Earlier this summer, when I started this section of my blog, Global Greek Gastronomy, I knew that I would want to write about Ioanna Theodorakaki and her restaurant, Duck Private Cheffing. Opened in 2014 in the middle of an industrial area outside of my home town of Thessaloniki, Duck is not at all easy to find, but it has become a mecca for local foodies.
When I first visited, prompted by the recommendation of a friend, I was drawn to the full open country-style kitchen, the warm feeling of entering someone’s home. I fell in love with the food and made it a point to return every summer, when we would sit outside on a deck that is like the extension of a living room, and watch the dynamics in the small kitchen. The outstanding wine list, put together by Ioanna’s husband, Stefanos Antoniadis, was a pleasure to explore and made for the perfect accompaniment to Ioanna’s creative cuisine.
I reached out to Ioanna while I was home last month, lingering over my annual dinner to learn more about her and Duck (I also got to observe their meticulous clean-up at the end of a busy evening!). It is not often that you find a woman as both chef and restauranteur and I was intrigued to know what motivated her and how she got there. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:
M: What made you interested in food and opening a Greek restaurant in Thessaloniki?
I: My love of food began with my childhood. For as long as I remember, I wanted to cook. My choice to open a restaurant in Thessaloniki was a natural consequence, since this is the city where I was born and raised.
M: Your restaurant is off the beaten path, far from the usual Thessaloniki hot spots, yet still a great success. How did you succeed?
I: I’ve often said that God open the road to Duck and people came to us. It was a surprise, even for us, how quickly people learned about us! I think it confirms that people will seek out and reward consistently high quality.
M: Do you remember the first time you ate something that moved you?
I: A meal I remember and that still moves me was made by a little old man in a small village in Crete - freshly-cut potatoes fried in olive oil, handmade twisted pasta with lamb, and dry mizíthra cheese.
M: Talk to me a little about your process, how do you choose what to serve at the restaurant?
I: At Duck, we develop our menu based on the ingredients we find that morning. I might find grouper that I’ll make with fresh okra, or scorpion fish that I’ll steam with vegetables, or maybe goat from the island of Samothráki which I’ll roast with potatoes in our wood-burning oven. This is something our regular clients enjoy because it gives them the chance to try different dishes.
M: The farm-to-table movement has really taken off here in the US - do you see this in Greece at all?
I: Definitely! As I said, I develop the menu with what I can find at the markets but we also have a small garden out in the back, one of the benefits of being in the middle of nowhere. These days I have tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, a lot of herbs like basil, parsley, dill, oregano, thyme. In the winter we plant cauliflower, broccoli, and lettuce.
M: In the past few years, we’ve seen an increased interest in creative Greek cuisine. How do you see the future of Greek cuisine being shaped? And how do you see the future of food and creativity in our rapidly evolving and increasingly digital world?
I: I think this interest will continue to grow as more and more people discover that Greek cuisine is the tastiest in the world! I am so proud of my heritage and feel blessed that I was born here with so much good food - fresh fish, vegetables, olive oil. I think the future of food will be a return to pure ingredients that won’t be manipulated too much - simple recipes where you can feel the product, its texture, its taste.
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