It’s quite cliché to state that ‘L-Istrina’ is an occasion that unites. It’s less cliché, however, to say that it has managed to whet the appetite of 80 people in an unprecedented way.
For the first time ever, all of Malta’s Michelin Star chefs have worked together to organise one dinner in aid of the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation. As a result, during this year’s ‘L-Istrina’ held yesterday, a €14,700 donation was presented to the MCCFF on behalf of Malta’s finest dining spots.
The Journal spoke to Alberto Bafumi, head of sales at Charles Grech, and culinary consultant Denis Jin Young, who currently works with the Xara Collection. Together, they managed to break the normal boundaries, the natural competitive instinct, and the perceived rivalry that exists between Malta’s finest chefs.
What is ‘L-Istrina’?
The Maltese term ‘strina’ originates from the Italian word ‘strenna’, signifying ‘a gift’, and traces its roots back to the Latin term ‘strena’, meaning ‘gift of good luck’. Several decades in the past, youngsters used to wear their finest outfits and pay visits to friends and family on New Year’s Day. During these visits, it was customary for them to receive modest contributions, usually in the form of pennies. This tradition is not uniquely Maltese, and was popular in several parts of Europe.
However, what is uniquely ours is ‘L-Istrina’, which became Malta’s most significant annual charity telethon. During this 12-hour Boxing Day affair, funds are raised for the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation. Celebrities, politicians, and numerous volunteers unite to promote contributions to support the cause.
The stars rolling up their sleeves
This local tradition drew the attention of two experts in the culinary field.
“It has always been a dream to unite Michelin star chefs and staff together, and there’s no better reason to do that than for charity,” said Alberto Bafumi.
Chefs and staff from Noni, Undergain, Ion, The De Mondion, and Bahia all got together to organise one dining experience, hosted by The Phoenicia. It’s quite understandable that the logistical aspect wasn’t easy.
“We conducted a draw to determine which outlet would be responsible for organising which dish,” explained Denis Jin Young. “We had someone doing the starters, someone doing the mains, someone doing the dessert, etc. That way, guests had this one-off opportunity to savor all the talent and creativity of each Michelin-starred restaurant in Malta at one go.”
When ask what the biggest challenge was, both Denis and Alberto agree that the service was no piece of cake. Every outlet had two serving staff, and they had to work together to provide impeccable service, even though they had never worked together before.
Other challenges occurred as the event drew closer. For example, with some outlets being small-scale, they realised that they didn’t have enough of their own plates to serve their dishes in.
“We all learnt a lot about the art of compromise. It was challenging to merge our different ways and present a final product that wasn’t just good, but excellent. Clients paid good money for this experience, and whilst it all went for a good cause, we still had to give them value for their donation,” explained Alberto.
Not the first and last
‘Dine with the Stars’ is happening again in February next year, with an added chef from Fernando, since they recently gained their Michelin star.
“It pays to unite the industry and create a network. It’s better to work together than against each other,” reasoned Denis.
This newly found synergy is working so much, that they would like to increase the number of events and host more of them during the year. All in all, it’s a classic case of the adage: “in helping others, you help yourself”.
The “others” in this case are the people who receive aid from the Malta Community Chest Fund, the objective of which is to enhance the quality of life and care for individuals and society, without any discrimination based on social class, gender identity, age, ability, health, status, or religion.