Chefs are my rockstars and I am a Chef groupie, fan and foodie. Join me as I talk to these talented individuals.
Alati is one of the 12 featured restaurants in the 2017 EATSingapore book, a keepsake that gives you one-for-one mains or discounts at their selected restaurants. Read our interview with the founder of EATSingapore, Karin van Vliet, here.
The beautiful ambience of Alati is like a portal onto a Greek island, with whitewashed walls and pops of blue. If you close your eyes, you might be able to imagine the smell of the sea and the breeze on your face. Located on Amoy Street, Alati beckons you in to relax and enjoy fresh Greek cuisine that highlights the best ingredients. We were honoured to join Karin from EATSingapore for a talk with Chef Ioannis Stefanopolous. Together with Leong Khai Git (General Manager), himself a renowned chef and restaurateur, they have indeed created a beautiful, friendly experience and it’s no wonder that Alati was hand-picked by EATSingapore as one of their 12 featured restaurants.
My first time at Alati was early last year. I had ordered Dakos. Made from Cretan barley rusk, fresh tomatoes, feta and capers, it was the most amazing thing I had tasted. Tangy, salty, great texture with the rusk that was both soft where the tomato juices had soaked in and crunchy where it had not. I had to ask about it and Chef Ioannis Stefanopolous told me that it was a Cretan salad. He said, “from this salad, started the Mediterranean diet“.
Thank you so much for talking to us, Chef Ioannis. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Brussells, Belgium. My parents who are Greek had moved there to work. When I was five, we moved back to Athens, Greece. I started culinary school when I was 16 and finished when I was 18. In Greece, you’re required to go to the Army so after I did that, I started working in a professional kitchen. I’ve worked in the culinary industry for almost 28 years now!
For 15 of those years, I had the opportunity to work in the Starwood Group, with Westin. They sent me to a few places – from England to Germany. After that, I went to Egypt, Dubai and China for two years in Shenzen. I spent a year in the Maldives. Finally, I’m here in Singapore.
Why did you become a chef?
Because I like to eat, first of all. And because I didn’t want to go to university and become a teacher or a doctor. I wanted to learn something to do. I liked food and liked to eat so I chose to follow this job.
When I started, nobody wanted this job. Nobody liked it. Back then it wasn’t a famous thing. Now it’s very famous. Chefs are cool with all their tattoos (laughs). They have celebrity status.
This is the first place that I’ve worked specifically with Greek food. Before this, I’ve looked after all types of cuisines from Indian to Chinese and Japanese. Here, I can cook my own cuisine. It’s the first restaurant where I’ve done this.
How did you come to Singapore and open Alati?
The basic reason I came to Singapore was because of a woman. My wife worked here. It used to be that one month I’d be there and she’d be here and the next I would be somewhere else. We wanted to connect so I found this opportunity here and told her that I would come to her. Behind everything is a woman (smiles).
Why did you name it Alati and what is the concept behind your restaurant?
Alati means salt, from the ancient Greek word.
We are about the ingredients. This is the basic concept behind Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. For example, in French cuisine, if there is crème fraîche, you can cover anything with it. But in Mediterranean food, we don’t use alot of butter, we use olive oil. We can’t cover up the quality of the ingredients because then you wouldn’t be able to taste it.
Our basic ingredients, the vegetables and what we can, we source locally. The more specialty items – salt, pepper, olive oil, fish – we bring it in from Greece.
Our fish comes from Macedonia, in the West. Honey is from the Center of Greece and olive oil is from Peloponnese, in the East. We try and find the best ingredients possible and we source direct from the regions that produce the best products. We have a lot of specialty items that we find from the places where they create the best of each kind of produce.
What kind of food do you create? How would you describe the menu and what inspires you when creating the menu.
I’m inspired by the sea, and the summer… Our food is not so heavy. It’s light food because we don’t use butter or cream. You can have a nice fish, grilled, at 10 o’clock at night and you don’t feel too full. You can enjoy a glass of wine and go to bed happy.
We have our standard menu with everyone’s favourites but we do change our fish often depending on what is fresh and seasonal. In winter, the Aegean sea is rough so boats cannot go out too far for the bigger fish. We also get different fish in the summer.
Here, we will usually salt bake or grill our fish but sometimes we will also make a stew or use other techniques. It depends on the fish and the seafood… it depends on what we get and how it comes. We decide how to cook our Catch of the Day when we see the ingredients we get, the quality and how it tastes.
We like to say we are “From Sea to Table”. The fish are caught, packed in ice and flown to us overnight so we always have the freshest.
Can you let us know what produce or techniques you are really passionate about at the moment?
Mediterranean cooking is very simple. There is no drama. You don’t need all those sauces. It’s about the fresh tomatoes or the fresh herbs. We showcase the ingredients. Finding these ingredients can sometimes be hard, but once we have them, they can speak for themselves. That’s Mediterranean food.
What is your favourite ingredient?
In general, I love cheese. It must be my favourite ingredient. I love feta cheese, haloumi, even French and Italian.
What is your favourite item on your menu?
I would choose the Stuffed Squid. We grill this with feta, dill, spinach, parsley and lemon juice. I would also pick the langostines, grilled with ladolemono (classic Greek dressing with lemon, olive oil and oregano).
What do you want people to know about your restaurant?
I would like them to know that Alati is a family restaurant. It’s not fine dining or fancy. It’s a place with a face. We would like them to come along, relax, bring some friends and we’ll also become your friends. We’ll come outside and talk to you, enjoy your company, maybe even have a drink together.
What’s coming up next for you and Alati?
We’re bringing in some new ingredients. Bottarga – a gently-cured fish roe from the grey mullet which is highly prized. It’s served as a starter, kind of a Greek caviar. We may serve it with chopped capers, eggs, all on with fresh pita bread which we make here.
What would you say to anyone interested in becoming a chef?
Think twice! It’s a hard profession. You will work 16-18 hours a day, no weekends, no Christmas, no Easter, no Summer… nothing!
So then, why are you a chef?
Because I love this job. I may pay the price for it but I love it. If you know that you love it, do it. But it’s not like coming out of school as a young chef, sitting at the computer and creating a menu where everything is ready for you. No… you can’t have your head in the clouds like that. It’s a tough job but if you love it, you can do it.
For more information, visit Alati
Phone: +65 6221 6124
Address: 73 Amoy Street, Singapore
Lunch: Mon-Fri, 12:00pm to 2.30pm (Last order 2:00pm)
Dinner: Mon-Sat, 6:00pm to 12:00am (Last order 10:00pm)
Sunday Closed. Public Holidays/Eves open as usual.
Don’t miss out on the EATSingapore Chef’s Choice Dinner for Alati happening on the 14th of March 2017. Details can be found at here.
EATSingapore’s Chef’s Choice dinners are unique because the menus are created by the Chef exclusively for EATSingapore book holders. The set meal showcases what the Chef loves rather than limiting them to the standard menu items.
All images by Alati and EATSingapore unless otherwise noted. Please note that we were not paid for this article and we purchased our own EATSingapore book and meal.
This article originally appeared on vanillabeige.com and may have been edited for this platform.