Q&A with The Alpina Gstaad Chef Pâtissier Vasileios Klonaris

Where does your love for working in the kitchen originate from?

  • I grew up watching my grandmother making homemade breads, pastries and sweets without ever following any recipes. I was fascinated with the fact that she could create such delicious items from pure instinct and love for the ingredients.

Why did you become a pastry chef?
  • I’ve always loved sweets. So on a trip to Paris in 2005, l made a special 4-day itinerary visiting the best pastry shops and bakeries. Never have I seen such a level of ‘finesse’ before in both flavour and visual artistry. I was blown away and decided to become a part of it.

What is your Signature Pastry Creation?
  • It is my “tarte au citron”. With a soft Italian meringue, it is a silky, creamy and tangy sensation. The fresh Sicilian lemon zest is perfectly balanced and has just enough sweetness that you will not feel guilty!

Of all the places you have worked so far, which has offered the most learning?
  • The Berkeley Hotel in London. It is one of the top hotels in the UK and the level of service is impressive. There wasn’t anything the team didn’t do for their guests. Every wish was made true and their signature Afternoon Tea is just a work of art.

You’ve worked in various well-known hotels. What do you like particularly about The Alpina Gstaad?
  • I love the thorough mixture of tradition and modernity. But what attracted me the most was The Alpina Gstaad’s dedication and attention to each individual guest. The hotel has only 56 rooms so it is an intimate environment where we can get to know their preferences. As the guests are very well travelled and come from all over the world, we can be extremely creative and experiment with both traditional and modern flavours.

What are you looking forward to the most while working at The Alpina Gstaad?
  • I am looking forward to experimenting with local products and flavours and weaving them into exciting new creations.

What do you like about Switzerland?
  • I love the unique greenness of the Swiss environment with its mountains, meadows and forests — this is something quite outstanding.

Gstaad is quite a bit higher in altitude than Interlaken and some of the other places you have worked. How do you compensate when baking? Is altitude a challenge for making pastry, souffles or other desserts?
  • Absolutely. The mountain climate is drier than lower altitudes. At the same time, the air is thinner which means less air resistance. This particularly affects pastry products like viennoiserie and bread from rising. Depending on what we are making, we have to adapt measurements, ingredients and techniques according to the altitude conditions.

Do you plan on doing any live pastry creations in the restaurants? If so, which ones?
  • Definitely. For kids but also big kids at heart. As a pastry chef it’s a great joy to introduce people to my own magical world of pastries. It’s always is a special moment when you are creating a dessert right in front of the guest — it becomes a co-creation and you can sense their emotion and excitement.

What do you wish your creations achieve here at The Alpina Gstaad?
  • To introduce something new and unexpected to the taste buds of our guests — in a positive manner!

Are you planning to incorporate local ingredients / flavours in your creations?
  • Absolutely. I see it as a great privilege to be so close to my ingredients and to know exactly where they are coming from. Using fresh and local ingredients creates a new taste altogether. With the climate and altitude here, l am excited to discover new flavours myself.

Are you planning any special delicacies for summer, which really give a flavour of the destination too?
  • When I think of summer in the Alps, it reminds me of meadows full of flowers, herbs and wild berries of every kind. I will leave that to your imagination.

Where does your inspiration for new creations come from?
  • Really anything. It can be a colour, a material, a song, a shape, an image in the countryside, a book, a word I heard or read, an idea… Inspiration comes at anytime from anywhere, you just have to be open to see it.

Where do you see similarities between the philosophy of our Executive Chef Martin Goschel and your creations? How do you plan on enhancing the dining experience of the guests of The Alpina Gstaad?
  • Fresh, local and seasonal are only three of the similarities we have in common. It all starts from understanding our ingredients fully. All the freshness and flavours have to be transmitted to our guests’ palate. It is our passion and love for our craft and work that our guests will experience.

How important is sustainability for you? What part does it play in your chef life?
  • Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. Working as a pastry chef, I know that what we eat matters on many levels. Access to sufficient food for all, without compromising the health of our planet is increasingly recognised as a responsibility of the food industry. For me at The Alpina Gstaad, it means making the most out of local products, naturally created and those that actually play a role in our environment — for example, I am fascinated by the production of Alpina Honey created by our own bees.

Any sustainable initiatives (e.g. like the ’no food waste’ pasta)?
  • There are definitely some actions we can take, such as using local and organic ingredients (including our own honey) and reducing packaging waste.

How does your knowledge of chemistry and biology help in your career as a pastry chef?
  • Each chef needs to know and understand his ingredients because it is much more than something simple. It is about texture, crystallisation, emulsions, infusions and all the small details you need to pay attention to in order to make an unforgettable dish and culinary experience for the guest.

How does the trend of veganism affect pastries? Are you looking for vegan options for your creations?
  • I believe that veganism is not a trend. I would rather suggest calling it a “new philosophy” of food consumption. This “new philosophy” has been accepted and welcomed by millions of people in the last decade. It is a real challenge for me as a pastry chef to make delicious vegan desserts to the extent to which guests are accustomed. But then, there is nothing better for a chef, seeing both vegan and non-vegan guests enjoying desserts equally; what is even better, is guilt-free indulgence.