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Two executive chefs tell Aref Omar about their new food programme Mission Menu
THREE colourful personalities — Giuseppe Bologna, Ricardo Cardona and Diane DiMeo — are international executive chefs who utilise their culinary skills and business savvy to overhaul existing restaurants and help launch new ones in TLC’s Mission Menu.
Bologna is the main person who makes contact with the restaurateurs. With a passion and talent for putting new twists on any cuisine, the Brooklyn-born businessman also helps ensure that the team stays within their budget for each mission.
Cardona is an award-winning chef and owner of a few successful restaurants. His creations are as fiery as his temper.
The sassy DiMeo has years of experience in the food industry, having worked with many top restaurants and almost every type of cuisine. The bodacious bombshell is one of very few female executive chefs around — and undoubtedly Mission Menu’s secret ingredient.
Each episode sees the Mission Menu team meeting up with an owner of a struggling restaurant to create a game plan for future success.
They taste-test the food, identify problem areas and consult with culinary experts, locally and internationally.
With that knowledge in hand, the team then heads for their chef laboratory where they design delectable dishes from around the globe in an effort to spice up the various restaurateurs’ menus to ensure good returns.
Below is the interview with Bologna and Cardona:
What’s the specialty of your show compared with other food themed TV programmes out there?
Bologna: We concentrate on the cuisine itself and try to faithfully deliver the concept that the owner is going for. For example, we did a show in Queens that revolved around Dominican cuisine and Cardona went to the Dominican Republic to do research.
Aside from the business aspect, we also focus on specific ingredients for specific cuisine, so it’s an education for the viewers in terms of the authenticity of different cultures and their cuisines.
What’s the most exciting part of the show?
Cardona: One of them would be going to a different country and learning the culture — experiencing how they eat and how they cook. The learning process is exciting and fun, like when I went to the Dominican Republic and even learnt about the music.
How do the three of you with such different personalities, backgrounds and expertise get along?
Cardona: Who said we get along? (laughs) In food, we all share something in common and we’re very passionate about what we do. The key ingredient is respect and we respect each other. There were moments with the heat, pressure and moods, but we always work it out with each other somehow.
How does it feel having DiMeo on board?
Bologna: It’s a pleasure to have such a strong female presence in the kitchen and I think it’s a privilege for me. Also Cardona and DiMeo are of a different calibre than a lot of other chefs I’ve worked with.
I’m a consulting chef and I do things mostly on a hand-to-hand level, whereas DiMeo and Cardona are very cerebral. So they come in with a plethora of experience and information as opposed to me being mostly the muscle.
Cardona: I think she made it more interesting. Besides working together, we’re friends. There’re times when we’re just like little kids playing around.
Name five basic things that restaurant owners should take note of before they pursue a restaurant business.
Cardona: Number one is to respect it as the ultimate business and the ultimate choice, especially for small restaurant owners who think that, ‘hey, I always had a dream of opening a restaurant’. I think dreams are meant for the bedroom when you’re sleeping. A restaurant is supposed to be a business first and foremost.
Also, before they start with construction, they should always have a good advisor when it comes to the design of the kitchen and the operational logistics of the restaurant. In fact, I recently went to see a restaurant that was about to open and when I asked the guy, ‘Where are you going to put the garbage?’ this guy goes, ‘Oops! I forgot about that.’
And don’t put all of the money into the construction and always have enough in the bank for at least the first three to six months of running the restaurant, including payroll, food, drinks, rent, insurance and public relations.
Bologna: Of course the location has to be taken into consideration. You have to find the right place where you can showcase your identity. And the fifth one is to know who you really are, as in, decide clearly on your identity. A lot of restaurants want to be everything, Latin, Chinese, American and they’re all over the place. Just choose one and stick to it.
Mission Menu airs on Mondays at 9pm on TLC (Astro Channel 707), with repeats on Sundays at 10pm.