Why does steak in a fancy restaurant taste better than the steak you cook at home? With far fewer steps than something as easy as a lasagne, it simply doesn’t follow. Cue: Ioannis Grammenos. In his native Greece, where he has often appeared on television, Ioannis is something of a celebrity chef.
Here in London, Ioannis is Heliot Steakhouse’s Executive Chef. Running monthly classes via his School of Meatology, he is the world’s first Meatologist. Here, he imparts his two decades of experience onto his pupils and teaches them how to cook meat properly. “I want to give people the best steak of their life,” he states in his Instagram profile. So is there an art to it?
“It is an art,” he told Twisted. “First of all, I'm not a magician. I'm a chef and if I have a good quality of steak, I can do magic. If I don't have a good quality of steak, I cannot do magic. So the first thing is that you need to have a good steak. Source it from a nice, secure supplier - a good farm where they treat the animal in a certain way and respect the environment. This is the first step.”
“I grew up with my family who really, really respect food”
Ioannis’ respect for food runs deep. “It was a small farm with a few animals - livestock for the family,” he recalls of his childhood home. “So a few cows, a few goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, turkeys. Just for the family to pass the winter, all the years I was a kid. So I still remember going and actually bringing fresh milk from the cow every morning to the table. It was hot and we'll have our fresh bread that my grandma used to make in the oven. So I grew up with my family who really, really respect food. And they taught me and passed on all the traditions on how to be a chef and a cook. On quality, ingredients and also how to find the best of what is around you.”
One can’t be an expert chef without a broad knowledge of food. Ioannis has spent his whole career on the grill however, he is an expert in a range of ingredients - a passion which, again, stems from his childhood. “With my grandpa, we went to the forest picking mushrooms, wild herbs and wild garlic,” he explains. “My other grandpa taught me all about the animals - how to feed them, how to choose the best food for them and how to treat them. My grandmas - one of them was from Corfu so taught me about light food - the aromas of lemon, of lemon thyme, wild thyme, capers… My other grandmother was from the north of Greece so she taught me all about pies and how to preserve the food. And my mum taught me the quality.”
“Use a nice, hot surface to seal your meat”
So, what are the next steps for a perfect steak? “The second step is when you're going to butcher the steak and prepare it, cut it correctly,” Ioannis explains. “Remove it from your fridge a minimum of two to three hours before you cook it,” he adds, confirming that - as the internet often tells us about everyday tasks - we’ve been doing it wrong our entire lives. “Use a nice, hot surface to seal your meat,” he continues, “with a very generous amount of salt and pepper.”
While there is definitely an art to cooking the steak, much of the legwork is sourcing the right cuts. Ioannis has spent his whole career travelling the world in search of the best meat for his menus. USDA prime beef (the top two per cent of American beef graded by the United States Department of Agriculture) is his go-to.
“Have it with a simple glass of wine”
“At Heliot Steakhouse, I'm sourcing the meat from the United States”, he explains. “It is USDA prime steak from Creekstone Farms. Creekstone Farms are known for the certificates on how they treat the animal and how they grow the animal. They don't use any antibiotics, they don’t use chemicals, they don't use any hormones or GMO meats. So the meat is grown naturally. All of them are grass-fed and only three months before they harvest the animals, they feed them with corn to give them a bit of weight and to make the meat sweeter. However, they have their own corn farms. So they also control the quality of the corn that is going to the animal.”
Ioannis believes that the animals’ welfare is of utmost importance - and that it affects the quality of the meat. However, he still has a trick up his sleeve when it comes to the cooking process. “The biggest secret for me is to rest the steak. It is so important when you cook it, to rest the steak - because the temperature is travelling inside the meat and the steak is removing the extra juices that it doesn't need - and then to slice it and to have it with a simple glass of wine.”
“All my life I was working with animals, with livestock”
Having had the word “Meatologist” trademarked, there seems a certain acceptance that this is largely a gimmick. “It’s not a tricky one,” Ioannis states when I probe him on the subject. “It’s all my experience on how to cook the perfect steak. All my life I was working with animals, with livestock.” He adds, “all the 21 years of my experience in the kitchen, I was always on the grill. It is something that I love. I know how to do the perfect steak and it is what I want to teach people.”
Somewhere between clever and pioneering, the trademark ensures that Ioannis is both the first Meatologist and the only Meatologist. Of course, to be a pioneer you don’t have to be the best - merely the first. But having heard about his past and having tasted his food, I can safely say that those two decades of experience have culminated in food which you won’t easily forget and steak which is cooked, as they say, to perfection.
Ioannis’ School of Meatology classes run every month at Heliot Steakhouse in London’s Leicester Square. Tickets start at £65 ($82) and include a welcome drink and a three-course dinner with wine pairings