Choosing what to eat from a hotel restaurant menu is always the eagerly anticipated first act in a full performance of sensory delights as each course is served and consumed. Today, the role of the Head Chef in creating and preparing the kind of dishes in tune with the taste and ethics of hotel guests has never been more important.
In recent years, the meteoric rise in healthy-eating options has led to a dramatic transformation in restaurant dining, which has widened the vegetarian menu to also offer a range of vegan dishes. Nearly half (47 per cent) of diners consider it important that a restaurant offers healthy options, according to a recent survey by global business analysts, PwC. Today’s generation are increasingly focused on plant-based nutrition as a ‘lifestyle’ choice rather than be driven by a specific diet.
As one of Limassol’s leading lifestyle hotels, Londa continues to evolve her boutique approach to authentic, cultural experiences for her guests and visitors. A key part of the hotel’s multi-award winning success is Executive Chef of Italian-styled Caprice Restaurant, Vassos Michael.
In the latest of our Exclusive Interview series, which offers a “behind the scenes” glimpse into the everyday life of those working at Londa Hotel, we discover more about how Vassos has continued to sprinkle his masterchef magic in many of his menu creations over the last three decades.
Q: What continues to give you inspiration for creating new recipes and unusual combinations of ingredients for dishes?
A: Our dedication drives us to create, and it is always led by the love that our clients express for the food. We are committed to never stop searching for the freshest products, which are always of the highest quality and excellence.
Q: At what age did you become interested in cooking and creating your own recipes? Did you always want to become a chef and how did you begin your career?
A: As a little child I would always watch my mother cooking with such love for the entire family. It was from then that I remember taking the decision to study the culinary arts. I was 17 years old when I started creating my own dishes and just one year later I started working in professional kitchens, which become a way of life for me ever since.
Q: Do you remember what was on the first menu you ever created at Caprice and how has the menu changed over the years in response to the changing cuisine preferences of restaurant clientele?
A: I created Caprice’s first menu emphasising Mediterranean and Italian cuisine. The first menu included pasta, risotto, fresh fish and salads accompanied by many types of Italian cheeses. I have always used a variety of fresh and traditional products aimed at marrying Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, which has been a huge success. The secret of this success is the authenticity of the products and herbs I use in my recipes.
Q: At the start of the summer season 2019, a totally new ‘Healthy Dishes and Super Foods’ section was added to the Pool Bar Menu, ranging from yoghurt with chia seeds and goji berries to grilled fresh tuna, wrapped in sesame seeds. In his interview, Jochen (Londa Manager) said that Limassol locals were becoming as health conscious as international tourists. Have you any plans to take the main Caprice menu in an even more healthy-eating, vegetarian / vegan direction?
A: It’s my role as Executive Chef to always try and feel the vibe of our customers. This has led us to the creation of a menu section consisting of “healthy dishes”, which our customers enthusiastically embraced. For this specific reason, we have continued to enhance our healthy dishes and also added Londa’s bistro menu, which is also now served at the Caprice Bar.
Q: Of the many other Italian restaurants in Limassol, what would you say are the reasons why customers are particularly drawn to the Caprice and what are the unique qualities you believe creates a repeat customer of the Caprice dining-out experience?
A: Undoubtedly, the high quality food is a very important factor as well as the service – and our smiling staff! Added to this, our restaurant is located in a fantastic place with a marvellous view of the Mediterranean Sea, which is always fascinating, of course!
Q: Has the Caprice served any celebrities or well-known public figures, whether from Cyprus, Greece, Britain, USA or from elsewhere in the world?
A: Many famous personalities over the years, including artists (mostly singers and actors), politicians and presidents of countries mostly from Europe, including, of course, the current Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, who is a regular customer!
Q: Most people are aware of the incredible amount of dedicated hard work and conscientious effort involved in running a restaurant to the highest quality cuisine and customer service. Briefly describe a typical working day at Caprice and your first task in the morning.
A: Starting from very early in the morning, we order fresh products (vegetables, fruits, fish) – always checking that restaurant requirements will work smoothly – and trying to meet these requirements! My team and I always work hard to make sure that all operations run smoothly in the kitchen, and I personally make sure that the people in the kitchen are working at full capacity. It is also very important for me to check every single dish before it is served to the customer, including taste and overall presentation.
Q: Everyone loves to hear a behind-the-scenes, “Fawlty Towers” type story of blunders in the kitchen or mistakes with customer orders, which can happen to even the most well-run of restaurants. Is there a funny incident you would like to share?
A: There’s no doubt that after all these years I have built and developed a team I can trust. Of course, any mistakes that are identified are always pointed out and rectified before the finished dish reaches our customers. Besides that, there is no extreme “Fawlty Towers” type incident that comes to mind, I’m relieved and glad to say!
Q: When considering an Italian meal, some people are likely to only think of pizza, spaghetti and lasagne. The Caprice menu offers a real journey of discovery, from zucchini and asparagus tempura, served with saffron yogurt to fillet of fresh red mullet with yellow and red beetroot. What are the most popular Caprice dishes that customers love to order?
A: Certainly, when we talk about Italian cuisine, most of the people are thinking of pasta, risotto and cannelloni. As a Mediterranean island, our customers’ first option tends to be seafood choices. In many ways, it’s almost impossible to pick out one particular dish from the menu. For me, all the dishes are excellent, of course! That’s because of all the professionalism and love we give when we create and prepare them.
Q: Cyprus and Limassol is a particular popular holiday (and business) destination for visitors from Britain, Russia, and the Middle East. Do you see any differences in the type of dishes they choose and what are the kinds of unusual requests you receive?
A: Many people have switched to healthy eating over the last years. As a result, some customers avoid ordering foods which contain sauces and many spices. Taking this into consideration, I mostly create healthy dishes based upon the Mediterranean diet.
Q: The Caprice is well known and respected in Limassol as one of the best venues to cater for wedding celebrations, family occasions or other special events (such as a wine-tasting evening). Meticulous menu planning is absolutely crucial – what special preparations do you and the restaurant team make to ensure perfect success for the client and their guests on the day?
A: At every event, the menu is designed to specifically meet the client’s requirements and taste. Once the menu is decided a rigorous procedure is set in place to ensure the client will receive the highest level of quality and excellence that they asked and paid for.
Of crucial importance is the sampling of all the different dishes, so we are completely satisfied everything is up to our expected service standard. My own philosophy is that it is the careful attention to the small details that distinguishes a great restaurant from others – and makes all the difference to our customers.
Throughout my career, I believe that keeping this philosophy always in mind has been the number one factor which has helped me to build my reputation.
Q: The best, most organised of high level dining establishments ensure they prepare well in advance for the extra busy periods of the year. Can you reveal any unique or special menu plans for 2020?
A: Usually, the Caprice a la carte menu is changed, reshaped and enhanced twice a year. Some of most preferred dishes remain on the menu while some others change to offer our customers the opportunity to try our new ideas which, we hope, will provide new, exciting and intriguing taste experiences. This year, of course, will be no exception – we’re busy working on new ideas right now!