In Conversation with Chef George Delidimos.
It's a Tuesday morning when I meet Chef George Delidimos at the white quartz-topped bar counter at Kipos Hellenic Cuisine at Lumina Station in Wrightsville Beach. "We need coffee, right?" asks Delidimos, already walking to the espresso machine. "I make a mean cappuccino. I'm European, so we take our coffee seriously," he smiles. It's this easy-going, authentic approach of the thirty-something-year-old chef that I will come to learn is very much part of Delidimos' approach to being a chef and the wildly popular success story of Kipos.
"I think my approach in the kitchen is to let people shine," says Delidimos. "When a kitchen is a stressful, brutal place, which it so often is, I think it shows in the food. You can be meticulous and produce fantastic food without running it like a military school." As we sip coffee, the line garde manager, Nick, comes out of the kitchen to say hello and to discuss the evening menu with Delidimos. "Nick came up with the Kampachi with fresh kamquats, capers, and fennel you had for dinner last night. I like to allow young chefs to create dishes that will go on the menu, and our crudo, which changes regularly, is a great opportunity for this. It allows them to be creative, and most importantly, they feel like they are part of a team," says Delidimos."
Delidimos has been inside his fair share of kitchens worldwide and has a solid foundation of what works and what doesn't. Born and raised in the Greek port city of Thessaloniki, the city was recently designated Greece's first city of Gastronomy by UNESCO. And to George, it's no surprise to see Thessaloniki's gastronomic culture recognized this way. Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman – vibrant communities, each of which have left their mark on the city's cuisine. And while we all love the Greek classics, Delidimos wanted to create a Hellenic-focused menu at Kipos. The result? A uniquely Thessalonian culinary repertoire best enjoyed with a generous glass of Greek wine.
"Growing up in Thessaloniki, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a very diverse food culture by my family. Even though Greece is a small country, you find many subtle differences in how the same recipe is interpreted in different parts. Traveling and eating in Greece shaped my culinary memories as a child and later as a young adult. The short rib Youvetsi on my menu, with warm sweet spices and fall-off-the-bone braised ribs, perfectly reflects Thessaloniki's food culture," explains Delidimos.
When I ask Delidimos if he agrees with Thessaloniki's gastronomic designation, there is no hesitation. "I wholeheartedly agree. "What many people don't know about Thessaloniki is that about a century ago, Greeks were the minority population. Sephardic Jews, Muslims, Armenians, and Italians all called Thessaloniki home. That's how the city's diverse food culture was created and still exists today. For a chef, Thessaloniki is like a Mecca of fresh produce, with great street markets, weekly neighborhood market pop-ups, and fresh seafood from Halkidiki (an hour away). It keeps creativity flowing," says Delidimos.
After leaving high school and attending the Swiss Culinary School in Athens, Delidimos started his career traveling and working through European kitchens. But 3 destinations in particular shaped his culinary identity.
"I was lucky enough to secure a position in one of the best seafood restaurants in Greece, The Seven Seas in Thessaloniki. The restaurant is still open today after over 2 decades. I learned everything about storing, preparing, and cooking seafood in my almost 5-year tenure there," says Delidimos. "Then, on Rhodes Island, I met and worked with my mentor, Chef Nikos Karamanis. I worked as his sous chef at Boutique5 hotel for 3 years, and he taught me a lot about food and how to carry myself in a kitchen. Austria was my last destination before America. I worked at the Aqua Dome Hotel in Langennfeld, near Innsbruck. This was a 400-cover dinner service, and I learned to work with volume and under pressure, which helped immensely once I was in the US," adds Delidimos.
The menu at Kipos captures Delidimos' love of authentic Hellenic cuisine, much more than tzatziki, souvlaki, and feta-topped Greek salad. It's more like the Mediterranean- Balkan experience you fall in love with on vacation. Delidimos' food is meant to be shared, and his aim is to take you on a journey. Whether it's Soutzouki from Smyrna or Imam Bayildi from Turkey, his menu is elevated and enticing. Start with a glass of sparkling Zoinos Zitsa, and order the grilled octopus with fava beans, oregano, olive oil, and lemon. The Horiatiki salad of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, red onions, barrel-aged feta, olives, caper berries, olive oil, and oregano. The whole grilled grouper is dressed in olive oil, fresh herbs, and lemon, which is served table side and filed and paired perfectly with a C. Lazaridi "Amethystos" White Drama Sauvignon Blanc. And don't leave without trying the Ravani for dessert - a semolina and coconut cake drizzled with orange cinnamon syrup - is blissful.
Delidimos has managed to absorb his homelands diverse delicacies and combine them with the finest local producers. Bringing his knowledge and finesse to Wilmington’s growing culinary scene he has managed to put Kipos firmly on the map as one of the region’s most exciting eateries.