From Racial Slurs to Fame: Bledar Kola, “I am proud to be an Albanian chef."

Claudia Bartoli
copertina blendar kola

Bledar Kola is a determined chef who has fully dedicated himself to traditional Albanian cuisine, while using it to fight against racial prejudice. Today he has become an advocate for "gastrodiplomacy" and brings back forgotten flavors.

The story

Bledar Kola is an Albanian chef who, after spending many years in the kitchens of London, chose to return home to combat those exact stereotypes of which he has been a victim of since childhood.

He arrived in the British capital in the late ´90s; at the time he was a 15-year-old boy crossing the English Channel hidden in a truck as an illegal immigrant. At first the future in the British metropolis did not look bright for him: Kola began working long hours as a dishwasher in a restaurant, but his passion was soon noticed by the restaurant´s chefs, who encouraged him to take cooking classes. "When I finished the dishes, I didn´t take a break, but helped the chefs peel potatoes and take care of other chores. There was a time when being militant was really the only way to survive in a kitchen; today things have changed. People listen to music, there is a relaxed atmosphere, and no one judges you if you are tattooed or wearing a simple T-shirt.... Before it was like joining the army."

However, through his dedication he was able to transform from a young illegal immigrant to an accomplished chef, and still prejudices about his origins persist. "I thought Albanians only stole cars!" a French chef said to him when he started working in the kitchen of La Gavroche, one of London´s top restaurants. "No, those are the Poles," Kola replies, eliciting a general motion of hilarity in the kitchen. "Responding with a joke was the only way out," he points out today.

Unfortunately, things did not change much, and Kola, tired of always being looked upon with deference and suspicion whenever he spoke of him being Albanian, decided that the time had come to return to his homeland. In 2007, he returned to Tirana with the idea of fighting stereotypes through good food: but first went to work again for a three years at Copenhagen's infamous Noma. Then it was time to go to Sweden, and it was not until 2016 he opened his first restaurant, finally in Tirana.


The Scandinavian style restaurant called Mullixhiu is the vehicle through which Chef Kola has given life back to long forgotten traditional Albanian recipes. There is also a strong focus on gastronomic culture, which the Albanian chef calls "gastrodiplomacy," because in the end it is about helping people connect with food."


Find the reference article here

Image: @Mullixhiu

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