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Portrait Bledar Kola – a Chef from Albania


1. Tesi: Dear Bledar, you are a Chef from Albania who worked in Michelin starred restaurants across Europe. Can you please tell me about you? 
Bledar: I started cooking from the age of 10. My mother and I perfected the art of hand made fresh pasta, in Albania we call them Jufka; I still make them to this day. Home cooking is a tradition in Albania. Every evening before going to bed, I used to make the bread ready and prepare it for the morning to bake it. I remember, every time we sat around the table to eat dinner, I used to think how could I make the dishes taste better and look better. This desire for perfection was and remains a part of me. This also extends to my painting (I have produced some work on portraits and scenes) I went to London at the age of 15 and, initially, I started working as dishwasher. The head chef was a brilliant Japanese cook to whom I owe a lot. He really set a spark to the fire of my passion for food. I was fascinated seeing the Japanese chef treating the food with so much love and respect. I believe this was the moment when I decided that cooking was what I would do for the rest of my life. Coming from a poor village, even though I was working in a Michelin starred restaurant, I always had a concern about the food waste. Food waste made me feel guilty. Back home all our food came directly from Nature and we used every little bit of it. However, working in a Michelin starred restaurant made me more confident to revisit the cuisine of my childhood and exploring it in a different way
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2. Tesi: The Albanian cuisine is not very well known. Please tell me more about the cuisine of your home country. What are the culinary facts of Albania the world might not know
Bledar: Turkish invasion of Albania for 5 century had a big impact in our cuisine but we also have our traditional dishes that have been taken from Turkish empire like (Tava e Kosit) which is lamb baked in yoghurt, we also use a lot of Turkish sweets like baklava kadaif etc. The flavors in Albanian gastronomy consist with rich Balkan style flavours, and its all about sharing  food with a lot of Meze around the table, vegetable and meat dishes. It is a sad fact that we do not have a national dish consisting from sea fish even though we have a very long sea coast. Fifty years of communism meant that we were controlled what we could and could not eat and the fish was not included in the diet of communism. We do have, however, 2 dishes that are made with fish from the lakes. First dish is from Pogradeci, south Albania  with Koran (Salmo Letnica) a unique species that comes from  Ohrid Lake. It consist of onions, tomato plums and it is baked in the oven. Second dish is from the north of Albania, from Shkodra, at another lake, liqeni I Shkodres. Carp fish is used in this dish the techniques and the ingredients are almost the same as the other dish except the baking is done on a tile, the same to the ones that we use to cover our roofs. This gives it a distinct and lovely taste.
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3. Tesi: What is your favourite dish and whish memories do you connect with the dish?
Bledar: My favourite dish is braised pork with cabbage; nature was the one that dictated what we had to eat in the winter and in the summer. Vegetables came from the garden and we used to grow pigs, lambs and goat but the only animal that we could afford to eat was the pig. We kept one pig and fed it well the whole year and we slaughtered it at the end of the year and invited friends around for a feast, quite traditional in our parts this. The meat from the pig was our reserves for the whole year. Some we cooked fresh, some we conserved by a little salt and the rest we kept it frozen . So most of the time we had braised pig with cabbage. The alternative meat was the chicken that came from the farm, although this was a delicacy that did not happen very often. The chicken was expensive and we often sold it to buy other thing that the family needed.
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4. Tesi: Working in Michelin Starred restaurants is for sure a great experience. After these experience what would you critic when it comes to the restaurant landscape of London and Copenhagen or what would you different?
Bledar: The experience in Michelin star restaurants was unforgettable and life changing for me. The only thing that I would do different is use the most from the food and less food waste
5. Tesi: Bledar, What does good food mean to you?
Bledar: Good food for me it means local, seasonal and light.
Thank you
Matthias Tesi Baur


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