Chef Yiannis Kasidokostas: A Journey of Passion and Philoxenia

Chef Yiannis Kasidokostas: A Journey of Passion and Philoxenia

Chef Yiannis Kasidokostas is a culinary virtuoso whose journey in the world of hospitality has been defined by his unwavering passion for food and the art of making strangers feel like friends.

As the mastermind behind the acclaimed s.owl and Little Athens restaurants in Carnegie, Melbourne, Yiannis has created a culinary haven where guests are treated to not just exquisite Mediterranean cuisine but also an unparalleled dining experience. In his own words, Yiannis shares his remarkable journey from humble beginnings to becoming a culinary luminary, all while emphasising the profound significance of philoxenia - the Greek concept of treating strangers with utmost kindness and generosity.

As far as patrons of s.owl and Little Athens in Carnegie are concerned, chef Yiannis Kasidokostas’ secret lies quite possibly in cloning himself. It’s the only logical explanation. If you go to s.owl, to get a taste of his signature take on modern Mediterranean cuisine, you will see him in the kitchen, towering above the steaming pots and pans, overlooking the magical transformation of produce into delectable dishes. Blink once, and he’s over your table, checking to see if you enjoy your meal, suggesting a wine that complements your choice. And if you walk out of the restaurant, heading down Koornang Road, there he is again, grilling meat and putting together the closest-to-the-classic Athenian Souvlaki in Melbourne.

In reality, Yiannis’ secret lies in his passion for food and hospitality. A passion that has been part of his life since the beginning. This is how he recounts his journey.

Chef Yiannis Kasidokostas: A Journey of Passion and Philoxenia
Chef Yiannis Kasidokostas: A Journey of Passion and Philoxenia 1

Discovering His Calling

"I was about three and a half when I first showed interest in cooking," recalls Yiannis. His culinary journey began in a small village in Mount Chelmos, Peloponnese, where he tasted his first stifado, a rabbit-and-onion stew. This taste of traditional Greek cuisine ignited a lifelong passion. Yiannis adds, "My family background is a mix and match of influences: Mani (south Peloponnese), Smyrna, Athens, Constantinople... We were not rich, but there was always a well-prepared meal at home."

Appreciating Fresh Produce

At the tender age of eleven, Yiannis began working alongside his father at the Fish Market in Athens. This experience not only taught him the importance of customer interaction but also instilled in him a deep appreciation for fresh produce. He asserts, "In our kitchen, we keep it simple, but our values are non-negotiable; we’re guided by freshness and sustainability."

Lessons in Fine Dining

Yiannis pursued formal culinary education at the Hospitality School of Athens, affiliated with the Culinary Institute of Lyon. This education exposed him to a world of culinary intricacies and precision. He reflects, "When we were taught to cook lobster, we were provided one lobster per four apprentices, whereas private cooking schools would afford one lobster for the whole class." Moreover, he had the privilege of learning from some of Athens' greatest chefs who revolutionised Greek cooking. Yiannis was deeply influenced by their creativity and leadership.

About Philoxenia

For Yiannis, fine dining is not just about food; it's a mindset deeply rooted in understanding culture, history, and the essence of hospitality. He explains, "Hospitality, philoxenia, is also a mindset. It’s a way of life; it’s about creating a space to interact with a complete stranger and make this person feel like a true friend." This concept of philoxenia, treating strangers as friends, is an ancient Greek value that continues to shape his approach to hospitality.

"Hospitality, philoxenia, is also a mindset. It’s a way of life..."

A Journey to Melbourne

In 2006, Yiannis made a life-changing decision to move to Melbourne, a city with a thriving Greek population. He fell in love with the multicultural lifestyle and embraced the challenge of providing top-notch hospitality in a competitive business environment. He says, "People here enjoy good food and expect hospitality, something that is very challenging in the world of business but also very rewarding if you love what you do."

Embracing His Heritage

Yiannis's mission is clear: to showcase the greatness of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine and culture while embodying the true essence of hospitality. He emphasises, "From a simple coffee at someone’s house to a meal invitation with a lot of different things on a table with way too much to eat just because we love variety and different flavour profiles when we feast - Greeks grow up serving or cooking by heart and love to offer it to others and see them happy with what we give."

Chef Yiannis Kasidokostas's culinary journey is a reflection of his unwavering passion for food and the art of hospitality. His dedication to preserving the rich traditions of Greek cuisine while embracing modernity has made s.owl and Little Athens restaurants a gastronomic haven in Melbourne. Through his commitment to philoxenia, Yiannis continues to create unforgettable dining experiences, leaving guests with a taste of Greece and the warmth of true friendship. As he aptly puts it, "Hospitality is a way of life."

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