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Chef in the Spotlight

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Yiannis Margaris, Swell Restaurant

When was it you first realized you wanted to be a CHEF?
Even though I started cooking relatively later, it was as if I had known all along that ultimately this was my destiny.

What is your earliest recollection that relates to food?
All my memories are of the tastes and aromas of summer when my Mother made her stuffed vegetables and the aromas emanated throughout the house. She used only pure, local vegetables and herbs like tomatoes, peppers and parsley from my Father’s garden. Inevitably I had become familiarized with top quality local products early on in my childhood.

What was your first position in the restaurant business?
As a student, I worked in a well-known restaurant in Thessaloniki- with good teachers- Masters in the kitchen. Since the restaurant was of high quality and standards, I was compelled right from the beginning to “swim in the deep waters of gastronomy”.

What’s your favorite restaurant in the world?
If we have to name names, then who wouldn’t want to experience Noma in Copenhagen? However, all over the world and especially in Greece, there are many restaurants and taverns who would be the envy of the best chefs in the world.

What world cuisines influenced you the most?  What Chef was your inspiration?
Like it or not, it all starts with French cuisine- the foundation from where we all begin. From there on we marry it with the influences and local supplies of each location and if we do it well, then it is a miracle. Therefore, those who manage this marriage become great chefs. For me personally, the great teacher is Lefteris Lazarou, where daily contact is an education. However, I also learn from each and every assistant at Swell.

What is the image of Greek/Cretan cuisine that you wish to communicate through the foods you create?
As someone from Zakynthos who lives and works in Crete, I feel obliged to contribute creatively to the famous Cretan Cuisine. I believe that the role of each of us and especially the chefs, is to look at the way things are to advance them. This is what we attempt to do daily in our recipes. At the end of the day, we are pleased that customers who try our dishes recognize the Greek tastes and they ask us “how is it that they are simultaneously the same, yet different?”

Is there anything you won’t eat?
No. If you don’t try everything, you cannot possibly know what possibilities you can discover for a further recipe.

Any advice for aspiring cooks?
Our profession is very demanding. You sacrifice much of your personal time and this can only be done when you love what you do. Cooking is a high art form because regardless of your personal disposition, the plate must always be what the guest (who honors you) expects.

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