mid-range tourism destination, this doesn’t help the case, though looking and digging in the countries past and who ruled and passed through Malta, this can be a very interesting food culture. But basically, it did not affect me, although I realized that using local products is important because I know how scarce they are on the island.
After a some years as Executive Chef at Kempinski in Jordan and Italy you moved to Zagreb, Croatia. What makes Croatian cuisine so special compared to Mediterranean cuisine in general?
Croatia is a special country, not only because of its geographical location but also because of its excellent food and wine regions. There you can see Austro-Hungarian influences, the Italian, the coastal, the central region and all the former Yugoslav influences.
In 2012, in Dubrovnik, a restaurant and lounge called “360 by Jeffrey Vella” was opened, which became known as one of the most unique places on the Adriatic coast. Was that your idea?
It was not my restaurant though a brand using my name in creating a destination, which have worked really well and continued growing as a destination place.
After some time at Carlson in Brussels, Belgium, you came back to Dubrovnik, where you converted an old 17th-century palazzo into a concept store and a bistro. What was your culinary setup?
Being in Brussels was a great way to understand cultures. With the daily travels through the EMEA region, I have developed and refined my thoughts of creating more on local stories and heritage of gastronomy. This project came up and we did something special and unique for the time.
Today as Chef, Food Stylist, Concept Curator & Co-Founder at A Pinch of Design: What is your company doing? What is your job about?
We are a group of individuals with great backgrounds and unique ideas. So all together we create one stop award winning concepts and designs.
What are some of the coming food concepts that you think we will see in the future?
There are many concepts and all tend to be great for some time, though what we try to stick to are great local stories on terroir and glocality.
Do you still have time for your “original” job as a chef?
Absolutely, I am always and every day in a kitchen and around people, in the evenings from time to time I still run services and since I see sleeping as a waste of time, I have time for this…
This is impressive! How would you describe your own culinary line today?
Right now I’m more focused on development, my culinary line is always understanding your region, especially as the seasons get longer and are more based on a longer summer and autumn and a shorter winter and spring.
Can you share some of your latest creations with us?
Sure. I am glad to share. You also can find some of my newest creations on Instagram. @vella.jeffrey
Is there a place in the world where you would like to work as a Chef someday?
I have not thought of that yet. There are many places where I can imagine working for some time to gain new experiences and knowledge.
Thank you so much for your time, Chef Jeffrey!
As you can see, Jeffrey James Vella creates terrific dishes.
Show us yours, too – on Cook Concern.