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BIG INTERVIEW: IN THE KITCHEN

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Zamira Bequiri

Zamira Bequiri, head frier at Fish City in Belfast, is responsible for many of the restaurant’s best-selling dishes, such as hake Kiev and fritto misto. Here she explains how her creations come to life, what inspires her and how she keeps the menu fresh

How did you get into food?

Growing up, the food culture in my home country of Albania was very much based around home traditional cooking, which gave me the opportunity to learn to cook with my family and to learn family recipes and methods passed down from my parents and grandparents. Growing up in that environment nurtured a lifelong love of food. When I was younger and first started working in a restaurant, it was initially to pay the bills and gain experience, though I quickly learned that I have a passion for hospitality, cooking for sharing good food with others and being part of their big moments and celebrations.

What does an average day look like for you? 

I start every day with a coffee, relaxing and making sure I have a positive mindset for the day. When I arrive at work in the morning, I go through a whole bunch of procedures: turning the fryer on, making fresh batter, selecting and preparing fish, and doing all my prep before we open. I make sure everything is to standard, and it’s in all these details that I am able to deliver a quality dish with consistency. Once the pans are ready, I just work to order. During the busy summer period when the screen is full of orders, it is constant mental arithmetic keeping up with the orders and matching my timings with kitchen dishes, though I really enjoy the challenge and get a rush working through the dockets when we’re very busy.

What are your favourite ingredients to work with?

On the fryer I tend to make the same dishes on our menu, so my favourite ingredients to work with are those that are different from the ones I work with every day. When I’m making a special, it’s exciting to try new things and work with new ingredients. When we ran our fishcakes special, I would prep 400 fishcakes at a time with fresh potatoes and herbs, cod, smoked haddock and sea trout. When I first developed our fritto misto sharing platter, I enjoyed cooking with softshell crab, squid and tiger prawns. I really enjoy Mediterranean flavours and Mediterranean cooking, which focuses a lot on seafood and is just really fresh and delicious.

How important is it to keep updating the menu?

It’s important to always have something new on the menu to keep things fresh and to try new things. Our fish and chips are our signature dish, and they sell well, so I don’t mess with perfection, but I do keep working to maintain our high standards at all times. Plus fish and chips are a classic, and we have many regulars who come to us just to try our fish and chips. I can be creative with other dishes though, and I’ve put on things like herb garlic butter hake kiev and battered smoked coley.

What trends are you finding are popular at the moment and how are you addressing these on the menu? 

One of the trends I’m finding popular at the moment is sharing platters, which is where our fritto misto seafood platter fits really well. This dish is big enough for two or more people, and it gives our guests the opportunity to try lots of different types of seafood and to share in that experience.

Where do you source your inspiration for dishes?

I get my inspiration for dishes from many sources: dishes I’ve grown up eating, ones that I really like, adapting old recipes, talking with chefs, and sometimes our owners come to me with ideas. I love food, and I always like to experiment. I’m always trying new things at home. And that’s how ideas come to mind. If I like something, I try it again and keep working on it until I’m really happy with it.

What do you need to take into account when creating a new dish for it to work on a menu?

I like to incorporate Mediterranean cuisine into my dishes, but I have to adapt that to what I can achieve on the fryer. I always try what I cook, and before introducing it as a special, I make sure I love it and my colleagues love it too and make any suggestions to make it better. Specials are a great way of market-testing our dishes and getting feedback from customers before deciding if a dish can be added to the main menu. There are so many great dishes that can be made, but I always have to consider prep time and the practicality of bringing a dish onto the main menu.

How creative can you be on the takeaway side of the business?

On the takeaway side of the business, I think it’s really important to provide the same high quality food and presentation with our dishes. For our fish and chips, which is our most popular takeaway dish, we serve our battered cod and chips in our branded takeaway boxes with our Fish City greaseproof that tells a bit about us and the importance we place on seafood sustainability. All of our takeaway packaging is made from recycled materials or fully biodegradable, including our cutlery, which means we are doing our bit to make each guest’s takeaway less impactful on the planet.

What has been your favourite dish on the menu?

Our fritto misto seafood platter because it has a mixture of many different types of seafood. I’ve had the opportunity to work in the kitchen too, and my all-time favourite dish we’ve had on the menu was lobster thermidor, which was so rich and buttery and the cream made with lobster shells, shallots, and vermouth. It was a pleasure to make, and I loved seeing how much our customers enjoyed it.

Zamira Bequiri

Have you had any kitchen mishaps?

Of course. In kitchens, things don’t always go to plan. At certain times of the year, sometimes I find it’s a bit more work to perfect the batter and our cooking technique to our standards so that we consistently provide a high-quality product. I’m a curious person, and I like to try frying different things all the time, so sometimes it doesn’t work out, and I end up with a lot of cleaning up to do. I’m thankful though that our owners trust me to be creative and to try new things.

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