Stefan Hogan, the Executive Chef of Corinthia Palace, is a very familiar face. Next year he will be celebrating 30 years with Corinthia. ‘It’s a lifetime,’ he exclaimed. I wished him a much more extended stay, a double lifetime!

Were these years well spent? ‘100%! I have gained so much experience. The opportunity to grow and mature with Corinthia is fantastic.’

I asked him to travel back some 30 years. He smiled, and his blue eyes shone. ‘I joined in 1993 when Corinthia Palace had just completed a major refurbishing. I was then 23 and already had  about five and a half years of work experience  in the UK.’

Always as a chef? ‘Yes. The kitchen is in my blood. My grandmother ran Jessie’s Bar in St Andrew’s. It was a busy place, and mother used to help her. When I was very young, I often accompanied my mother. I just looked around and enjoyed what I saw. I loved the hospitality scenario. So, to be honest, the hospitality aspect preceded my culinary experience.

And what was his first recollection of cooking? “I recollect making cakes and biscuits at home when I was nine. I loved those cookies, and so did my sisters, who helped themselves generously. Often I was left free whilst my mother helped my grandmother at the bar. I took over the kitchen at home, and I still recollect the thrill I experienced in those early days

‘Then, when I reached school leaving age, I had to decide my future. I must say it was not a difficult decision. It was a natural progression toward catering school. At that time, the ITS (Institute of Tourism Studies) had not yet been set up, and the catering school was run at the Conference Centre in Valletta. I joined and  never looked back.’

But how and why did he join Corinthia? Stefan smiled gently and slowly recollected. ‘I had just returned from the UK working with another hotel. I was still single, and I  wanted a job which gave me time on my hands. Little did I know that my life took a different course. There was a local competition for chefs, and I did very well. The Executive Chef of Corinthia Palace at that time was recruiting and asked me for an interview. And that started me off with Corinthia, the beginning of a long exciting journey.’

He must feel at home after so many years. ‘This is also home. I feel part of a family. I have done so many weddings for the Pisani family, and I consider myself a loyal and trustworthy person. I always do what needs to be done and never shy away from a challenge. Sometimes a challenge may be daunting, especially if it is the first experience of a kind, but I always believe that if one has the right mental attitude, one will overcome hurdles. Naturally, I have been blessed with the support of the right people. Imagine organising events with thousands of guests. Anything can go wrong, But then, I believe everything can also go right.

Stefan (back) Overseeing.

Executive chef. What does that imply? ‘I am the head of the kitchen brigade at Corinthia Palace. We have 35 chefs here. I oversee everything which has to do with food. I follow all that is going on and make it a point to retain hands-on experience. If you lose your touch, you get cut off from reality. Office work and other duties cannot be allowed secondary importance in my case, but certainly presence on the floor is an absolute necessity.’

Sharing knowledge and experience

Does he love sharing his knowledge and experience with others? ‘I love it. I feel very responsible about this. It is a must to pass my knowledge and experience to a new generation of chefs. I am not in any way lessening the importance of catering schools. The knowledge one acquires there is very important. However, the test of real action is another kettle of fish. Speed, timing, retaining best results, consistency, time management … there are so many things to learn in the arena of reality.’

What gives him a kick in this job? ‘You are always behind the curve trying to mesh into a time-frame. The reality is simple: food has to be served on time and it must be of the highest standard. We must offer the best. Clients are not expected to be involved in our behind-the-scene problems, our anxieties, our difficulties. Clients come to enjoy themselves. They are spending their hard-earned money and staying in a 5-star hotel. We must deliver a quality product in a timely manner.

Relaxing with his wife, Yvonne

Stefan’s expressions and demeanour reveal him as passionate. Was I correct? ‘I am essentially a very passionate person. I love my profession. I follow innovations with great interest. Technology has evolved in this field and I do my best to remain au courant. Passion is an essential ingredient of success and going that extra mile.

Is it correct to state that the internet has opened wide a gust of knowledge into the culinary world? ‘You are so right. I always tell my young colleagues how life was so different in the past. When I started, the only way to widen one’s horizons was through books. And they were expensive, sometimes as much as two months salary. Nowadays, knowledge is just a click away. You can view how things are prepared on YouTube, get the latest recipes from all over the world. The problem is not getting the information but sifting it.’  

His face then turned serious. ‘But I must add one important warning. Knowledge of recipes does not necessarily make you a good cook. Just as much as knowledge of the alphabet does not necessarily make you a good writer.

And what is his constant aim? ‘Doing my best to offer the best. My moral compass is our Chairman, Mr Alfred Pisani. His life is a series of hard-won experiences which he has tackled with a positive determination to reach the highest standards. He is an essential part of my thought process.’

Challenges must be the order of the day in his profession. ‘You can say that again! When someone is faced with a challenge, he may find a million reasons why a task cannot be performed, but there are more than a million reasons why you can and should do it.’

I always love to see how one reacts when at home. Does he cook? ‘Cooking at home is different from cooking in a hotel. At home, there is no pressure of time, you do not need to impress. Simple ingredients may be more than enough. In weekends, I love cooking for my friends. It’s how I show and express my hospitality. Sharing is a passion of mine.’

The Hogan Family

And his family? ‘My wife Yvonne is my constant patient and loving support. I have two daughters, Chantelle and Shannon. They both work: one is in iGaming and cryptocurrency, the other is into history which she intends to continue graduating and specialising further. They both love cooking but I encouraged them to experience other fields first before considering to join ITS. One thing I love to tell them jokingly: get a good job to buy me a boat. I love the sea and I always dream of retiring on a boat.’

But is that close? ‘I don’t think so. I love my job and hope to walk further along this Corinthia route.’