- 55.2m | Admiral Yachts | 2020
Cesar Chavez, an iconic American civil rights leader, once said that “...people who give you their food, give you their heart.” Athens native Panagiotis Flakas is a self-proclaimed romantic with a heart for food that he willingly shares with his lucky charter guests. He is the bold, creative and visionary chef on board Geco.
Panagiotis is clearly passionate about sharing his love for his home country and its unique ingredients through his category-defying creations. And thanks to Geco’s cruising itineraries taking it in and around the Greek islands, Flakas is never short of inspiration or famous Greek produce to serve the yacht’s guests.
Passionate about meeting with his guests and creating bespoke menus according to their preferences, no menu on board Geco is ever the same. Be it a casual BBQ lunch, a vegan dinner, a children’s party or a five-star degustation menu, Chef Panagiotis knows how to nail it each and every time.
Tell us a little about your background?
I was born in the beautiful city of Athens. I love learning and being creative, so in an average day I’ll spend half of it creating things and the other half I’ll spend on working on myself or developing myself in some way. I love people and animals and I consider myself to be a bit of a romantic too.
What motivated you to become a chef and where did you train?
Growing up, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to become or what work I wanted to do. As the oldest of several brothers, I often had the responsibility of cooking for them. It eventually occurred to me that I enjoyed watching their faces when they ate the food I’d prepared for them - I was actively observing their reactions. At that point, I realised that when I grow up, I want a cooking career that would allow me to see the faces of the people for whom I’m cooking. That’s where my interest in becoming a chef began.
After attending a culinary college in Athens, I worked in a number of Michelin restaurants and five-star hotels.
Who are your chef heroes – who has influenced your style of cooking?
I love this question! My heroes are chefs who didn’t limit their imagination and weren’t afraid to try and make you feel emotions while eating. My heroes aren’t just chefs. However, in my opinion, Heston Blumenthal and Massimo Bottura are trendsetters of modern cooking. We have a Greek proverb that says, roughly, that you will learn according to the level of your tutor. For that reason, I have carefully chosen my mentor Polychronys Damalas. He taught me how to insert drama and my own personal characteristics into the food. He not only influenced my cooking but also taught me how a professional chef operates. For that, he has my eternal gratitude.
How did you come to work as a superyacht chef?
When I was offered the job of chef on board Geco, it came at a time of my life that it was exactly the kind of challenge that I needed and which matched my financial and personal ambitions.
What is your favourite type of cuisine?
My favourite cuisine is one that evokes senses and feelings, using the freshest ingredients and best creative techniques that really highlight all of the characteristics of the dish. I create my own cuisines using these techniques, adding passion and serving it in different and interesting ways.
What are your specialties and what’s your signature dish?
I don’t have a speciality per sé, and in fact, I believe that this is a term that doesn’t befit a professional chef. My speciality is cooking with great ingredients. I enjoy combining tastes that can be identified simultaneously even within major complexity, whenever someone takes a bite. Therefore, all of my dishes are my signature because they are made using the same techniques.
How would you describe your culinary style?
When I think about style, I prefer to think of it in terms of the way I hold the knife whilst cutting a vegetable or the way I clean my bench, or in how I talk to a colleague or even just in the way I select the best tomato. In summary, I’d say that my style is anxious, with modern influences, creative tendencies, and movements full of passion.
Where do you get your inspiration and ideas for menus?
My main source of inspiration is the emotional situation of the person for whom I am about to create a dish. The menu is a canvas on which we interchange emotions. I receive inspiration from my guests in the way that they interact with one another and with the crew; with the way that they express themselves. I draw on those observations to design custom menu items.
What’s the secret to cooking high-quality food on board compared to ashore?
Cooking on land and at sea share certain similarities as well as differences.
The circumstances, as well as the timing, are different. The ingredients and the maker, which in my opinion are the most important factors, are the same. The secret is in selecting the best ingredients and then remaining full of passion and enthusiasm to create great things.
Do you prefer to use local ingredients when on charter?
When working on charters in Greece, my main goal is to share a bit of the taste of Greece with our guests. I am passionate about sharing through my cooking, my love and affection for Greece and its food heritage, with all of its unique local produce and traditions.
What are some of your favourite destinations in terms of local produce?
Great question! I always ask the captain to stop in at all of the Greek islands because each of them has something special to offer in terms of produce. At the very least, I like to stop at Kerkira’s market to buy figs and honey, followed by the island of Santorini for its unique cherry tomatoes and vinegar, and finally to stop at Lesvos for their delicious Feta cheese. I could easily continue but those are my favourites!
What’s the most unusual ingredient you’ve come across on your travels?
A guest once brought something to me to cook, except he didn’t know what it was and neither did I, nor did I know how to cook or eat it. To this day, I still don’t know what it was. On a separate occasion, something I saw for the first time that really surprised me was a sea cucumber.
How do you manage special dietary requirements - are vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free now standard requests?
While I personally don’t share any of these habits, I respect people who do because they generally originate in the respect of animals and an interest in human health. I love a challenge and so producing a vegan menu, even though I’m not personally vegan, is very interesting. This is particularly so because I want to produce something even more delicious than a typical vegan chef would make.
How do you cater for young children?
Kids are great and I really enjoy them. Kids are the most difficult customer by far and if you’re able to win them over then you’ve done very well.
What’s your dream menu – your personal favourite?
Personally, I love the degustation menus. I love tasting all of the stages of a journey associated with matching flavours and other similar series of food journeys. For example, I’d really like to compose a degustation menu themed on a Journey to Greece that incorporates all of Greece’s local produce.
As well as creating beautiful dishes, do you have any influence with table decoration?
Sometimes, yes. When I want to create an absolutely spectacular menu, I will often suggest some ideas. I believe that a chef has to have the space to have an opinion on everything to do with the food service. I love the fact that on Geco, I have the support of great colleagues who surprise me every time with the creative ways in which they can decorate a table.
Who chooses which wines to stock on board?
Usually, this is the chief steward’s job, sometimes along with the guest. I only take part in this process when the food’s flavours have to be combined with a particular wine variety.
What do you most enjoy about working as a superyacht chef?
I really enjoy discovering the best things that every place has to offer. It is very interesting to be in a different place every day, to meet new people and to experience new cultures. It broadens your mind and you do not have time to get bored. Each day is a new adventure.
What have been some of the highlights and best moments while working on board Geco?
A personal highlight was the trophy that I won at a boat show, but I also could never forget the first day when I joined Geco. I love the owner and his party but most of all, I just enjoy every moment that I get to share with someone - that’s recorded in my memory forever.
Sample Dinner Menu
Urchin: lemon ,oregano, gold bread
Lettuseas: red sea bream, bottarga ,herbs
Calamari: fennel, herbs, bacon
dentex: egg lemon, zucchini, taramas
Pineapple: pineapple, mint,blueberries
Colors: carrots, basil, beetroot, almond, passion, lime