The Naked Chef
No, it’s not Jamie Oliver, but our very own Executive Chef, Ioannis Giakoumidis, who bares himself for us in sharing insight into his culinary inspiration, reveals details of his Michelin-starred training, and exposes his secret to culinary success.
What initially sparked your interest in food?
I grew up cooking at home, so my appreciation for food – for taking fresh ingredients and creating something from scratch – was deeply ingrained from an early age.
I still fondly recall waking up early, just as dawn was breaking, to make it down to the local market in time to catch the fishermen who had just docked with their fresh catch of the day (the perks of growing up in a small village on the coast of Greece!).
I’ll say! And inspiration enough to guide you into the culinary arts professionally.
Well, at that young age, cooking also taught me a lot about life: from overcoming challenges, learning to improvise, being creative, always aspiring towards perfection and, of course, being able to enjoy the fruits of your labour once the work is done!
You’ve trained at two Michelin-starred restaurants. How did these opportunities come about?
I had never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be afforded such incredible opportunities. When I began my professional culinary training at the Cordon Bleu in London, I acquired a love for fine dining – thankfully, it wasn’t unrequited! I worked very, very hard, and managed to gain positions at both the three Michelin-starred Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane in London under revered Chef Nico Ladenis’ guidance, and S Spondi, the first Michelin-starred restaurant in Greece.
As they say, a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there: I suppose this has driven my culinary career.
When did you join Columbia Hotels & Resorts as Chef de Cuisine, and are you happy with what you’ve achieved so far?
I joined Columbia Hotels & Resorts in 2008 with a very clear goal in mind: to share with these beautiful touristic entities what I had learnt about fine dining. I helped to shape and redirect the properties’ culinary concept, initially towards molecular food preparation, and thereafter towards Italian gourmet.
At the core of whatever I do are healthy, fresh ingredients, and the awareness of our guests’ palettes, how one’s experience from childhood to adulthood in different countries and environments can nuance their understanding of food, of what to like, and what not to like.
Of course, you can never truly satisfy every single palette type in one dish, though we are clear in our want to offer well-loved dishes – that are perhaps evocative of familial memories – with our own twists, thus engendering the creation of new memories with us here at Columbia.
Can you share an example of a traditional dish with a twist?
Trahanas Risotto with Octopus Stifado is a new idea I’ve been exploring that can attest to this, as can Lobster Sheftalia, whereby minced lobster is substituted for minced meat in the traditional caul-fat wrapped herb sausages.
And now, taking the helm as Executive Chef, what are you focused on doing?
I suppose in moving forward I want to focus even more on inspiration: that is, calling to arms our team members, invigorating the trust and respect amongst us, and ensuring that the high standards that we set for ourselves are not only met, but surpassed. A chef’s work is never done, and we embrace and welcome this challenge!