“I’m still massively inspired by the concept at Casamia but outside of that I’d say I’m not hugely inspired by the industry as a whole."

The  Staff Canteen

When it was announced that Michelin-starred Casamia would be closing, the reaction across social media was shock. It was one of several unexpected closures in recent months including Restaurant Tristan and Fraiche.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Casamia head chef Zak Hitchman to find out his plans for the future, the reaction to Casamia shutting its doors and what the industry needs to do to keep improving.

The final service may be set for August 20, 2022 but Peter Sanchez’s Casamia is going out with a bang – it’s already fully boked until that date and they have several special events planned so that people can get their hands on tickets in a slightly different way – so keep your eyes on Instagram for those!

the end of an era

Head chef Zak, who was previously at Ynyshir as sous chef, is as sad as everyone else about closing.

“I had a lot of people messaging me who were shocked,” he said. “It’s been here for over 20 years so it’s a big deal for it to be closing.

“From my point of view, I felt we had built up a buzz around what we do and we had a lot of customers excited to come to Casamia.”

Zak has been at the restaurant for three years and took over as head chef two years ago. The team completely changed the entire restaurant through Covid – coming back as Casamia 2.0. The new concept Zak says is ‘moody, dark, atmospheric’ plus much more fun, livelier, with loud music using a bespoke play list each service created by himself.

He said: “The music creates a different feel through each different segment of the menu, it guides the night.”

With just 18 covers, everyone sits down and eats the same dishes at the same time. The concept is very theatrical and with each table facing the kitchen he likens it to a stage or show which is the feedback he gets from guests. Although this dining experience is not for everyone, Zak says ‘it’s like going to the theatre or cinema, half might love it, half might not’.

He added: “That’s something you have to realise about a concept like this. There are no dietaries and hopefully you can eat what we cook and you’ll enjoy it but if you can’t there are other restaurants who will cater for that.”

what's next

As passionate as Zak is about Casamia, he inevitably has to look to the future.

“I would absolutely love to carry on a similar concept to Casamia, in Bristol, with long tasting menus, food cooked on fire and massive focus on music,” he said. “It’s not something I’m in a position to do alone so I’ll be looking for someone to work with, whether that’s an investor I don’t know but the dream would be to stay in Bristol.”

how can the hospitality industry do better?

Casamia is not the only Michelin-starred restaurant to be closing (although the restaurant is coming to end but they will open something in the same space), is this a worrying sign of the times and is thie industry doing enough to inspire people and protect exciting and interesting concepts like Casamia?

“For me personally,” said Zak. “I’m still massively inspired by the concept at Casamia but outside of that I’d say I’m not hugely inspired by the industry as a whole. There are a handful of people now in the UK who are trying to change things, and make it an industry which can be more reliable for all of its staff and those who work within it.

“From my perspective it seems to be something people prefer to talk about more than putting it in to practise. At Casamia we really focused on it - our chefs do no more than 48 hours a week. That for me is amazing and not something I’ve ever come across in my career before.

“We enjoy ourselves here, there’s never a shitty atmosphere, no shouting – it’s more stressful for me if I need to shout!”

He added: “What would be amazing for me, and probably for everyone, would be more management training. Throughout my career I’ve always just been thrown into it, cooking your heart out every day, and quite often you’re so in the shit you don’t have time to do anything else.

“People are trained to cook by their peers or management team in the kitchen but you’re really not trained on how to manage people. That’s a big part of how the industry is.

“It’s just a hard industry – so it depends on you as person and the passion you have for what you do.”

Although his time at Casamia is coming to an end Zak is still passionate about being a chef and says ‘I don’t know what else I would have done!’.

So watch this space.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st June 2022

“I’m still massively inspired by the concept at Casamia but outside of that I’d say I’m not hugely inspired by the industry as a whole."