Whether you’re vegetarian or not, if you’ve paid Glas a visit, it’s clear that each dish is made to let the vegetables shine. Unique flavours are paired together to create dishes that you would never expect, but always work in harmony together. This is the exact intention behind Malte Half’s vision at Glas.
Malte has been plant-based for 7 years, though he’s been a chef for 2 decades. Previous to his time at Glas, he worked exclusively at hotel restaurants, including the Shelbourne, the Four Seasons, and most recently, Anantara The Marker hotel.
I ask him why the shift from hotel restaurants, and simply put, he says: “Creative freedom.” It gives him room to experiment with different flavours and techniques, and “the guys on the team trust me blindly to do what I want… it’s one of the best things you get as a chef, that you can just express yourself freely through food.”
Working at a hotel is a much bigger operation, with a lot of elements at play, and Malte realised over time that this was no longer what he wanted to focus on. Despite this, he credits his time at hotel restaurants for the other skills he developed along the way, like management, costing, budgeting skills etc. I ask him if he’s transferred these skills over to his position in Glas: “Definitely. I have a very good team… and I’ve learned how to get the best out of everyone.”
I asked him about his journey turning plant-based, especially as a chef working in a hotel previous to his time at Glas:
“It started as a personal challenge, then it just turned into eating fish, then turned vegetarian then vegan. It turned really fast, and I kind of felt like [I was] in the wrong place, you know.”
Working at a restaurant, no two days are the same. “Everyday there is something new, we’re constantly changing the menu – it’s seasonal. There’s always something happening, it’s always something new. I have a very strong team and we work behind the scenes trying out new recipes, so I just get to be really creative, which is something I can do a lot more than I would have been able to in the past.”
One thing that seems to be common with a lot of chefs is that the food they cook at home is not always as complex as the dishes they serve in their restaurants. For Malte, he takes it one step further: “I probably cook more for my dog than I cook for myself.” Lucky pup!
“I definitely take inspiration from Nordic foods, with me being German. Irish cuisine is very close to Nordic cuisine in my understanding, so we’re using mostly Irish produce and try to keep it as local as possible… we basically use Irish seasonal produce. I limit myself to what’s available in the season. Cooking with vegetables is not easy either – a lot of people see it as a side dish… we show the broad audience that like, a carrot or a celeriac can be amazing.”
He says he thinks a lot of Irish people are have some traumatic childhood experiences with vegetables, where the way they were cooked growing up was not the most exciting, which could be something that can put them off the idea of eating them as a main dish. From my experience, this seems to be the general consensus with a lot of my Irish friends. Malte’s position is a unique one, in that he can show the Irish people that their produce can be made into something incredible, just with a few tweaks in the cooking techniques, added spices, flavours and combinations.
“There’s really a lot of elements in each dish [at Glas] – textures, flavours. It’s very texture-orientated… you wouldn’t be able to make them at home… At home, I would be making ‘one pot wonders’… chillies, curries, stews. My fiancee, she’s not very impress, she says I’m lazy. During the lockdown I experimented a lot, but to be honest I just don’t really have the time or motivation anymore. On my days off, I’m just spending time with my cat and my dog!”
Since they avoid using fake meats at Glas, Malte find that he has to be creative in the way he cooks the vegetables so he can always keep the dishes fresh.
“I’m working a lot in a kind of scientific way for the flavour profile, like why certain things work together and why they don’t. It’s not always for everyone, but I do like to challenge the palate. It’s really important for me for our guests to come to restaurant and experience something that they never thought of or would probably never experienced anywhere else – that’s what makes us stand out.”
In terms of the produce being sourced, Malte strives to have a strong connection with their suppliers.
“We print the menus in house so we can change the menus on a daily basis. I’m connected with a lot of suppliers, I work with them on WhatsApp messages basis to ask them what they have in stock at the moment. We work with a few organic producers where we get a delivery once a week, they send me a list of what they have and then I can do something with that… Hopefully one day, in the future, [we want to be] organic only. That would be the dream, but it’s not easy.”
His passion for living a plant-based diet is evident in our conversation – he certainly does not miss cooking with meat! His reasons for eating plant-based are a combination of global warming, animal rights, and the impact the meat industry has on agriculture and farming. “Unfortunately there’s not many restaurants left – the industry is brutal. Glas is the perfect fit for me, and if i’m not going to be there, the only alternative is for me to open my own restaurant.”
I ask Malte who influenced his cooking the most. He tells me that one of the most inspirational chefs he’s ever met was Douglas McMaster from Silo in London, the world’s first Zero Waste restaurant. “The idea that they don’t have a bin in the kitchen for food, they recycle everything and getting products shipped from all over the world on wooden boats.” Also, he notes that his fiancée constantly pushes him and challenges him to strive for better – good answer!
An Irish chef he really admires is Conor Spacey. “He’s waving the flag for zero waste and sustainability in Ireland, he’s very inspiring. I’m actually planning in the future, hopefully something like a guest chef thing with him, and hopefully one day we can cook together, you know, like a zero waste dinner. It’s not official but one day it’s going to happen!”
With regards to Irish produce, his favourite producers would be Garryhinch for their organic mushrooms, and he notes Artizan Food who have a lot of great local Irish producers that they source from as well. He mentions Riversfield Organic farms, and Mark from Veginity too.
Now for a quick-fire round!
Favourite ingredient? A very German answer, much like the Irish – potatoes!
Restaurant you’ll never get sick of visiting? Cornucopia – “They’re cool now but [he’s known them for] over 20 years, when no one even understood being plant-based!” He also notes McNally’s Farm for their salads and Pickle.
Favourite travel destination for food? He notes his recent visit to Mexico, where it was all about “meat, and more meat, then a little bit of meat on the side”. But, his favourite is Germany, for their large range of plant-based restaurants.
A memorable vegetarian dish? The fermented potato bread and Kale Pesto dish from Amass in Copenhagen (sadly now closed down!)
Favourite food memory? Christmas – friends and family, enjoying food together. He notes that during Christmas, he does a dinner for all the staff, using Seitan Mushroom roulade, a cranberry and apricot sauce, dumplings filled with mushrooms… he can’t wait for it!
Worst thing you’ve ever eaten? A restaurant in Poland – “They were trying to push the boundaries and made a pork belly with a rosewater donut, and it was minging!”
Best cuisine for vegetarian food? Indian, and after that, Chinese.
Favourite cuisine to cook and eat? German, with influences of certain techniques from Japan, China and India. Also, he makes a lot of food with Indian influences at home – like an Indian spice bag for hangover food!
What do you cook at home when you feel lazy? “Defrosting a chilli I made earlier!” – I asked him what he uses in his chillies, he says he uses lentils or soy protein and he cooks it for 5 or 6 hours.
Favourite vegetarian/vegan cookbook? Wizards Cookbook by Woni embark, for it’s techniques, though it’s not plant-based, but Flora by Nils Henkel is a great vegetarian and plant based book, though there’s no English translation. He also notes the Green Cookbook by Cornucopia.
If you’re stuck on an island and could only eat one thing? Pizza! (But without cheese – he says vegan cheese tastes like plastic). His favourite pizza place is Pesto Kitchen in Balbriggan.
Favourite thing about working in the Irish food industry? “The amount of different nationalities you meet. I don’t think I would have had the same experience in Germany.”
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received? “Trust your instincts, believe in yourself.”
I’m a Palestinian who grew up in Cyprus and moved to Dublin in 2013, so I’ve had a mishmash of different cultures and cuisines surrounding me my whole life. I’m an avid foodie, and after realising that life as a lawyer was not for me, I studied media and became a radio host for Dublin City FM. I’m now writing for TheTaste full time, but I also have my own food blog where you can find a mixture of restaurant reviews and the occasional recipe. I talk a lot about being Palestinian; to be honest, I talk a lot in general. That’s why I did radio!