Chef Giuseppe D’Aquino is bringing a new food concept to Ta’ Frenc.
When I heard that the already amazing Ta’ Frenc Restaurant in Gozo was getting its menu revamped by a Michelin-starred chef, my ears (or should I say taste buds) pricked up. Yep, you read that right, Giuseppe D’Aquino, Michelin-starred chef from Italy, along with some of his staff in permanent residence in Gozo, has been working on an amazing new culinary concept for Ta’ Frenc, and I couldn’t wait to find out more!
Last week, Ta’ Frenc organized a gastronomic extravaganza to launch this new chapter, and before tucking in, I sat down for a few words with the chef himself, as well as a member of his kitchen brigade.
“Our focus is simplicity”
Chef Davide Ospite has been working with Chef Giuseppe at Michelin-starred Villa Cordevigo in Verona for five years, and has been in permanent residence in Gozo for four months.
The chef explains that the team is developing a new concept for Ta’ Frenc, bringing fine dining to Gozo. “We’re basing it on Mediterranean cuisine, and our focus is simplicity: simple plates with perfect preparation and flavour. We feel that people need to be able to experience all the ingredients in the plate, so we try to stick to just three or four ingredients.”
The best ingredients
Chef Davide explains that the team has searched across the Mediterranean for the best ingredients, with a special focus on Gozitan produce. “Naturally, we’ve included fish, but we also realise that locals like English cuisine too, so the menu also needed to include meat,” he says, mentioning Gozitan pork belly and duck.
Revealing standout dishes from the menu, Chef Davide reveals that the beef cheek has become a fast favourite. “We treat it with a lot of care and attention, cooking it slowly for 16 hours, so it’s like butter. In fact, we serve it with a spoon, even though it’s meat! It’s a game we play with our clients, and they love it.”
Another element borrowed from their Michelin-starred background is the inclusion of extras within the experience, presenting diners with items which are not on the menu. “Aperitivo, petit fours, pre-dessert, post-dessert… all items that stand out and that help us stand out,” he says. “It’s not easy because people need to get used to a completely new style of cuisine. We’re coming from a culture of Michelin-starred restaurants, so while we’re not Michelin-starred, that’s the direction we’re taking the cuisine.”
“People call chefs artists, but it’s bollocks - we’re normal cooks”
Chef Giuseppe D’Aquino has been visiting Gozo and collaborating with Ta Frenc for the past two years, while operating his restaurant in Verona. Before that, he worked in Dubai, Tokyo and the Maldives, and spent 11 years working in Paris.
“Gozo is nice, and I love the restaurant,” Chef Giuseppe tells me, adding that it has great potential, and is in a brilliant location. “I’m here to change the concept of the kitchen, to introduce a new experience.”
Inspired by the produce
And it all starts with the produce. “The concept of the kitchen utilises a mix of local and international products, mainly from Italy. I’m a firm believer in starting from the product, not a recipe. A product inspires you, and you build a dish around it,” he reveals.
“I’ve placed local pork on the menu, but it needs work. It has a lot of flavour, but is harder to get a good result from, as it’s not as tender. So, we cook it sous-vide at 78 degrees for 36 hours to get a consistency I’m happy with,” the chef explains.
A new concept
Speaking of the new concept, Chef Giuseppe tells me that the team is still learning about their clients, who they are and what they want. “We’re not here to impose our concept, but to find a balance between what we’re trying to inject and what the existing clientele of the restaurant expects. It can’t be done too quickly, so we will move into the new concept progressively.”
Echoing Chef Davide, the chef reveals that the concept is simplicity. “Simple plates and simple ingredients put together in a way that makes you say ‘wow’,” he says – and, from the gastronomic feast we were served that evening, one can begin to understand what he means.
One example is the skirt steak – “a cut that’s usually frowned upon by chefs” – prepared simply, grilled on charcoal, and a dessert of white chocolate, lettuce, honey and green apple sorbet – all simple ingredients, put together in a way that is surprising.
“People call chefs artists, but it’s bollocks – we’re just normal cooks,” Chef Giuseppe smiles. When ingredients are so good, he confides, the danger is doing too much, ruining them in the process. “Nature gives us such beautiful things and we’re obliged to present them well. Our goal is to do the least possible to give the best possible result. That’s why we’re obsessed with simplicity. We’re just mixing flavours that work. That’s it. Simple cuisine works.”
And now, we agree, all that’s left is to eat!
Richard Muscat Azzopardi