Chef Alban: Raising Standards
He's had ample experience providing top-class cuisine throughout Europe, and now he's the latest addition to the Four Season's Nile Plaza, promising us new standards of delectability, and a truly tempting Ramadan menu.
Egyptians are a people who love to eat. Our culture revolves around food, and any typical night, we can be found gathered around a food-laden table with family and friends, indulging and enjoying the many cuisines that Cairo has to offer. With the ever-expanding culinary scene, Cairo is becoming a destination for chefs from around the globe to come and redefine and add their influences to the plethora of gastronomic hotspots that are cropping up.
With Ramadan just around the corner, spending time with family is, of course, still important, but even more than quality time, we want food. And we want a lot of it. All at once. And while quantity used to reign supreme, nowadays there are many food-savvy Cairenes who place more importance on the quality of their food (although still better be a damn lot of it).
Enter Chef Marco Alban, one of the newest gastronomic superstars to enter into Cairo's food scene. His CV is laden with experience from five-star hotels and restaurants all over Europe, and he's held almost every job in the culinary world, from his beginnings as as a pastry chef in Venice, to being a culinary consultant in Portugal, to running entire hotel kitchens as the Executive Chef across Europe and into Russia.
“I started my studies in Italy of course, and I began to work for the summer season at the age of 13. I was studying and working then, and got practical experience in hotels in Venice, Slovenia and in Switzerland,” Alban says. His experiences working with Michelin-star chefs has allowed him to have formidable technique, but also to forge a style of his own.
“My style is essential,” he informs me. “I don’t like the useless things on the plate. When working in hotels, I like to apply restaurant-style cooking... hotel food is bad. We should cook for the guest like we cook in the restaurant.”
Chef Alban now oversees the kitchens at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza hotel in Cairo, which is no small feat, as the hotel boasts numerous restaurants, poolside lounges and impeccable round-the-clock room service. When asked about his day, he states “My day never starts, and it never ends. When you are a chef, you are a chef 24 hours. But of course, the duties are spread at different times of the day... What we do is manage people, manage products, speak to people and know their tastes. Orders, suppliers, colleagues. It is very difficult to understand sometimes, and there are moments where you’re stressed and its very hard. Not everybody responds the same way.”
Though he's an extremely well-travelled and multi-lingual man, he still has a lot to learn and experience when it comes to Middle-Eastern and Egyptian food. Having arrived to Cairo only two weeks ago, he admits, “I've only really tried [Egyptian food] inside the hotel, so I cannot say I have tried the cuisine based on that. But I am not a copy-paster... That's why I’ve never worked in other places trying to take inspiration from a place that I’ve never been. Or if I have never known the real or genuine taste, then I won't put it in something.”
He continues, reminiscing about the best lamb he ever ate, which was prepared by an Iranian woman, so he knows what Middle-Eastern cuisine has to offer. But in the culinary business, things have to get changed, people want to try new things. “Look,” he says, “the kitchen is a relentless business. It is a relentless life. You will never stop trying to change, or to move or to improve or to do something new. Even though we should not forget what the past was, what we have done, and what is done well today. Those are the things we should not change.”
With Ramadan on the horizon, I ask Chef Alban why people should choose the Four Seasons to break their fast, and he outrightly tells me, “Because that's where they'll get the best service. Menus have been approved... we are doing a buffet in most of the outlets, such as the Zitouni restaurant, and we promote it in the banquet areas. But, during the period of Ramadan, we still have a menu that we are serving at the poolside lounge. The Italian restaurant, Bella, will also be providing menu service if people want this kind of taste.”
Globally, the Four Seasons has a reputation for setting the standard, in both fine-dining and hotel experiences. They are continuing on this path by setting their standards for the best, which now includes Chef Alban as part of the Four Seasons Nile Plaza team. So this Ramadan, you can rest assured knowing that the details are being overseen, and that the Four Seasons will continue its standards of excellence in order for to ensure that over-indulgence is a pleasant experience.