Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting up with the Private Chef, Christos Ioannidis, in his main kitchen at Nagual Beach Bar.
Hailing from Thessaloniki, and now calling Corfu home, Christos takes cooking to a whole new level. He doesn’t just create dishes, rather he designs tastes that are efficient, effective, and inspiring to make.
Once the private executive chef to Goldman Sachs’ head of command, Christos is now busy advising some of the most notable restaurants in Greece. When he’s not consulting, he’s running the kitchen at Nagual, training an exclusive team of chefs on the mainland, or in Athens cooking on Epsilon TV.
His motto? To live through passion each and every day.
When I caught up with him at Nagual, he told me that, although once a hobby, cooking became his mainstay after graduating top in his class at Le Monde Culinary Arts in Athens.
He made his passion his life so that he ‘never has to work another day.’ And we’re glad that he did.
Now, Christos is deconstructing typical Greek cuisine and pairing its most memorable elements with cutting edge kitchen techniques to modernize Mediterranean meals.
Coming from one of the world’s most notable culinary hubs, great food and hospitality is at his core.
Here’s a look at the top 5 tastes from his kitchen at Nagual that can (and should) inspire your own cooking, while boosting your foodie cred.
First thing’s first, where’s the Feta?
As soon as I saw this plastic condiment bottle of white stuff I was thinking it was a garlic aioli.
How wrong was I?
Instead, he turns the traditional Feta into a light and creamy Feta-mousse. And it’s out of this world!
Christos uses controlled dots and drizzles of this mousse to give his dishes an extra pop, both from a presentation and a taste perspective. The best part is, it’s something you can bring into your own home cooking as well.
To make this you need a teaspoon of gelatin powder, one tablespoon (15 ml) water, and even amounts of Feta and whipping-cream, in this case, half a cup of each (125 ml). When selecting Feta I recommend getting it right from the deli if possible. And always buy Greek.
Once you’ve got your Feta sorted, whip it and set it aside. In another bowl, pour cream and whip it until soft peaks form. Set this aside also.
In a small dish, dissolve the gelatin powder. Next, add that gelatin mix to the whipped cream. Fold the whipped cream into the whipped Feta with a spatula.
Done? Add the mousse to a condiment bottle with a nozzle for easy serving. When you take it out of the fridge between uses, allow it to warm up to room temperature to flow through the nozzle seamlessly.
Now, we’ve got Feta, but what’s Greek food without a little oil? Instead of the artisanal oil- and-herb sprig filled bottles, Christos fuses it all together. The taste is so sensational that I recommend you do the same by introducing this into your home.
When it comes to dill oil, he uses little sprinklings to make his most notable dishes tantalize. And it’s so rich in flavor that words cannot describe just how much of a ‘must-try’ this is. I used to think that dill was best reserved for seafood but now I know just how much I was missing out on.
The Private Chef, as I understand it, will sous vide just about everything. In this case, it helps him extract the purest flavors from the herb.
But why stop with dill, there are numerous sous vide herb-and-oil possibilities out there.
Don’t have a fancy machine and digital thermometers? Don’t worry. Christos keeps his operation practical and you can as well. Boil water to the appropriate temperature, around 130F° (55°C) and test with a regular thermometer. When it’s at the right temp, in goes the bag of herbs and oil.
After a couple hours you’ve got a flavor popping bottle of oily goodness.
Red Chili Pepper Strings
As a foodie I feel like I’ve heard of or seen just about everything, especially when it comes to Greek spices. I was practically raised reciting them.
In fact, I remember it like it was yesterday. There was little Jamie, climbing on a chair, pulling on the handle of my mom’s spice cupboard door while simultaneously clamoring onto the counter.
‘Hey, kid, get off the counter, what are you looking for? Spices? Well, what are you making…?’
And then would come her spiel about what pairs with what and why pepperoncino flakes are the bees-knees.
But now I’m experiencing these in a whole new light, as is the case with the chili strings: pepperoncino flakes distant cousin.
The ‘strings’ were not, by the way, stringy at all. They melt in your mouth and provide a subtle kick to the current flavor of the dish. If you still have no idea what the heck these things are picture something that looks like saffron but tastes like red pepper flakes.
I recommend using these to enhance any seared fish or chicken that you want to incorporate into your meals. And you don’t have to keep it Greek.
Well generally speaking you should, because Greek food is delicious, but let’s say you want to introduce a Louisiana, Jerk, or Portuguese approach to your cooking? Then these chili strings will help you satisfy your taste buds further, with smart presentation to boot.
It’s subtle but it makes the difference between what is good and what is great.
Mint (and Ouzo)
Although this may not be the most obvious herb for pairing with anything other than lamb, this is commonly used throughout Greek cooking.
It’s refreshing and adds a new dimension to the flavor of meat and hearty veg.
In Chef Christos’ take on Keftedes(Greek meatballs), he pairs mint with ouzo and it really kicks it up a notch. Or Six.
And it’s got me thinking. Mint and Ouzo needn’t be reserved for meatballs alone. What about hamburgers (Greek style) and fish? In Greek cooking, when something is referred to as saganaki it’s not just hard cheese flambéed in ouzo that’s being described. It’s ANYTHING flambéed in ouzo from shrimp to Halloumi. And it’s a wonderful thing.
This summer I want to take these inspirations from Nagual and really start to expand the meals that come out of my own kitchen. First step: more saganaki style appetizers. Second step: using ouzo to really drive home the unique anise taste and round it out with a garnish of fresh mint leaves from my garden.
You can easily experiment with this in your home too.
Now, no Greek menu is complete without tomatoes.
When it comes to tapenade and pesto flavors, though, basil seems to enjoy the most popularity. But tomato can be a wonderful thing.
The tomato pesto that Chef Christos whipped up was potent in taste and that’s exactly what you want when garnishing a plate. He spread it with the back of a spoon at the side of his ‘Grilled Octopus with split peas, chutney capers & pesto tomato’ signature dish. Not only does it make for smart presentation, but it’s just the right amount of flavor to compliment the rest of the meal.
As I was cutting into the succulent octopus, a little touch of chutney and that pesto went a long way.
A dish needn’t be about the sauce, but rather the sauce, or in this case, the pesto, should bring the dish to life. To achieve the powerful flavor, sous vide, was again the answer.
So, here you have it fellow foodies. Corfu is as rich in culture as it is in taste items and Chef Christos is making Greek food great again with his spin on classic ingredients.
Got some food for thought? Let Chef Christos know on Twitter @_privatechef
Travel tip shared by HotelBlogr