Chef John Vidalis – culinary talent in Athens and Mykonos
Chef John Vidalis is the culinary talent behind a restaurant group in Greece that operates six cafes, bars and restaurants, including the Pasaji restaurants in Athens and Mykonos.
We chat to Chef John about his cooking, and the silver lining of the Greece economic crisis – that’s it brought an awakening in the food and restaurant world.
When did you first fall in love with being in the kitchen?
It all began in the Cyclades, on the island of Tinos, when I, like many kids, used to sneak up and watch my grandma prepare the day’s meal. The spurs of excitement came from all directions: the colours of the ingredients, my childhood curiosity to learn to cook, cut and peel, and the mingling of ingredients. It was a magical process, all watched over by my grandma’s love, and that I tasted first in the house, from her spoon.
Later on, my childhood kitchen memories urged me to travel further to discover recipes and ingredients in other places in Greece, exploring the richness of the local gastronomy, and then around the world. The beauty of Italian gastronomy won my greatest attention at the age of 18, when I decided to recreate the emblematic dishes of Italy, the forming of fresh pizza dough, fresh pasta, with an interest in the purity of ingredients.
During my studies in Greece I focused on learning new techniques, and then in my postgraduate studies I specialised in the beauty of food presentation and innovative dish design.
Please tell us a little about your culinary background.
The last 14 years of my gastronomic adventure have been the most thrilling for me, with a young-at-heart feeling, keeping awake my childhood curiosity, my intention to create new taste experiences, experiment with ingredients and different cooking cultures.
I have designed a series of popular menus around the concept of trendy, all-day food, presented in new and upcoming spots of Athenian gastronomy. I would like to mention with a feeling of sweet nostalgia a couple of them: Big Deals, the all-day bar-resto in Psychico Athens, which serves nouveau French cuisine with a mix of fast dining and trendy brunching choices; the cosmopolitan and historic Agora in the heart of the beautiful suburb, Filothei, which presents curated Mediterranean dishes with a touch of Italy and healthy ingredients.
You’re now looking after five restaurants across Greece. Please tell us about this.
My current love is Kuzina, the fun, all-day bar and resto found in locations of charm and social interest. Kuzina in trendy Psyrri is my modern workshop of new and mindful cooking. Pasaji is a more sensual restaurant of tasting delights with a touch of mystique.
I’ve been working professionally as a chef for 12 years now, and I’m proud of now being a chef in chief at one of the greatest restaurant companies in Greece, owning restaurants and bars in Athens and in Mykonos, namely Pasaji Athens and Pasaji Mykonos, Kuzina Athens and Kuzina Mykonos and Farina Mykonos.
How would you describe your cooking style?
My cooking has its basis in traditional Greek recipes and the familiar ingredients we all love. Authenticity in materials, simplicity and modernism, innovation in dish presentation, and experimenting with exotic ingredients – all these are important to me. The result is Greek traditional plates with an exotic taste of the Far East, which offer a new understanding of Greek cuisine. I also cook Asian dishes with a European approach. My cooking style is fusion cuisine, a dialogue between European and Japanese tastes, as well as French Polynesian flavours.
We also have a sushi menu at Pasaji, at Spyrou Miliou passage, and Ornos beach in Mykonos.
Where do you get most of your produce?
We use a lot of local cooperatives and independent producers in Mykonos and Naxos. We change our daily menus according to the type of fresh ingredients we get in stock on a daily basis, including the specialty meat and fish that are brought to us.
Is it easy to source all ingredients in Athens?
It’s easier than ever before to access unusual ingredients in Greece. They get to the market quicker and it’s much convenient for chefs.
Are there any unusual ingredients, such as local herbs or spices, or local special products, that you use in the kitchen?
Not necessarily unusual in nature, but unusual in their purity: we get dairy products from Mykonos daily, fresh pasta from neighbouring Italy, potatoes from Naxos island, red tomatoes from Tinos, and Greek cheese from Syros.
We also often order ingredients according to special requests from our guests.
What is the dining scene in Athens like?
The famous crisis of Greece has brought an awakening in the food and restaurant world, a continuous seeking of innovation and novelty. Competition for ingredients is fierce, and we have to create dishes that are outstanding in flavour and style to please and surprise diners, who are often visiting from every part of the world. More than 5 million tourists visit us annually and gastronomy is considered one of the most attractive themes in tourism in Greece. Experimentation and innovation on existing recipes is key to keeping Greece on the world food map.
Thank you John.
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