When most people think about Greece and its cuisine, I reckon it’s a fairly safe bet that lamb souvlaki, dips like tzatziki, and whitewashed walls with blue trimmings spring to mind.
It makes sense: they’re the elements of my culture that people are familiar with. But the reality is that Greece is about so much more than that, and that’s my inspiration. I cook meals that remind me of the flavours of my childhood; flavours from northern Greece where my parents were born.
At the same time, I want my meals to represent the whole and varied picture that is Greek culture and history. That’s why Xanthi doesn’t look like your 'typical’ Greek restaurant, and instead has a slight Turkish feel about it – a nod to the fact that Greece was once part of the Ottoman Empire.
In the early ’90s, I never imagined that one day I’d work in the restaurant industry full-time. Back then, I was a swimming coach who took casual jobs in kitchens during my downtimes. It wasn’t until my sister decided she wanted to sell her share in Perama, a Greek restaurant in Sydney’s Petersham that I began to think about the industry seriously. I bought her share of the business in 1998 and went into the kitchen full-time. Let’s just say it was a steep learning curve! But I grew to love the challenge of putting out beautiful food consistently, and the immediate results that cooking can produce. There’s nothing better than seeing the look on people’s faces when they’re enjoying your food.
Last year I decided to open Xanthi, which meant closing Perama. I found my chance to do something different at Xanthi; to be more experimental and cook food that’s somewhere 'outside the box’. I’m still passionate about pulling simple Greek flavours together to create something spectacular, but you’ll also find dishes like pork belly baklava on the menu, where the techniques usually used to create a traditionally sweet dish have instead been used to craft something savoury.
It’s been 14 years since I started cooking in a professional kitchen, and I still enjoy it. I get a kick out of serving people and still feel like I have a lot to learn. I’m nowhere near done yet. In fact, I think I’m just beginning. When it comes to cooking, I’m definitely still on my odyssey.