In August, the Capri Hotel in Southampton debuted their one-of-a-kind dining experience, NAIA. Executive Chef Pavlos Davarakis discusses his culinary background, the new menu and what sets NAIA apart from the competition.
Tell us about your culinary background and how those experiences prepared you for your role as Executive Chef of NAIA at the Capri Hotel.
I am originally from Athens, Greece. I studied at Le Monde Institute of Hotel and Tourism in Athens. My first position was at a bakery, where I started working during school. It was before I knew anything about cooking or baking. I started at the lowest position and worked my way up. My father taught me that if you want to get to the top, you can’t skip any steps because you will learn from each. I wanted to be a head chef, so he told me that before I get there, I needed to have respect for every position under the executive chef.
After studying, I continued working as a baker. Then, I worked at Aggelidis Bakery, a well-known Greek bakery, where I worked with larger volumes.
I felt I needed to explore a bit—both the world and my abilities—so I moved to London, England. I learned how to make sushi from some of the top sushi experts in London. Then, I was called to Dublin, Ireland to help some friends shape their new restaurant and bakery. I learned both front and back of house and worked up to becoming the manager.
After some time, I wanted the ultimate challenge, so I got on a plane and moved to New York. I felt ready. I started as an Executive Pastry Chef at a four-star restaurant that was part of the Kellari Group. I began collaborating with the renowned chef Mr. Gregory Zapantis who became my mentor and close friend, and eventually I became his sous chef. I represented him at various events, from corporate events at the Russian Tea Room to private dining experiences.
After four years of learning from him, I knew I was ready.
Is there anything that sets NAIA at the Capri Hotel apart from the restaurants and hotels you’ve worked at previously?
Unlike other hotels I’ve worked in, here at NAIA, we focus almost entirely on the guest experience. In other words, most hotels and their restaurants think separately, with distinct guest experiences. At NAIA, we collaborate on almost every level. So, when we shaped the menu, we considered not only visitors, but also our neighbors. I want every dish I create to speak to the diner and to deliver more than just great flavor. Every dish is unique and has a special meaning. When eating NAIA’s octopus, I want the person to be transported through the flavors to the Mediterranean.
Tell us more about your vision for the NAIA at the Capri Hotel menu.
The best way to get fresh ingredients is to get them from your neighbors. We are lucky that we are here on Long Island where there are farmers not far who are excited to work with us. Our mission is to support the local community as much as we can. To that end, I searched for the juiciest tomato—and found it at Hank’s Farms. I partner with local fishermen to bring fresh fish daily. Long Island has so much to offer and we’re excited to take advantage of it.
What seasonal dishes can NAIA at the Capri Hotel guests expect to find on the menu as we move into the colder months?
Because our recipes are made with local ingredients, their flavors will change with the season. We anticipate creating new dishes for the colder months. For example, guests can expect pumpkin, squash and root vegetables incorporated into the menu. It isn’t swimsuit season anymore, so hearty dishes will make people feel cozy.
What do you find most rewarding about being the executive chef of NAIA at the Capri Hotel?
I love going to work every day. I’m lucky because I have been given creative freedom with the dishes I envision.
To learn more about NAIA at the Capri Hotel and to place a reservation, visit naiahamptons.com.