June 15, 2023

Interview: Unleashing Culinary Magic!

In the presence of culinary excellence, I had the privilege of sitting down with none other than Chef Thanos Pilavakis, Fresh Food Kitchens’ Executive Chef, an extraordinary talent in the world of gastronomy. With London as his birthplace and the United Kingdom as his culinary stomping ground, Chef Pilavakis has left an indelible mark on the industry. Having graced the kitchens of illustrious 5-star hotels, esteemed restaurants, and captivating venues, both at home and abroad, his culinary journey is one that knows no borders where you may also recognize him from his time on Masterchef.

Today, he graciously shares his wealth of experience, taking us on a delightful voyage through his culinary exploits and captivating creations.

1.  What makes Fresh Food Kitchens an extraordinary culinary experience that will make your taste buds do a happy dance?

Fresh Food Kitchens is a culinary adventure like no other. Our extraordinary brand line-up brings new culinary experiences to Cyprus that were previously unheard of. Let me give you a taste of our exceptional offerings.

Take, for example, the Award-Winning Toastie by Ghosty—an innovative take on a Korean concept, where we had tweaked to cater to the European palette. Our signature milk-bread is baked daily, where this gives a delightful blend of brioche and tsoureki, adding a touch of sweetness, while the range of unique options will leave you mesmerized. Our customers rave about The Cyprus Classic and the Steak & Cheese, featuring premium black angus steak, original British cheddar cheese, and a zesty homemade mustard sauce.

Our flour tortilla bread at Wrap’t Up is toasted to perfection and using the best of the best ingredients, setting us apart from the rest.

Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or a devoted meat-eater, our menu caters to all, offering a wide range of delectable options. We pride ourselves on the art of blending quality ingredients, crafting unique flavours and combinations that are jam packed with nutrients and flavour.

2. You mention the importance of top-notch raw produce; tell us a little more on its’ importance to you as Executive Chef and to the Company’s standards.

As an Executive Chef, I hold top-notch raw produce in the highest regard, and it sets the standard for our company. Our focus is on exceptional flavours created with simplicity. Quality, especially in local Mediterranean produce, enhances the taste and allows for exquisite flavours combinations. With premium meat and vegetables, we need less intervention to elevate their natural goodness. We believe in the power of “less is more,” using 5-6 carefully selected elements that harmonize perfectly. By sourcing and supporting organic fruits, vegetables, and local industries, our dishes speak for themselves, showcasing the true essence of outstanding ingredients.

3. Tell us the significance of having a stellar team, an international team, and what that means in practice for Fresh Food Kitchens.

A stellar team is the foundation of Fresh Food Kitchens, embodying our values and driving our success. Well-trained individuals work together like a finely tuned machine, ensuring efficiency, control, and unwavering quality. Hygiene is paramount to us, maintaining impeccable standards for a safe and clean environment. We believe in the power of humility, fostering a culture where every team member is approachable, respectful, and pleasurable to work with. A warm and inviting atmosphere is as important as the delectable dishes we create and as a cohesive and humble team, we bring our diverse talents together, creating an unforgettable culinary experience at Fresh Food Kitchens.

4. Menu engineering: Unlock the tantalizing secrets of this culinary art and how it works its magic to create a symphony of flavours at Fresh Food Kitchens.

Menu engineering is an art of crafting a menu that caters to all palettes, whether vegan, vegetarian, or meat-eater – stitching menus together which will eliminate food waste, and keep our standards at the highest possible step. At Fresh Food Kitchens, we strive to create a diverse range of best-selling dishes that leave no one unsatisfied; even as a meat-eater myself, I find delight in our vegetarian options like the flavourful vegetarian poke bowl. Our menus are a perfect blend of familiarity and originality, with 80-90% offering unique culinary experiences. It’s a delicate balance to cater to a wide audience, but that’s what sets us apart. We take pride in serving vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike, all of whom become loyal return customers; the biggest compliment we could receive.

5. Take us behind the scenes of your daily kitchen adventures and the delicious difficulties you face, and reveal your secret recipe for problem-solving.

Managing not just one, but seven kitchens simultaneously requires a harmonious blend of skilled staff and extensive experience. Each station must be meticulously organized, with precise preparation, cooking, and timely service. Attention to detail is paramount, ensuring everything is done correctly and efficiently. From start to finish, a sense of urgency drives our operations, delivering exceptional culinary experiences in a seamless and timely manner. With the right team and a well-orchestrated approach, we conquer the challenge of managing multiple kitchens, leaving no room for compromise in quality or service.

6. How has your journey with FFK spiced up your role, bringing new flavours and fresh experiences compared to your previous culinary endeavours?

In one space we’re managing several brands. This takes some getting used to because every single section of the kitchen is essentially its own restaurant. Managing that on a day-to-day basis is all about knowing what to do, when to do it, how to do it in a clean, effective and efficient way, and giving 100% every day.

7. We are spoilt for choice on which is our favourite dish. Could you name 5 of your favourite?

From Toastie by Ghosty I would probably have to say either the Steak & Cheese or the Peach BBQ Pulled Chicken. From Makai I would go for either the Salmon Poke Bowl, and surprisingly the Teriyaki Tofu Poke Bowl. From Fresh Salad Company, I quite like the Greek Fusion Salad, which is black eyed peas, tuna chunks, tomato, cucumber, parsley, with a nice olive oil and lemon dressing; the simplest things if they are done well often deliver the best for me. From Wrap’t Up the new Teriyaki Chicken Wrap which I love, but I also like the Caramelized Onion Hummus Wrap. And from Café Sketo I quite like the vegan energy balls.

8. Unveil the recipe for success! Share your secrets on how you lead and inspire a culinary dream team to maintain unwavering quality and standards across all mouthwatering FFK brands.

Being hands-on and attentive, I continuously check on my staff, offering valuable advice when needed. The strength of our excellent team lies in our collective input where together, we strive for effectiveness, cleanliness, and speed, always seeking ways to improve. Collaboration leads us to discover better methods, not just in terms of timing, but also in flavours and combinations. Take our new Spicy Peri Chicken Toastie, for example, where we’re constantly perfecting our homemade Spicy Peri Sauce. We learn from one another, drawing inspiration and knowledge. Every team member’s input is valued, creating a sense of importance and unity in our kitchen and more importantly the Company. The secret to our success is exceptional teamwork, where everyone plays a vital role, and everybody is encouraging of each other. Our commitment to teamwork is what sets us apart, and that helps drive us to deliver on our promise for excellence.

As I wrapped up my interview with Chef Thano, I couldn’t help but feel captivated by his passion for culinary excellence and the values instilled in Fresh Food Kitchens, from the top. Eager to experience firsthand the remarkable dining experience they offered, I had the pleasure of visiting their establishment.

Fresh Food Kitchens had etched its mark in the culinary world for Cyprus, not just through delectable flavours but by setting a standard of excellence that extended beyond the kitchen walls.