A few weeks ago, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across an intriguing post - Chef Tony Kavalieros was celebrating being named an Ambassador for an initiative called Greek Taste Beyond Borders. Neither Pauline nor I had heard of him, nor of the program, so our curiosity was sparked and we reached out. From our first phone call, it was clear that this was yet another kindred spirit in the quest to bring authentic Greek cuisine to the world....plus, I discovered we both had lived on three continents! I loved Chef Tony's story and wanted to share it with you because it reflects so much of our philosophy here at Zēlos. I can't wait to try his food, either in Virginia or in Greece!
M: Can you share a short background, your story, and how you ended up becoming a Chef?
T: I owe my love and passion for cooking to my grandfather, Andreas Vourliotis. After immigrating to Cairo in the early 1900s, my pappou went on to become a great chef and restaurateur. His restaurant “Union” was one of the best restaurants in Cairo for more than 45 years! Growing up alongside my Pappou Andreas, it was inevitable that I would fall in love with cooking. By six years old I was hooked, and my passion for food began!
I cherished every minute in Pappou’s kitchen and learned the ins and outs of not only Greek, but also Turkish and Egyptian cuisine. By the age of 18, I had lived in Egypt, Greece and finally South Africa, where I enrolled in 1974 in “The Hotel and Restaurant School”. South Africa boasts a host of different types of cuisine and it was there where I was exposed to Portuguese, Indian, Dutch and South Africa’s fusion of flavor. I would go on to work and live in Johannesburg for 20 years.
Nostalgia for my Greek roots brought me back to Greece in 1994, and I became a culinary historian, author of two cook books, teacher and consultant. I made a living doing what I loved: educating those around me to savor food (I even had my own cooking seminar school in Athens, Greece!)
In 2013, after decades of creating imaginative recipes, restaurant consulting, and teaching in various culinary schools, I moved to the USA. I continue to teach, consult, research, create and inspire people through gastronomy.
M: Do you remember the first time you ate something that moved you?
T: I think I remember everything I have eaten in my life, but seriously speaking I must have been about ten years old when I tried snails (escargots) for the first time. I will never forget the taste and the way they were cooked.
M: What made you interested in Greek food?
T: When I returned to Greece from South Africa in 1994 I was fortunate to meet two of the best Greek food historians and researchers, the late Alexandros Yiotis and Evi Voutsina.
That changed my life and realized that Greek cuisine is the best in the world. I started going back to my roots, use traditional ways of cooking, look for real recipes from the past.
M: How is the experience of being a Greek Chef in a non-Greek culinary culture?
T: Not so easy. Greek food has changed a lot over the years to suit the American taste. That makes it very difficult to try to convince people that the real taste is not what they are used to.
M: How does being Greek affect your culinary choices? How do you communicate your Greek culture through food?
T: It doesn’t really. I am Greek, this is my culinary choice and this is what I bring to people to taste. I am a food historian and so I try to give them facts about the Greek cuisine and mentality of our culinary culture.
M: Greek Taste Beyond Borders, tell us what this award means to you.
T: GTBB is a great organization and we are looking forward to promote our Greek culture. I was awarded with the title of Ambassador of Greek Gastronomy for the USA. I have a big responsibility to stand strong and true to this title. Our gastronomic culture is part of our history as a nation; we have to keep this history alive.
M: Can you tell us about your creative process? How do you choose ingredients and build a recipe and then a menu? What inspires you?
T: First I go back to the original traditional recipe and see if I can recreate it with modern equipment. Then comes the difficult part of ingredients availability. Every cuisine has their own secrets and unique flavors. Greek flavor depends a lot in good olive oil and natural greens and herbs, as well as small animals and Mediterranean fish. I turn to suppliers and importers for this and with what is available I try to keep it as traditional as I can. With this in mind, I build my menu. The inspiration is natural.
M: In the last years we see an increased interest in creative Greek cuisine. How do you see the future of Greek cuisine being shaped?
T: Naturally cuisines take a creative turn to satisfy people’s demands, mostly in the presentation than the taste. I personally believe that “back to the roots” will be the new trend in the culinary world. Even modern chefs are going back to traditional cooking to start new ideas. Greek chefs like to copy other cuisines and incorporate them in Greek food. We have to stick to our identity and preserve our culture.
M: What’s the future of food and creativity in our rapidly evolving and increasingly digital global world?
T: I am scared to answer this question; I hope we can do enough to keep real food alive.
M: At Zēlos we believe and promote love through food - have you had an experience of love through food?
T: My signature as a chef in Greece and the business I had was “Chef In Love”. This is what has kept me in the food industry for the last 45 years, the love for cooking. Every single day is a new love experience through food and cooking. This is the first thing I try to bring to the kitchens I consult and the people I train. If you walk into a Greek home, the first thing the host will ask you is “have you eaten”? This is love, the love of hospitality and the love of feeding others.
T: Are there other Chefs that inspired you and/or still inspire you?
M: Yes there are many!!! It would be unfair to name a few only. I even have students of mine that inspire me. Every chef that works with love for what he or she is doing is worth admiration.
T: What is your biggest/craziest culinary dream?
M: To see Greek restaurants around the world promoting real Greek food, and to get every Greek chef around the world to work together to keep our culinary identity and history alive.
Currently I work as a consultant Chef at Nostos Restaurant in Tysons Corner, Virginia (NR: just a half an hour's drive from Washington, DC.) I will be in Greece from July to November so I can start my new venture, exclusive gastronomic tours of Greece www.savorgreece.eu and to be with my family.
Zēlos is passionate about Greek food and Global Greek Gastronomy, that fusion of traditional and contemporary Greek cuisine that has spread across the world. In this special section of our blog, we want to promote the people and places that we believe are pioneering this trend. Full disclosure: we DO NOT gain anything from these posts, we are not paid to advertise them; rather, we are honestly sharing our personal favorites for you to enjoy!
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