Fundim Gjepali is an Albanian chef, who has been trained in France, Spain and Italy. Nowdays he lives between Tirana -where he owns Padam Boutique Hotel & Restaurant (one of the most inspiring gastronomic hubs in the city) – and Rome, where he is a company partner at the famous Italian restaurant, Antico Arco. We had a chat with Fundim about his career and learned about his culinary philosophy, experiences and dreams.
When did you first start cooking, and where did you do your training?
I started to cook at my parents’ house in Shijak, a small Albanian village situated between the capital city Tirana and the coastal town of Durrës, when I was a child. Then I trained in some restaurants in Lazio region, Italy, and finally, ten years ago, I started to work in Rome, at Antico Arco, where I work still today as a chef, and I am a company partner of the restaurant. In the past years, I trained in France and Spain too, and I had the chance to work with many international colleagues who inspired me. It has been very important for my career.
Photo: The entrance of Padam Boutique and Restaurant
Was there a specific moment you can recall from your childhood that influenced you?
I grew up in a big family, where neighbors, relatives and friends used to come to visit us to spend some time and eat together. In these occasions, I remember that my grandmother went to the kitchen and started to prepare traditional food made with the freshest seasonal local products. Her culinary talent and her way of welcoming people always charmed me. Of course, I was happy to eat her great food, too.
You lived many years abroad and then you came back to your homeland, Albania. Why did you decide to open your restaurant, Padam, there?
When I was in Italy, I was fascinated by the love that Italians have for their food and culinary traditions. I thought ‘why, we Albanians, don’t do the same? Why don’t we have the same feelings about the food?’ Italians are proud of their culinary traditions, and I thought that we Albanians should be proud too. I decided to come back to my homeland and start a new adventure to let Albanians know, as well as the rest of the world, that Albania has so much to offer and can be considered as a top destination for foodies.
Photo: Fundim Gjepali at Padam Boutique Hotel & Restauran
Padam, in only two years, became one of the best and most famous restaurants in Albania. What’s the secret to the success?
The key to our success is the attention to detail and, of course, the authenticity of our food. We offer pleasant dishes to our customers, and the attention to the client is extremely high. We want our guests to spend an unforgettable night at our restaurant, a special moment to remember with pleasure.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
I describe my style of cooking as revolutionary. I use local ingredients, bought from Albanian farmers who work in the surrounding area of Tirana and in northern Albania. Then I transform their products into modern stylish dishes. My cooking is a mix of traditional and modern elements, but is also simple and high quality.
Your CV is full of interesting experiences, such as the 2015 Master Chef Albania experience. Which is your proudest moment in the restaurant business so far?
To be honest, I have more than one proudest moment in the restaurant business. In 2010-2011, when I was 24 years old, I received two Gambero Rosso forks in Italy for Antico Arco. It was a dream come true. Then in 2014, I won the Mediterranean Prize for best chef in Europe; I represented my country, Albania, in this award, and the jury chose me out of 12 chefs. Finally, in 2017, only one year after I opened Padam in Tirana, I won the prize for ‘best new opening’ in Albania.
One of the masterpieces cooked by chef Fundim Gjepali at Padam Boutique Hotel & Restaurant
Do you have a signature dish you are particularly proud of?
Eggs cooked with truffle, yogurt sauce and broccoli. I transformed a traditional recipe of my grandmother’s into my proudest dish.
What are your plans for the future?
I have already started to work on a farmhouse that will host a restaurant and a few rooms in my hometown, Shijak. I don’t know when it will be ready, but I can’t wait to see it. My grandparents had a small farm and some fields there in the past; during the communist era, the dictator seized d everything and later, when that political regime was over, the property came back under the ownership of my family. I had always thought to do something there for my family, and I am proud that I am now making this dream come true.
By Francesca Massoti. This article was initially published in theculturetrip.com