Established over two decades ago, the five-star Columbia Beach Resort offers guests a variety of choices for their beach getaway. Whether a romantic getaway for two, a family-enriched holiday, or a scenic event venue, the Mediterranean-inspired Cyprus resort promises an indelibly opulent experience. With 169 luxurious suites, stunning Cypriot architecture, a Blue Flag-awarded beach, intricately landscaped gardens, an award-winning spa, and a variety of restaurants, there is little not on offer to even the most discerning of guests.
The Resort’s gourmet restaurants are truly exquisite, offering delectable Greek and Cypriot cuisines, Asian and Contemporary European, with fresh fish sustainably caught from the adjacent Cyprus Sea. The Resort is just minutes away from the Columbia Hotel Academy. Founded in 2021, the Academy is an accredited and certified training institution for students to acquire academic and practical knowledge and skills to help further their careers in the hospitality industry.
We spoke to Columbia’s Head Executive Chef, Ioannis Giakoumidis, about his growth in the industry, his work with the Academy, and the unique flavours plated at the Resort and Columbia Restaurants – a leading company in its own right within the catering industry of Cyprus.
Why did you choose to pursue a career as a Chef?
My parents often worked late into the afternoon, so I found myself experimenting in the kitchen from a young age. What began as a necessity, however, evolved into curiosity, and – under the guidance of the adults in my life – I began visiting the market, exploring ingredients, and educating myself as to foundational processes and recipes. Come the end of my schooling; I chose to enrol at Le Cordon Bleu in London, graduating to employment at a variety of establishments, from luxurious cruise ships to Michelin-starred restaurants. Without a doubt, taking the reins at Columbia as Head Executive Chef has given me the opportunity to evolve as a chef in a whole new capacity.
What professional and personal experiences drive you forward in your career and push your cuisine style?
The process of creation for me is truly electrifying, beginning with disparate ingredients and then orchestrating them into exciting dishes that enliven the senses and challenge our perceptions. This is particularly true when paying homage to traditional dishes belonging to beloved cuisines. It is thrilling to be able to innovate the traditional, deconstructing it, altering it, but preserving the heart of the dish, the flavours, and what the dish inspires with every mouthful. Getting positive feedback from customers to this end is, of course, always a driving force towards perpetual betterment.
What, or who would you say has inspired your cooking the most?
I very much like how Asian influences have nuanced Mediterranean creations, giving a whole new level of flavour and texture to the dishes. This is something I readily experiment with, and this seeming friction between cuisines that can actually lead to fresh and fantastic creations greatly inspires my style of cooking. I very much admire Albert Adria for this reason: he is a pioneer and innovator, always creating and driving trends.
What do you find most challenging about being a chef?
Striking the delicate balance of following directions and freedom to express individuality within any team is challenging, but perhaps even more so in a kitchen. Traditionally, those who enter our industry and choose to follow this path do so at the calling of their heart, but that doesn’t mean that motivation is always on hand, so certainly ensuring that my team is happy and that I can push them out of their comfort zones is a priority. Unfortunately, there is a changing tide in our society overall, with many opting to follow the path of quick money and imagining themselves sitting atop the hierarchical ladder without taking the hard-earned steps to get there. Perhaps this can be accommodated in certain industries, but certainly not within the culinary world.
What do you think makes a dish successful and what role does creativity play in the process?
Creativity is important in that most diners are seeking that element of surprise: an innovative twist to a dish that excites their palates and makes them feel that they are experiencing not just a meal but an occasion.
At the same time, I am also a firm believer in ensuring that high quality is balanced with a reasonable price.
How has your culinary style developed over time?
I suppose you could say that my culinary style is balanced on taste, presentation, and nostalgia. I believe that dishes can engrave themselves in our minds, engendering long-lost feelings and evoking memories.
HOW DO YOUR DISHES REFLECT THE IDENTITY OF EACH OF THE COLUMBIA RESTAURANTS?
Each of Columbia’s restaurants has been thoughtfully cultivated and possesses its own identity. We differentiate the menus accordingly, drawing inspiration from the location, aesthetic of the décor, feelings we want to evoke in our diners, and ambience.
What do you think makes Columbia’s menus successful?
I’m incredibly proud of our team of chefs and all the other personnel who help our restaurants to function. They are all instrumental in the success of our menus. Further to bringing their passion and skill to the kitchen day after day, they are also attentive to customers’ needs, listening to their feedback. In this way, we can constantly improve.
What are your most indispensable ingredients?
Without a doubt, the gamut of Mediterranean herbs (which we grow fresh at Columbia Beach Resort and certain Columbia Restaurants), such as thyme, rosemary, and sage, and – of course – olive oil.
What is your least favourite ingredient?
Many years ago, I used to love foie gras: it was my favourite ingredient, and all of my menus utilised foie gras. Now, I try to avoid it (for the obvious reasons) and use it only if it is necessary.
What are a few of your current favourite dishes on your menus, and why?
I cannot pick a favourite dish, as there are many dishes that stand out for me. Still, creating the menu for the newest addition to the Columbia family, Columbia Pier, made for a very interesting experience. With the assistance of Chef Vagelis Moraitis of Columbia Beach restaurant in Limassol, we designed an elevated street food menu based on the local dishes, with distinct influences from Arabic cuisine… a very tasty menu!
What do you think is special or makes Columbia’s restaurants stand out from similar restaurants?
Without a doubt, our staff members set us apart and make us stand out. The sincere service is outstanding. Of course, the quality of ingredients that we use, and the fact that we don’t rest on our laurels, continuously devising new dishes and evolving our menu, also plays a large part in our appeal.
What changes have you witnessed on the local and global food scene in recent years?
The biggest challenge right now is the price of ingredients, which has risen significantly in the last few years. The availability of certain ingredients has also dwindled. We have responded by nuancing our menus, altering where needs be to accommodate what is available and value-for-money so as not to have to implement any extreme price hikes that would be to the detriment of our guests as well.
How was the Columbia Hotel & Catering Academy founded and what is its ultimate goal?
Columbia Hotel Academy is homed within a purpose-built, state-of-the-art campus and offers a unique collection of programmes. It was born from the immense experience of Columbia Group’s stakeholders, coupled with an unbridled passion and zest for delivering hospitality with heart. Educating the new generation, Columbia Hotel Academy delivers an impactful and immersive learning experience for those seeking to establish or enhance their career in hospitality and – of course – the culinary world. We offer students the whole spectrum, from basic knowledge to the highest diplomas, which will allow them to grow within their profession.
What is your role within the Columbia Hotel Academy?
I spearhead the culinary faction of the Academy, also supervising the vocational training opportunities of the graduates, giving them pathways within the wider Columbia Beach Resort and Restaurants Group. I also assist in their long-term career development.