The new directors, Thomas Curmi and Joseph Tabone, have a long association with Ta’ Frenċ and share the same ideals as the founders. With the able assistance of Executive Chef Joseph Brincat they are determined to build on Ta’ Frenċ’s reputation and to continue to serve their clients only the very best, in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Thomas Curmi, Director has been passionate about Ta’ Frenċ since joining in 2003 to take care of office administration. He took on greater responsibility as the owners recognised his potential and commitment, to the point that he has become the perfect person to take on the day-to-day running of the restaurant, from accounts and administration to staffing and maintenance, in short, everything required behind the scenes to create the welcoming ambience of Ta’ Frenċ today. He knows every nook and cranny of the property and regards it as his second home, and the Ta’ Frenċ family as his own family. It is important for him to ensure that everyone is happy at their place of work: “I do my utmost to be a support for the crew both during work and in their personal life. That’s what I believe family is all about and I make sure that just as the original owners treated me, I will treat our team”. When asked what persuaded him to take on the challenge of running the restaurant, Thomas says that he wanted to keep the legacy and heritage of Ta’ Frenċ intact, and move forward with his business partner, Joseph Tabone, in a new chapter for the restaurant. He is a perfectionist: “I always make sure that everything is well-organised and that our customers enjoy the best possible environment whilst they are dining with us”. Of course, no one could possibly contemplate running a restaurant without a serious interest in food and wine. “Rabbit ravioli and Primitivo”, in case you are interested!
Joseph Tabone, Director is a legend in Gozo’s hospitality industry. Restaurant manager at the famed Ta’ Cenc at the age of just twenty two, when he joined Ta’ Frenċ ten years later, his experience was invaluable in the running of the restaurant with Executive Chef Mario Schembri. Wine is Joseph’s passion, and he never stops studying. He is particularly fond of Alsace, where he spent some time at L’Auberge de l’Ill with the famous sommelier Serge Dubs. Together with the original owners’ enthusiasm for collecting fine wine and their creation of the spectacular cellar to house it, Ta’ Frenċ has won many awards for its wine list, in no small part thanks to Joseph. When he is not exploring the origins of some obscure bush wine, or working on his latest majestic wine list, he is committed to creating a front-of-house team who share his values and dedication. Joseph regards Ta’ Frenċ as his home, not even his second home, he says. He knows every client by name, even if they only visit once a year; some say Joseph is Ta’ Frenċ’s data-base. He derives great satisfaction from clients returning time and again, treating him as a friend and calling him Joseph. In turn, he aims to remember their likes and dislikes and to convey this to the kitchen. With this level of commitment and his calm personality he is the ideal person to share the direction of Ta’ Frenċ today. It’s no use asking Joseph his favourite wine; ‘all of it’ he would say. But no-one watching him carve the Chateaubriand at the table, or expertly sautéeing a steak Diane on the flambé trolley would doubt that he is very fond of la viande.
Joseph Brincat, Executive Chef may be the youngest member of the team, but his enthusiasm and dedication is second to none. “The kitchen is my passion. You cannot learn the job overnight. You need to be dedicated to this industry as it requires a lot of sacrifices, but it brings with it a lot of satisfaction, such as seeing our clients enjoying my food and sharing moments around a table with their friends and loved ones”. According to Chef Brincat, “the secret ingredient in our work is the love and passion we put into it, the emotions that stimulate your senses and the pleasure that gives our customers”. Food has been his passion since he left school, when he began a certificate course in cooking at the ITS, coming to Ta’ Frenċ on a student placement at the age of just sixteen. Cooking and studying went hand in hand, culminating in a BA (Hons) in Culinary Arts. He counts himself fortunate to have benefitted from the mentoring of former Executive Chef Mario Schembri, and recognises that these are big shoes to fill. “Ta Frenċ gave me a lot of opportunities”, he says “and I was always backed up and supported, not only in my work, but also personally. We are family here, and all the help and support I found is incredible. I am grateful for the investment that the owners made in me to enable me to grow my career, which today has led me to the role of executive chef of this amazing restaurant. A restaurant that is a landmark, an icon on our small island of Gozo – well-known locally and with foreign customers”. As well as the UK, Joseph has also worked at L’Auberge de l’Ill in Alsace and studied at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon. Perhaps not surprisingly Chef Brincat enjoys classic French cuisine, and after dinner, he says, ” a glass of port wine and some nice cheese fulfil my day”. His own style of cooking can best be described as cuisine d’auteur, a highly individual approach, neither formulaic nor imitative. His cured salmon, for example, is a true gastronomic delight; sometimes cured with blueberries, sometimes with black treacle, and with Islay malt whisky for the traditional Ta’ Frenċ annual Burns’ Night dinner.
Eric Gauci, Food and beverage manager, is the newest member of the Ta’ Frenċ family and has been working in the hospitality industry since he was sixteen. Gozo-born and bred, Eric has experience in a variety of settings, from bistro to fine dining, and from outside catering to private functions; one might say he is tailor-made for the range of gastronomic opportunities offered at Ta’ Frenċ. With his front of house, rather than kitchen, background, he was thrilled to be approached by the directors with a view to joining the team. He was amazed at the number of staff employed, and how much preparatory work is needed, day in, day out. “I feel that I fit in here because I appreciate the culture of the restaurant, its staff and owners, and I share their passion for the hospitality industry”, Eric says, when asked what persuaded him to join Ta’ Frenċ. Noting the unity which exists within the establishment, he says that he hopes to continue building on that, especially aiming to preserve a harmonious work/life balance. At the same time, working front of house, he finds immediate reward in the happy and satisfied expression of customers whose expectations have been met, and even exceeded, by their dining experience at Ta’ Frenċ.
Having been awarded a degree in Business Enterprise, Eric continues his studies in his spare time, for a Masters in Strategic Management and Digital Marketing, skills of considerable value to the restaurant in its presentation to the public.
Eric enjoys fine cooking. On the current menu he particularly likes Chef Brincat’s slow-cooked beef cheeks, which are glazed in a rich red wine and beef reduction, and garnished with crispy fried onions and fresh chives, served with creamy mash potato with horseradish, buttered carrots and charred baby onion petals. With this sumptuous dish, Eric would recommend a glass, or two, of Cabernet Sauvignon, for which the award-winning Ta’ Frenċ cellar is renowned, from the classic wines of Bordeaux to wines from the New World, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon from vines grown in the Maltese islands, wines to suit any budget. However, as a true Gozitan, Eric admits that nothing beats “Nanna’s food, local recipes handed down through generations.”
Early clients were served by Ino and Lino, with classically-trained chef Mario Schembri in the kitchen. The restaurant quickly established a reputation as the place to dine on Gozo, becoming famous for its flambé dishes, steak Diane, pasta with prawns and crepes Suzette, but also for the classics in the fine dining tradition such as Chateaubriand for two carved at the table, and richly sauced dishes. Many of Ta’ Frenċ’s early clients have remained faithful to what has now become an internationally renowned restaurant.
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As well as a chef, Frances is an award-winning writer, the author of many books, and countless newspaper columns, in Britain and abroad. Many in Gozo and Malta will know of her through her writing for The Sunday Times of Malta and Taste Magazine.
“Gozo is a treasure trove for any cook”, says Frances. “I love cooking here in all seasons, and appreciate beyond measure that so much of the food is local, from the wonderful vegetables to the exceptional fish”. Frances has always encouraged us to use local, seasonal produce wherever possible. She also recognises the importance of introducing a ‘sense of place’ to what we offer our diners, to let them know from the flavours on their plate that they are on Gozo; “food should tell you where you are”, she says.