A year ago chef-patron Jean Pierre Dingli, 29, opened Barbajean, a restaurant in Dingli. He talks about his love for food, inspired by tradition and local ingredients, and tells us how he strives to transmit that passion through the dishes he creates and by ensuring that attention is given to every detail… from dishes to decor.
When did your passion for food start?
I always took interest in any dish my mum or grandma created at home. As a family we always stayed home and cooked for the most special occasions. We take it quite seriously, we print menus also for home. Our best memories as a family always include sharing food. So I grew up eating good food and got “offended” when, as a kid, I was presented with a kids’ menu in a restaurant. I always wanted to try different flavours and textures. For me food is life and I have always believed that, when you cook, you either do it with passion or not at all.
Barbajean chef-patron Jean Pierre Dingli
When did you know you wanted to become a chef?
I recently found an essay I had written when I was just 7 years old about wanting to become a chef. As I grew older I started working in restaurants while I completed my course at ITS Malta. Following work in London, I spent time in Italy where I worked in a Michelin star restaurant which was listed amongst the best in Italy. I was 21 at the time. The work didn’t pay a cent but I got to work with some amazing chefs and help prepare beautiful dishes which still inspire me till this day.
What was the concept behind Barbajean?
Barbajean opened on June 20, 2020. It took two years to build. The concept is a bistro-style restaurant with good, genuine food in a relaxed setting. When I came across the building for the first time I fell in love with the layout and its potential. I did not want to open in any commercial busy area of Malta and fell in love with the village life. So I took it as a personal challenge to bring people over to Dingli to experience the little gem we created in the core. The restaurant is inspired from the typical Maltese facade: its coloured timber doors, informal parapet steps, and the pink terrazzo are all about tradition. Our wooden bench is inspired by the l-għatba tal-bieb (doorstep) concept, aimed to attract those passing by to take a seat.
Why did you call it Barbajean?
Barbajean is me: Jean with a barba (beard). The word also means barn owl in Maltese (barbaġann) – from which our logo and brand is created. I would say Barbajean is a big part of me. Having worked for this dream almost my entire life I think my love, passion and determination for success is reflected in the everyday running of the restaurant. Together with my sister, we strive to give the best possible product, service and attention to detail in everything we do.
What about the cuisine?
The Mediterranean cuisine reflects my style as a chef: genuine, fresh flavours, simple but delicious. At Barbajean we source local fresh ingredients and believe that, as a small island, it is important to source and support local. We also believe in homemade food. I believe that the homemade element gives that extra personality to each dish. As a chef I get more satisfaction when presenting them to customers.
How often do you change your menu and what inspires it?
The menu is changed depending to the season. In winter we create warmer dishes with different cooking methods, which have a comfort food approach. In summer we keep dishes lighter with more seafood dishes on the menu. My inspiration comes from my travels and food trips and the cookbooks I read. I read about two or three books a week. My collection has grown so big that I display books at the restaurant now.
Any favourite dishes among customers?
One favourite would be our Maltese sausage Scotch egg. This dish consists of a soft boiled egg encased with Maltese sausage, breaded and deep fried until crispy – served with local rocket leaves. I think the local element incorporated in such a simple comfort/street food dish fits in perfectly with Barbajean’s concept.
Any plans for the future?
Oh yes. We are currently producing our own olive oil which will be available to taste and purchase from the restaurant soon. And we are about to launch a new product thanks to an exciting collaboration with Riedel, the Austria-based glassware manufacturer. This will be a first for Malta.
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