Ones to watch: Giovann Attard

by Henry Coldstream 20 October 2022

Giovann Attard grew up and first learnt to cook in Gozo – a small island off Malta – before moving to the UK to become a chef. As executive chef at Sicilian restaurant Norma, he can now cook dishes inspired by his memories of food growing up.

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Henry is the features editor at Great British Chefs.

Henry is the features editor at Great British Chefs. Having previously written pieces for a variety of online food publications, he joined the team in 2021 and helps with all editorial aspects of the site. When not writing, Henry can usually be found eating and drinking his way through London's many restaurants and bars, or cooking in his kitchen at home.

For those on the hunt for exceptional food in central London, Charlotte Street is likely to be high on the list of destinations. Home to fine dining institutions, popular chains and swanky bistros alike, there’s no shortage of menus to sink your teeth into on the Fitzrovia thoroughfare. But when it comes to food that can’t help but put a smile on your face, it’s hard to look past Sicilian restaurant Norma.

Originally launched in 2019 by former culinary director of The Stafford Collection Ben Tish, Norma’s menu has always been a crowd-pleasing affair, but since being promoted to executive chef in 2022, Giovann Attard has begun to bring more of his own influences to the menu, ‘although I was head chef before, becoming executive chef at Norma gave me an extra level of freedom,’ explains Giovann, who grew up on the Maltese island if Gozo. ‘I started to express myself fully and take inspiration from childhood memories in my cooking. For example, there’s this fish which we call lampuki in Malta (also known as mahi-mahi) and my mum used to just simply pan fry it in flour and serve it with this sauce made out of tomatoes, olives, garlic, capers; it was just one of my favourite things, so I put it on the menu straight away.’

Giovann’s heightened awareness of Mediterranean flavours and produce harks back to his childhood growing up on a farm in a rural village, where from an early age he was surrounded by the likes of homemade sheep’s cheese, wonderfully fresh tomatoes, and beautiful seafood. ‘I think that’s probably what first attracted me to the idea of being a chef,’ he explains, ‘I didn’t realise it at the time but having that connection with produce and being able to see the cycle of crops being planted, harvested and then cooked with, was pretty inspiring.’

His heart set on becoming a chef, Giovann attended culinary school in Malta from the age of seventeen and began learning the ins and outs of classical cookery. ‘It’s funny because for some reason I had always wanted to be a pastry chef,’ he explains, ‘but when I first started working at a hotel, there was only room for me in the hot section, so that’s what I did. College opened up a whole new world for me though, as until then I was used to a very specific style of food.’ After working in the kitchen at one of Gozo’s few luxury hotels, Giovann’s third year of college took him all the way to Brussels, where he worked in an array of different of restaurants and hotels, before returning home. Within just a year however, London came calling.

Pollock crudo, salted delica pumpkin, cardamom, hazelnuts and pumpkin oil
Rustichelle, octopus, black olives, tomato, garlic, chilli and parsley

‘I was only twenty-one at the time and was moving from a small country to a big city,’ says Giovann, whose first job in London was at The Stafford Hotel, ‘so it was definitely quite daunting, but it was the chance to learn more that really lured me in. The produce I was working with was totally different to what I was used to and suddenly I was cooking modern British food. At first it was definitely a case of being thrown in at the deep end and having to just try and survive, but my sous chef at the time really believed in me and I gradually became more confident in my own ability.’

It's been over ten years ago now since Giovann left Malta and since then he’s spent time cooking in Dubai as well as becoming the head chef of Café Football. However, there’s no question that he’s felt most at home since opening Norma in 2019. The familiarity of the Mediterranean menu that he initially worked on with Ben Tish wasn’t just comforting for him, it was exciting, as he hadn’t cooked that style of food since first becoming a chef. ‘Norma is the perfect fit for me,’ he says, ‘because the focus is on the Moorish influence on Sicilian cuisine, and Malta is literally located between Sicily and northern Africa. The food is very similar to what I grew up eating, so I feel very fulfilled culture-wise. I remember when we opened Norma thinking that it was the first time since being in London that I was doing something that was really me.’

At the point when Giovann took over as executive chef of Norma in 2021, it would have been easy for him to continue serving the same menu that had won Tish praise during the first two years of service, but this was a cuisine which Giovann had a personal connection with, so he seized the chance to make the menu his own, ‘there are a couple of Norma staples which I’ve kept, like the caponata and the parmigiana,' he says, 'but apart from that the menu is quite different now. It’s the same style of cuisine but it’s my food.’ What’s particularly noticeable and refreshing about his food though, is the fact it's not overly complicated – something very much at the core of Giovann’s cookery style, ‘the most important things for me over and above complexity are seasonality, fresh produce and making people happy,’ he adds, ‘and when those three things come together, you know you’re onto a winner.’

It's this desire to make people happy with his cookery rather than challenge them, combined with his knowledge of Mediterranean flavours and produce that makes Giovann’s food so irresistible and ensures that Norma remains as busy as ever. There’s no question that the Maltese chef has a bright future ahead of him, with aspirations to ultimately open more restaurants, but for the moment his focus is simple: to continue putting smiles on the faces of Charlotte Street’s crowds of hungry diners.