Beyond the Boardroom’s Kitchen

the Times, 29th April 2011

On entering Gorgianis, I was directed to the boardroom of a personality who has brought thousands of delicious dishes to our families for generations.

Either through his cooking programmes, screened or aired on various local TV and radio stations, or his series of cookery books, Mr Dougall has inspired thousands of Maltese to follow up his recipes.

One would never guess that Mr.Dougall’s boardroom hosts a good sized kitchen, which made me guess that probably more business deals have been settled over the kitchen tables in his boardroom than in any other boardrooms in Malta.

There he was doing what he does best: preparing lunch.

So where did it all start, I asked. Well, it all started when I was 19. I attended a catering course at the Polytechnic.

Fast forward to 2011, and “here I am doing the same delightful job but having also to attend to my hotel’s feats and challenges”.

However he adds that “today’s web technology, like Facebook, has given me that extra tool, making things easier for me to communicate with the public directly by answering to the many food-related questions I get on a daily basis”.

“Obviously, TV and radio stations were and still remain my priority when it comes to spreading the word but Facebook is a great tool and has given me that extra helping hand!

“I’ve worked in various cookery programmes both on TV and radio stations and today I am managing two separate programmes on the two political stations, Tisjir bil-Għaqal on ONE TV and a slot on Net TV’s Minn Malta Llejla.

He recalls: “My first cookery programme I was asked to participate in was Gloria Mizzi’s programme on MTV (today known as TVM), and the recipe was chicken vol-au-vents”.

Meanwhile, Mr Dougall released 44 recipe books in the process and more are in the pipeline. A set of eight recipe books, a continuation of the famous cookery cards, and last but not least an intensive cookery book edited and reconstructed by Mr.Dougall called A Taste of Malta: A Collection by Georgina Dougall (his grandmother), will soon be out.

“I started publishing books after having felt there was a lack of education in the way culinary dishes were prepared and served here in Malta, to help bring out the best of Maltese housewives.

“My first book was printed in 1971, Tisjir Professjonali, and was an instant success, which saw more than 10,000 copies sold. Tisjir bil-Għaqal was also a long cookery series screened on TVM accompanied with the release of four books under the same name with a print of 80,000 for the whole four.

“More success followed with Klabb tat-Tisjir’s famous cookery cards, the club I founded myself. Over 25,000 sets of cookery cards had been sold at the time. The Taste of Malta series, printed in three languages, English, Italian and German, followed suit.

“Along the way I published a set of books Fil-Kċina ma’ Anton, comprising themes such as Il-Milied: Cocktail parties u ħelu (Christmas cocktails and sweets). Barbeques, Ikel għall-milied (Christmas Dishes) and Ikel Sajfi (summer dishes).

“The next in line under the same theme include Għaġin (pasta dishes), Gluten-free/diabetes (dishes for diabetes and gluten-free dishes, and Pizza & Focaccia.”

Mr Dougall also stressed on the point that the Maltese Mediterranean diet could easily die out if one keeps turning to junk food or mixing local food with other Mediterranean cuisines.

“Due to Britain’s dominance, like in many other things we also inherited the unhealthy English kitchen system, that of frying. And to add insult to injury, despite the presence of the Knights of St John in Malta, hailing from various countries and cultures, we would have expected to have inherited much more dishes and delicacies.

“I must admit though that in the last 20 years, local chefs have improved drastically.”

He also insisted that Maltese traditional food should be kept as is and “we should stop trying to change our local dishes and presenting them in forms of French or Italian cuisine”.

“How can we have braggioli presented or mixed with French or Italian cuisine?” we must not only stick to our roots but emphasise on the fact that Maltese food should remain Maltese.

“Look at the Spanish, Greeks and Portuguese for instance; they are much more faithful to their traditional Mediterranean diets than we are.”

Another thing that really bothers the faithful Maltese cuisine chef is restaurant critics who review restaurants at random just by visiting once.”How can a critic visit any restaurant once and compile a review about its overall performance, whether good or bad. A critic must at least visit twice to be sure about what he would be advising Joe public. The critic has to be extra careful and sure of what he writes as this can have severe repercussions for restaurateurs.”

Today with 40 years experience in the field, Mr Dougall forms part of an international forum and every now and again is asked to visit restaurants at random to state his opinion. But he takes his time and visits the same restaurant more than once to make sure that the opinion he will give would have been examined thoroughly. Another problem Malta is facing is evidently obesity.

“The traditional housewife is used to feeding the family well and palette she presents is over and above what a person should consume on a daily basis. We need to reduce our portions and eat healthier, and stick to our Mediterranean diet.

“Housewives have also improved but the mentally of serving huge portions should stop. There needs to be less and healthier portions served to our families.

“The important thing, like in everything, one should better what he or she did yesterday,”Mr Dougall concluded.

The Klabb tat Tisjir’s site currently hosts 12,000 members, and one can find recipes in both English and Maltese, accompanied with online clips. The club also sends recipes by e-mail. For further information visit www.tisjir.com