Born and raised in Crete, Lefteris Iliadis found his calling as a chef at an early age—a passion that took him into the kitchens of acclaimed Greek and international hotels until it pulled him back home. Inspired by the island’s rich UNESCO-protected culinary heritage, Iliadis, who heads the culinary offerings at Cretan Malia Park, believes that the most flavorful food is made simply with the highest quality, fresh, seasonal, and local ingredients. He considers it a part of his job to inspire and educate guests about the surrounding bounty by taking them on tours of the organic kitchen garden and exploring the resort’s botanical gardens.
Q: What is your favorite childhood memory of food?
My entire childhood is filled with flavors and scents. I still remember the aroma of gemista (traditional Greek dish of oven baked stuffed peppers and tomatoes) filling our home every summer. My mother prepared them with fresh, seasonal vegetables and lots of aromatic mint handpicked from our own garden.
Q: How did you learn to become a chef?
I’ve had a professional training in a cooking school, but I have to say that I’ve learned the most useful cooking tips watching my mother prepare family dinners.
Q: What has working in so many kitchens taught you?
Cooking is a very earthy and personal process. Only if I feel perfectly content with what I’ve prepared will I make others content too. You really need to love what you’re doing and enjoy every bit of the process, starting from chopping to baking.
Q: What is the one ingredient from the island that you can’t live without?
The Cretan olive oil, which is low in acidity and has an exceptional flavor. Olive trees have been cultivated in Crete for centuries and olive oil has always been the principal source of fat in the kitchens here. Our ancestors called it the elixir of life and it is credited for the islanders’ famous longevity.
Q: What is your secret weapon in terms of either spice/ingredient/technique?
The rich flavor of oregano and Crete herbs that I use in almost all my dishes, as well as slow cooking in a woodfire oven.
Q: Describe a perfect day out eating on the island.
Strolling around the seaside villages of Crete, sitting at a picturesque small ouzeri (Greek tavern) by the sea, where I can enjoy fresh seafood meze and a chilled glass of ouzo along with good company.
Q: What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of being a part of conceptual process of Cretan Malia’s organic kitchen garden. We developed it to resemble gardens that you would find in the homes of every Cretan village. There’s no greater joy than being able to cultivate the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that you’ll later use to prepare dinner. To me, this is an invaluable gift to our guests!