In case you missed it see what’s in this section
TGt Meets...Mark, Head Chef at AQUA
Meet our latest TGt Meets Mark, the head chef at the fantastic Italian restaurant, AQUA! Below we asked him all things AQUA and what's like being a chef.
Tell us a little bit about yourself...
I’m 39 years of age. Live in Bristol with my wife Linda and our 10 year old daughter. I was born and raised in Malta and the fondest memories I have from my childhood have always been around family, food and sea. These are the memories that have carved me into who I am today, the memories that I’m eager to replicate with my daughter. Fun, relaxed and nothing too fancy which I think describes me and the style of food which I like to cook and eat.
I also like travelling, exploring worlds unknown to me, learn about the people; the foods they eat and their way to do things.
I have an ongoing hunger to learn new things, expand my skills, assume new responsibilities, experience new experiences, encounter new people and live life to the fullest.
When it comes to my career, I got into the industry from a very young age, experienced a good variety of roles and experienced a few different sectors in hospitality but I must admit that I was always partial to a good, family run restaurant like Aqua. I exposed myself to a variety of styles and worked with many good people along the way. Some experiences were great, others were great to see end, but which ever way it went, I always did and still put it down to a learning experience. I think that’s true of many things in life, but every place I’ve worked at and every manager or colleague I brushed my shoulders against; always left me richer for it.
What's it like being the head chef at Aqua, describe in 3 words...
Being a head chef with Aqua is REWARDING because we enjoy a good reputation on food and service. I feel proud to tell people where I work and without exception you’d hear of great dining experiences they or someone they know had with us.
It’s always EVOLVING and deliberately so. We must do this not only to stay relevant but to stand out in a very competitive market. We keep challenging ourselves to get better in everything that we do, from creating great menus and hand pick outstanding wines to recruiting and provide bespoke, ongoing training to the best people out there.
It’s also very FUN and it has to be. I heard from a mentor some time back that “if you’re not having a belly laugh a week, then what are we doing there?” what a mantra to live by!! We spend far too much time at work, for us not to enjoy it and the people we work with. Aqua seem to attract like minded people who are funny and positive.
What started your passion for cooking?
My passion for cooking started from my childhood, observing my grandma cook and getting a few lucky tastes in the process. She cooked in old, chipped enamel dishes and heavy cast iron pots, no bronze in sight. The fresh food laid on the kitchen table. Nothing wrapped in plastic and the veg was covered in soil, the eggs were still warm, the fish was stiff and the crusty bread fresh out of the oven. The aromas were to die for and there was always enough food to go around; even when you popped around unannounced.
What interested you in working at Aqua?
When I started to consider working for Aqua I was genuinely very excited. As one grows and works hard in this industry, inevitably you dream that one day you would own your own restaurant and when I was looking at what Aqua were doing: their branding, their menus, the décor, the colour schemes, choice of glass wear and cutlery; it really felt like someone took the picture from my head and brought it into being. It was surreal but also intimidating, I wasn’t sure I was going to be good enough, but from the get go, I was made to feel so welcome and part of the family. I was motivated and appreciated. It was really great to find somewhere that fits my personality the way that Aqua does.
What's the biggest challenge you've had to face when being in the kitchen?
The biggest challenge working in kitchens is not to get complacent and comfortable in what you do. Sure there are many challenges, long hours, chefs with their volatile tempers etc. but I think the most silent and deadly challenge is to constantly evolve. Too many restaurants and too many chefs just get comfortable while their competition is eating them alive.
What's your speciality/favourite thing to cook?
I love fresh, easy, rustic food. This might be an amazing grilled piece of fish one day and a mouth watering, slow cooked leg of lamb the next.
How would you describe Bristol in 3 words...
Bristol is BUZZING, DIVERSE and BEAUTIFUL
What piece of advice would you give to someone who would love to pursue a career in cooking?
A word to the wise: Don’t become a chef or a restauranteur if you just want to become rich and famous. A few do become very financially successful but the way there is full of obstacles, sacrifice, failure and hard, hard work. The only real thing that keeps you going is passion. A passion for food and a passion for hospitality.