What is the earliest event in your life that inspired you to pursue cooking? And then to pursue it professionally?
I was 12 years old or so when I realized I actually loved cooking – growing up at my grandmother's home. Because of her age, the shortages and difficulties that she had been through in life (the occupation of Greece by the Axis Powers 1941-44) she was amazingly creative. She would do sheer wonders out of a few most basic, simple ingredients. My grandmother and later my mother are my main inspiration.
My first real practical experience with cooking was when I entered the school in 1996. Schooling turned much more fascinating than expected and I decided I should develop my love for cooking and the thrill of it into a profession.
Was it a multiple choice for you at that point? Since becoming a professional is so much about focusing and commitment, what other activities or prospects you had to sacrifice making that decision and in the long run?
It the beginning and when you are young and excited, you don't really understand how much sacrifice is required to become a good Chef. When it comes to excellence in the profession, as in any profession, one should be prepared to put aside pretty much everything else. And you would still be tormented by self-doubts, thinking you are not good enough, could be a bit better.Your wife, your child... You don’t see them as much as you would want. You wake up to make it early to the restaurant, to arrive well before breakfast and to stay in the kitchen until late, well after dinner. Not answering the phone calls, missing on recreation, let alone entertainment, losing your friends… doing the job trying to outperform yourself, getting better and better. The sacrifices are therefore many and to be fully content with the achievement they seem to be never enough.
"Cooking as art... All cooking that aims higher than a boiled egg is an attempt to make an art piece. It’s an invention. You try things, different combinations – it’s a creative game. How to become Leonardo da Vinci? Start and keep inventing."
Cooking is a skill, but also a style. One acquires skills reading cookbooks, studying recipes, working in apprenticeship... But how do you learn cooking in style? How does it become art?
Books and practice are important, but they are not the only sources of high competence in the field. To become a great chef one must have good cooking skills for sure. Seminars, workshops with masters – where you acquire more knowledge, expand your horizons. Sure you have to be a good leader and administrator to organize and command your team. Time is also a good tutor. As well as previous work experience in different capacities and at different places... so you can finally choose what you like doing and take it further up.
Cooking as art.. All cooking that aims higher than a boiled egg is an attempt to make an art piece. Basically, it’s an invention. You try things, different combinations – it’s a creative game. How to become Leonardo da Vinci? Start and keep inventing. Cooking as art has many sides: ingredients, how fresh they are, how wholesome, how they are balanced with each other, how they are treated individually, how they are served, interior and exterior of the restaurant, its location, air, weather, certain attitude and manners of waiters. Even relations between guests, strangers at the next table... Art obtains from the awareness of all these factors and how one handles all these factors. They define cooking and eating as aesthetic experience.
Anyone you can talk about who has had the most influence on you becoming who you are professionally?
Two persons played an especially important role in the evolution of my career – in different ways. The first is George Finos, whom I met when making my first steps along my culinary path. From him I learned how to discern people, how to establish their fitness for a particular job, to identify their strengths and weaknesses, to figure out their hidden talents, their motivation and prospects. He helped me to develop what’s called “culinary consciousness”.
The other one is Michalis Ntoynetas. Although we got to know each other rather late, it’s through some work we did together I learned from him and understood what it means to be creative. I am grateful to both these men for guiding me towards becoming a better person and better cook.
Is there a philosophy of food that guides your cooking?
Yes, indeed. In the kitchen and in the practical sense, it’s the quality of products, techniques and instruments which build a chef. Product quality and methods are more or less self-explanatory. As for machinery, it has been a boom in recent years with the new types of equipment being produced that saves a chef a lot of stress and energy and time to allocate it to creativity.
Around the restaurant, it’s social philosophy from which Scorpios derives its spirit. In sync with the club’s’ overarching spirit of friendship, dishes on its menu are presented on big plates to encourage sharing and – perhaps most important of all – togetherness. Philosophy of food itself is the understanding that “we are what we eat”. Culinary team focuses on highly selective, healthy cuisine, presenting simple yet refined dishes, infused with a Greek provenance, yet which are also influenced by the world-traveling folks in the kitchen.
Is being the Chef de Cuisine at Scorpios any different from being the Chef anywhere else?
Before joining Scorpios, I have been involved with a number of large restaurants, outstanding, reputable and successful. And I very much enjoyed working there. But they simply cannot stand comparison with Scorpios. To me, Scorpions is absolutely the best place and it just perfectly resonates with my vision of professional progress for everyone involved in the operation, on all levels.
The quality of ingredients largely determines the quality of the menu. How do you go about looking for the best ingredients on the island so small?
Absolutely! Product quality plays the most important role in the menu. Together with my colleague Athenagoras, we are always looking for the best quality options, sourcing products not only locally but everywhere we can find them, so the output is impeccable.
Will the menu be any different for the next season at Scorpios?
The first season in operation from scratch with no clientele base, no reviews and recommendations in the Media and with blank expectations as for who our new guests would typically be was a very stressful but ultimately invaluable lesson. By the end, we have learned a great deal about our guests, where they are coming from and their various preferences for food and for service. While Scorpios is in recess until May, together with Athenagoras we are about to busy ourselves with research on quality food sourcing, expanding the base, with experiments in the kitchen and food testing. Considering the successes in 2015 with our intention to build upon this foundation, the menu for 2016 will be, as they say, the same but different.