The man who opened new avenues in Greek gastronomy

Haris Charalambidis wants to leave his mark on the development of catering professionals in Greece and Cyprus

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Tireless worker in her field gastronomy, who realized early on the gap that existed in the specific field of education in our country and came to fill it with publications and training seminars, Haris Charalambidis certainly has the right to have an opinion on the specific area to which more and more young people turn to rehabilitate professionally.

Speaking to, Mr. Charalambidis, Owner of Gastronomy Essentials, states that his goal remains to put a small stone in the development of catering professionals in Greece and Cyprus, he estimates that our country is now at a very high level, no only in food, in sweets, in coffee and in the bar, but mainly in the mentality while he emphasizes that in order to succeed in this field one must have humility, discipline, patience and endurance.

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A cook must have humility, discipline, patience and endurance, to overcome the first stages of his ignorance

- How did you get involved in the field of gastronomy?

From the age of 19, I happened to work in a professional kitchen and at the age of 21, I already had a percentage in a fast food restaurant in Athens for 2. Years. My initial occupation was this. However, my studies were in Business Administration and a few years later, I started to be more active in the industry, collaborating with the first publisher in Greece, Antonis Tsitsilonis, who published the first professional guides cooking and confectionery, in the Greek language. At that time (1996), there was not a single professional edition in bookstores, except for books cooking aimed at housewives.

This collaboration lasted for over 15 years, publishing a total of 24 leading professional culinary and confectionery publications, which offered professionals access to the techniques of their foreign colleagues. After 7 years, entering and leaving all the kitchens and already having an existing network of professionals in the field of gastronomy, I realized, discussing with them, that there was a very big gap in their training (after education training).

So, in 2003, I found myself organizing the first open professional - practical (hands on) training in Greece, which concerned the cold kitchens of hotels, with the theme "Decoration for Hotel Buffet". From that point until today, many years of collaborations were created with many higher gastronomic educational institutions abroad, in order to find out what the object was. education of foreign professionals, which was lacking in Greece. Every interest I found, I brought in the form of education (either practical or theoretical with a taste test), so that they do not have to spend thousands of euros from their savings to travel to find it.

- What are your goals through your involvement with the specific subject?

Today, after countless trainings that I have implemented in the Greek and Cypriot market, my goal is what I had from the beginning: To put a small stone, with my own style, in the development of catering professionals, in Greece and Cyprus.

- What does one need to succeed in this field?

As a cook, he must have humility, discipline, patience and perseverance, to overcome the first stages of his ignorance and really get the good from every place he will work, but also the bad he will see in the course of his career, so that lessons can be learned for him to avoid in the future, as well as an inexhaustible appetite that is constantly evolving.

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- At what level is Greece?

At the moment, I think, if we look at all the countries around us, we will see that we are at a very high level, not only in food, in sweets, in coffee, in bars, but most importantly, in the mentality. Greek chefs excel in global cooking competitions. In recent years, we have always claimed one of the top three places in the world in coffee and we have many strong participations in the world ranking, in the bar area.

All this is not a random discrimination. In recent years, the mentality of the new generation of professionals has changed for the better, because now most people know English, have access to the internet, travel abroad and return to their country, thus transmitting the knowledge they gained.

Of course, we will always encounter perceptions of the past, as the older generations tend to leave, as is the case everywhere, but I would like to say that this generation seems to be very active and much more extroverted than the previous and this, after all, is the definition of evolution.

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Television, on the altar of profit, magnifies the image of the profession and beautifies it more than it should, in order to "sell", but distorting reality

- Why do you think that more and more young people are turning to this field professionally?

Unfortunately in Greece, we have never had a heavy industry, literally the concept, so that we can produce corresponding specialties.

So the realization, during the last years, that the only heavy industry that can offer to the economy, is Tourism and consequently, all the professions related to it, such as cooks, confectioners, hotel employees, tourist offices, suppliers, restaurant owners, etc., gave birth to the need for professionals in this field.

So it makes sense for every Greek family to try to turn their children into a more lucrative and in-demand profession. Another reason is the television, which on the altar of profit, magnifies this image and beautifies it more than it should, in order to "sell", but distorting reality.

- In your opinion, what are those points of our gastronomy that distinguish it?

The two strong points of Greek gastronomy are the passion and its people. Without the passion of the producers for a better product, there would be no passion of the cooks for their promotion. Without the passion of Greek winemakers for higher quality wines, there would be no passion for their widespread consumption in Greece and abroad.

It is said that the gastronomic power of every country today is its products. That's right, in part. In Greece, however, we do not have so much wealth of unknown products that are not known in Europe, such as Latin America or Asia, where they produce 5.000 types of potatoes, 7 types of passion fruit, innumerable varieties of bananas, etc.

In terms of products, the only thing I can think of and in which we are superior to foreign products, is the richness of our herbs and spices, where we really hold a real treasure in our hands.

If we talk at the level of "cooking techniques", except for Spain, where he stepped on the modern techniques of molecular cuisine 15 years ago and climbed gastronomically on the world map, we do not have the unknown techniques that we keep secret, so that we can present them suddenly.

However, our passion for talking about our own products and highlighting them to the millions of tourists who visit our country every year, I consider is one of the strong points of Greek gastronomy.

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Harris Charalambidis with top chef Alain Ducasse
The job of a chef is very demanding and the title, the word "Chef" is earned, not given away, nor given "bloodlessly"

- In what points are we lagging behind in relation to abroad?

Gastronomically, in terms of inspiration, creation, use of local ingredients and taste, we are not as far as we think. Mainly, the internal changes are the changes that need to be made and these can only be implemented through the State, for example, the even lower taxation on raw materials, or an auxiliary investment policy towards the Greek producers, as well as a proper planning (at least 10 years) for Tourism issues, which will include Gastronomy.

- What is the theme of the seminars you organize? 

All these years I deal exclusively with gastronomy training programs (cooking & confectionery) and lately, I have included the Bakery and the Bar. The topics are too many for each sector. There are programs based on the product (meat, fish, hunting, chocolate, pre-baked breads, foreign cuisines (Nikkei, Sushi), programs based on a new gastronomic world trend, some purely technical programs, such as the technology of Ice Cream, or the Creation of Taste (Flavor Extraction) and there are also interactive programs, such as educational trips to gastronomic cities abroad or to rich areas of Greece, where we can be active in activities such as milking, cheese, picking herbs and spices and cooking with all the raw materials we will collect , like the last program we did in Anogia, Crete, last February, with chef Giannis Baxevanis.

- Can our country become a point of reference in terms of gastronomic education?

There is no infrastructure for such a thing at the moment. We are not a leading gastronomic country in the world market, to attract the interest of foreign catering professionals and to visit our country. If we decided to go in this direction, however, we would find countries with a deep gastronomic tradition, such as France, Spain, Italy, China, Japan, etc., which makes things even more difficult.

- How difficult is the job of a chef? Have you worked with many, do you single out some and why?

The work of one chef is very demanding and the title, the word "Chef" wins. It is not given away, nor is it given "bloodlessly", as many cooking schools shout in their "Come and be a Chef" advertisements. Otherwise, the seminary schools would also issue a promo "Come to become a Metropolitan" or the military schools "Come to become a General". The promotion from chef to Chef is a long and painful process and you get the title at an old age.

I have collaborated with many professionals from the Greek market, but also from abroad. All those who end up working together have an ethos, a deep knowledge of the subject they will teach and a sense of responsibility for the training we will present in the Greek or Cypriot market.

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- Is there a taste that you have forgotten and why?

Many, countless, not one. But I will tell you about the last time I felt this unforgettable feeling, which was the burbouri snails, which I recently ate from my grandmother Agapi (97 years old), in Opsygia, in the area of ​​Amari in Rethymno.

- Your next plans? 

I have just finished planning the future educational programs, for the rest of 2019 - 2020, with my collaborators from the SETE Institute (INSETE) and I am very excited about the topics for the next period. It will be a topic with all the latest trends and techniques applied in the best restaurants and hotels in the world and I believe that it will be widely accepted by industry professionals.