At the 16th annual Cyprus Eating Awards 2020, it was star chef and CAAS alumni Christodoulos Theofanous who clinched the top award. He reflects on his flavorful career to date, his restaurant, based within Limassol boutique hotel Alasia, and how his lifelong dream finally came to fruition
I was late to the party! I was 30 years old and working in marketing when my friends and family really started to press me: ‘why aren’t you a chef?’ they’d ask, tucking into dishes I’d made them. People would say that kind of thing to me all the time, but it was happening more and more. Food was my passion, my hobby. It was what I was known for. But I didn’t seriously think it would become my career until then. I began to wonder, maybe they’re right?
I’ve always been a very ambitious and driven person. I’m never shy of taking chances. But this was different – this was a big leap. And it would involve huge sacrifices on the part of my wife and our three year old. But my wife, she’s so supportive. We had a conversation about how she’d feel about me going back to school, and not only going back to school, but moving to Switzerland to do it, and she didn’t even hesitate. She told me we could make it work. And so we did!
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the view from my window at the Le Bouveret campus – the lake, the mountains, the blue sky. It was beautiful. That will stay with me forever.
I interned with a former Kempinski property, Le Mirador at Mont Pelerin, trained for a weekend at Didier De Courten in Sierre and spent a little time in Paris during my mid term break, working as a trainee at Le Mavromatis, all before graduating in 2015. CAAS is incredible, it opens so many doors. I came back to Cyprus bursting with ideas and confidence. My mentality and outlook had changed completely.
Two years ago, I had an offer from the owners of Alasia, a boutique hotel in Limassol, to oversee its restaurant. Together, we felt that we could do something special with it, something different. We’ve already achieved so much – just recently we cooked alongside 3 Michelin-star chef Jacob Jan Boerma at a high profile gastronomic event. It was incredible. The energy here is so infectious and the team is so talented. We’re just getting started.
We change the menu every season. This is so important to us, mainly because we have a lot of regulars and we aim to give them something new every time. We also try to use as much fresh, local produce as we can: every couple of days or so, I go and see the fishermen myself, and pick up the latest catch. Seafood is big for us. Our signature dishes, I’d say, are probably our lobster cannelloni, served with scallops, truffle sauce and lobster bisque, and a dish we call ‘the whole duck’, because we really do use the whole duck, even the legs and the broth from the bones!
Thank you so much! Considering how many remarkable chefs there are, working in this country, it feels like such an honor. It makes every minute, every hour of blood, sweat and tears I’ve pored into my craft worth it, not to mention the sacrifices me and my family made for me to change career. I couldn’t be more grateful.
We actually knew when it was happening, too! Part of the judging process involves a visit from mystery diners, and just from the type of questions they were asking us, we had an inkling they were from the Cyprus Eating Awards. We were so excited.
There’s a little more pressure now! Part of the criteria for winning the award is not just achieving a higher standard but maintaining it, in terms of quality and output. So now, the challenge is to keep that up. All eyes are on us! We have a stream of new customers every day, keen to see what we’re up to!
It was very difficult. The uncertainty really took its toll. Things are much better now – we’re trying to leave the hard times behind us and, of course, continue operating as safely and carefully as possible.
Never give up! You can do it – you just have to believe in yourself. Chasing your dream is hard but it’s important. In life, it’s everything.