Meet Fairmont Mt Kenya Safari Club chef who has served Putin, Ronaldo and Rihanna

With over 30 years experience in the in the hospitality industry the chef has had the pleasure to interact with a good number of high-profile guests

Chef Aris Athanasiou and his team during dinner at River Likki- Open-fire Kitchen (Star Chase)

The Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club remains one of the most luxurious tourist destinations in Kenya and even beyond our borders as far as intentional guests are concerned.

This facility was built directly on the equator back in the 1960s and so far it has been able to host some of the world-renowned celebrities and public figures among them American actors Steve McQueen and Bing Crosby and former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The iconic club is a true representation of the 1950s colonial architectural design that continues to give the place a vintage look that is always admirable.

If you are traveling down to Mount Kenya or planning an out-of-town weekend trip, then I will highly recommend you try out Fairmont Mount Kenya - you will never regret it.

I recently got the opportunity to have a chat with the establishment’s Head Chef, Mr Aris Athanasiou, eager to hear what goes into preparing meals for guests at the resort.

With over 30 years in the hospitality industry, Aris Athanasiou - who is a cluster executive chef for all the Fairmont properties in Kenya - has had the pleasure to interact with high-profile guests.

However, despite his big title, Aris is always hands-on when it comes to preparing food for all the guests visiting the properties he handles.

He has served the likes of American singer Rihanna, Manchester United footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, Russian President Vladimir Putin, singer Madonna and he takes me through his career and why he loves Kenya to the core.

Chef Aris insists that to him all guests are the same despite their status because he always aims to give them a memorable experience with his dishes.

He has worked in over 10 countries but confesses that Kenya has a special place in his heart.

Please introduce yourself

My name is Aris Athanasiou. I come from Greece but for the last six and half years have been in Kenya. I’m a Cluster Executive Chef at Accor Hotels in Kenya – all the Fairmont properties plus Movenpick. I’m in charge of all the menus and concepts, banquets and the hiring and training of the chefs.

Quite a responsibility, how do you manage to serve all the properties?

Actually, I move around a lot, you can find me here, after two weeks you will find me in Mara, and maybe after a month, you will find me in Norfolk (Nairobi). I spend my time between these four properties.

After six years in Kenya, what do you love most about this country?

The first time I came to Kenya, I felt like I was home. We have a lot of things in common, people here are very friendly and open-minded.

On the job, I found that people are very thirsty to learn and grow which is a great asset to me. I believe I'm a good communicator and mentor and I have trained a lot of people. In the last six years in Kenya I have handled more than 160 chefs, all Kenyans and they are in a position to manage and work in the industry and even become my partners and I’m very happy with that.

What makes you hands-on in everything that involves your job, because somebody would think with your position you are only supposed to be giving orders?

I believe it’s a matter of respect for the team. I’m hands on because I believe that when you are given a title you have to earn this title. Nobody can respect you because someone gave you a title, you need to lead by example, mentor, coach, motivate and inspire your team.

Secondly, I have a passion for what I do and I’m crazy about it. The worst thing you can do to me is put me in an office to send emails and write reports. It's part of my job but I prefer to be on the ground with the team and have direct interactions with guests.

For me, guests mean they are coming to my house, and I need to take care of them, understand their needs, and preferences they have sometimes, so if you sit in the office you lose direction.

How many countries have you worked in?

It's more than 10. I started my career in Cyprus, because my college was there. Went to Greece, my country of origin, Germany, Spain, Serbia, Dubai (U.A.E), Kenya, Sri Lanka among others.

Out of these countries, which would you choose as your retirement home?

If I have to retire, for sure I’m going down to Watamu, for fishing, good seafood and relaxing.

Actually, each country has something to give you and after 30 years of working experience, this is the first time in my career that I have stayed so many years in one place and that’s Kenya. I love Kenya and I believe I belong here. And it’s the country of my heart and I’m not just saying that because you are here. Amazing climate, amazing people and so many beautiful places to visit.

Kenya has everything, beautiful wildlife, and national parks for me I’m within the triangle, Mara–Mountain Kenya, and Nairobi.

Chef Aris mentioned that he has been on more than 60 Safaris - working with Fairmont Hotels and every time the experience is fascinating and enjoyable.

The most important thing for me is also the people. Open-minded people, good hearts, kindness and all that.

What can you tell us about Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club and the conservancy?

We need to respect the environment we live in and the planet. So this is something unique that happens here on our Fairmont property. I have traveled to more than 10 countries for work and more than 40 countries for vacation and I have never seen such a unique idea. On one side you relax and on the other, you interact with the environment.

Also, we protect these animals, especially the Mountain Bongo. We need to respect the animals. There is also a program we run called Nairobi to feed the kids, where we send food to Orphanages through NGOs that support them. So, it’s part of our DNA.

Have you ever considered establishing a home in Kenya?

It’s something that has been on my mind. I’m planning to buy a house here soon and live here for long. I love this country a lot. Probably in a few years you will come to see me and we go fishing together because I love the Kenyan coast. It reminds me of my home country.

Tell us a little bit more about your newly launched Open-fire Kitchen along River Likki?

The inspiration for the Open-fire Kitchen is from Francis Mallmann, an Argentine Celebrity Chef and author. He cooks only with fire. We got this idea because we believe that everybody loves barbeque and whatever we cook here is by firewood. We don’t use electricity, or gas here and we only start to cook when you sit down so that you can have the real Barbeque experience.

We are planning in the future to have a fully functional kitchen down there in the forest, along River Likki.

What is your favorite meal on all the Menus you have created here?

Actually, when I create one menu I’m trying to understand the guest’s needs because maybe I like something and they don’t. So every time I create one Menu, I’m trying to get inspiration from the place and this place is unique.

You need to understand why people come here. There are different Menus in one city hotel but it’s different when people come to relax, cool down, and enjoy themselves.

Like the Colobus Grill – is a fine dining Restaurant and here I am bringing my experience from all these countries I have worked in, with very fine supplies from around to create a perfect meal with fresh food. We also change the menu often to give our customers variety.

We also have the Ze Bar where one can relax and have some bites with drinks and the Tusk Restaurant where we normally serve buffet and breakfast.

What is that one Kenyan food or meal that you enjoy the most?

I love Mukimo, especially when served with sauce. And when it comes to drinks, I like whisky and wine.

Why should one choose to spend a night at this place – Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club?

The place is very unique and peaceful, relaxing. I have worked for over 30 years, seen a lot of hotels, properties but nothing compared to this. This place has something; it’s the mountain, it’s the vibe. I have brought here a lot of people (friends) from different countries and till now they are still talking about this place. So it’s a must to spend a night here. Home away from home.

Who are some of the high profile guests you have served in your career?

I have a lot in my career- from Kings to world renowned singers. I have served the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Princess of Monaco, Madona, Rihanna, President Putin, Robin Williams and the list is endless.

But to tell you the truth, for me any guest is the same, unique and important.

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

Creativity. It makes me feel refreshed and motivated every day to create new things because I’m in charge of our four properties.

What makes me happy at the end of the day are smiley faces after I serve my food and to also create memories.

Would you recommend a career in hospitality?

I would recommend it for sure, it’s one fascinating career. And for me, I can’t say its works because I'm doing what I love and it's my passion.

Be ready to deliver by heart, have passion for what they are doing... love for food is also an important aspect because at the end of the day, the food we create is for the people(Customers).

What goes into the creation of a menu?

You need to understand the needs of the people, ingredients, environment and the combination – what people love to eat. With 30 years’ experience it's easy for me to create new menus and what I love about food is that it bringing's all of us together.

When ending our interview, Chef Aris said “I hope to see you soon, here or some other place” and I will definitely be back to Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club for more enjoyment.

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