Seasoned chef Sheldon Sammut's desire to own and operate his own restaurant ever since the start of his culinary career has culminated with the launch of his Mediterranean restaurant SCALA, located in Mdina, earlier this month.
Speaking to WhosWho.mt, Mr Sammut explained that since the start of his career working as a chef, back when he was in culinary school, he was “lucky enough to work at the best restaurants the Maltese Islands can offer”.
“It was always a dream to run my own restaurant, as owning and operating a restaurant is a dream job for many aspiring entrepreneurs. I wanted to create my own concept and brand,” he said.
However, this new step in his career wouldn’t have been as smooth had he not learned some valuable lessons at other restaurants.
“All the chefs I have worked with have been very inspiring teachers. Chefs Victor Borg (Head Chef at Michelin starred Grain) and Noel Azzopardi (Chef at Hyatt Regency Malta) in particular had a great influence on my life and culinary career,” Mr Sammut said. One of his most notable experiences with Mr Borg was in 2020, when the team at Grain was awarded nine medals and four trophies at the Malta Kulinarja cookery and culinary arts competition. On that day, Mr Sammut was named Best Junior Competitor Overall.
“From these masters I learned the value of artisanal ingredients, as they taught me to be proud to create dishes with Maltese products. While working at their restaurants, I learned to look beyond trends, to try to be expressive and different. If everyone is using the same cooking technique, I have to find a new idea, the one which can identify my restaurant,” he continued.
Apart from his time at Valletta restaurant Grain, Mr Sammut was also Chef at The Fork and Cork, located in Mdina, and St Julian's hotel Hilton Malta.
When asked whether he faced any challenges while setting up SCALA, he replied with “of course”, with one particular challenge being the refurbishment of its location so that it fit his vision.
SCALA Owner Sheldon Sammut
“We wanted to completely change the interior of the establishment. There is a saying ‘to build a house is always easier than to renovate an old one’, and I couldn’t agree more with it. At the same time, it was an amazing experience to see how the place has been transformed from my dreams to reality,” Mr Sammut added.
Commenting on the choice of location, Mr Sammut said that the restaurant is located at the top of the Saqqajja Hill in Mdina, right next to Rabat, which is “one of those cities that still represents Maltese authenticity, pride, and heritage”. “Nestled between fields in Zebbug and Siggiewi, as well as the Mdina gate, the restaurant is the crown jewel of the Maltese countryside,” he remarked.
As stated through the restaurant’s name, the stairs analogy takes centre-stage in its brand, given scala means staircase in Italian.
“For thousands of years, stairs have been a symbol of spiritual elevation, a quest for knowledge, and a passion for achievement. At SCALA, we pay our respects to those principles by delivering the quintessential Mediterranean experience,” Mr Sammut explained.
He added that stairs are also representative of the restaurant as a “journey from one place to another”. “The same goes for guests as we guide them, from start to finish, on a gastronomical adventure across a range of à la carte and degustation menus,” Mr Sammut continued.