04 Sep My place in the world, interview with Heitam Muftah
“I came back every night and I never asked myself anything. I simply collapsed from tiredness and sleep. There were no doubts or a crisis: I was happy and enthusiastic about what I had done. I felt I had found my place in the world. I had asked myself a lot, at the beginning, If I had done the right thing and then I understood I belonged to this reality.”
This is how Heitam Muftah explains the moment he realized that the restaurant business was his life, here at Lume he is Chef De Partie. 27 years old, born and raised in Milan , after the attended linguistic high school he decided to go to Libia to discover his dad’s country, learn Arabic, understand family traditions and get to know himself more. He remains in the country 9 months after that he goes to London to improve his English. As the majority of the youngsters who transfer abroad to get experience he finds a job as a dishwasher to maintain himself.
And it is during this time that Heitam encounters his passion for the kitchen: “Up to then work was for me about the office, jacket and tie: in Milan I often helped my dad in his small import export business. Days of emails and phone calls never seemed to end. In one year in London I discovered physical work and I was fascinated the energy of 50 year old Chefs with an enthusiastic and young disposition even after many hours of work in the kitchen, from 8 am to 1am in the morning. We came out of the restaurant smiling after having helped and supported each other , united by the same fatigue and will to give the best we had”.
Back in Milan, Heitam enrolls in a cooking course and once finished starts his internship: dishwasher, fryer and sandwich employee in a hamburger restaurant. “ The only way tolearn is to jump right into this incredible world”.
Finally at Carlo e Camilla in Segheria, Chef Carlo Cracco’s Bistrot he has the possibility to confront himselfwith a structured kitchen brigade. “From the very first moment it was thrilling but not easy” he explains: everyone had to know exactly what was his job and execute it in impeccably, to create a perfectly working machine that ensured the the best experience possible for the client. In 2015 during the Expo Milano he measures himself with new responsabilities: he is hired at Il Marchesino, the restaurant annexed to La Scala Theatre; he is responsible for the first course dishes in total autonomy from the start to the finish of the preparation. And it is here that he feels he has found his profession. The desire to improve takes him to the Mandarin Hotel where he takes care of room service: “Pizza with peppers at 3 am, spaghetti with seafood or risotto at 8 am ..I had to learn to fulfill any kind of request, even the most peculiar. A great training for the unexpected and attention to detail: even a simple breakfast had to be unforgettable”.
In march 2017 Heitam starts working at Lume as Chef de Partie: the recognition fills him with pride and enthusiasm, with satisfactions and a few ears pulling. “Every time I was told off I listened carefully to who was reproaching me: I wanted to understand where I was making a mistake and how I could improve” he explains.
“The reality of a Michelin star restaurant – continues Heitam- absorbs immensely. You have to give up a lot of personal time and you need to wed the project of the company or the Chef, the objectives and the vision. From 8 am when the ingredients are delivered to late at night when the activity list for the day after is compiled you live for the restaurant: it’s a team game, every success of the business is a personal success. At Lume I am learning day after day in my role as Chef de Partie what it means to bring out the best from everyone”.
Your projects for the future? Heitam wants to open his own restaurant maybe in Libia where Italian cuisine is very appreciated but the offer is still low. Unfortunately he doesn’t go back to Libia since the conflict in 2011: only the grandparents remain in the country , the rest of the family found shelter abroad. The wish that Heitam has for his country is that sufferance and war leave way to hope and desire for renewal, that the terrible massacre that has pained three generations taking away the memory from the elders, ripping off the present from the adults and stealing the future from the youngsters, comes to an end.
His dream is the dream of a whole country and we can only hope that a dream comes true.