If “love passes through the stomach”, as a popular Greek saying goes, then knowing how to cook is the overlooked secret to every long-standing relationship. Indeed, a nicely cooked meal is all we really need to put a smile on our face at the end of a long, tiring day. Chef Akis Petretzikis seems to have mastered that secret and even taken it to a whole new level.
Coming from Thessaloniki, Greece, Petretzikis moved to Athens at age 18 to study accounting. It wasn’t long before he realized he wanted to be a chef, though, if only just to travel the world and experience it through fine dishes that disclose part of a city’s cultural heritage. Completing his cooking studies at Le Monde – and his accounting studies on the side – Petretzikis embarked on a culinary adventure that would find him working in London restaurants (cooking for the British royal family among others), before returning to Athens in 2010 to win the Greek ‘Master Chef’. What followed is a string of diverse business ventures, from TV shows to books and cafés, which have established him as one of the most successful chefs in Greece at the moment.
Here & There Magazine caught up with the ambitious Petretzikis to discuss his Kitchen Lab bistro, his collaboration with British chef Jamie Oliver and his other countless projects that keep on giving.
Konstantina Pyrnokoki: When did you realize you wanted to be a chef and what drove you towards that profession?
Akis Petretzikis: Ever since I was little, I remember my mom making tsourekia (a traditional Greek dessert) and myself helping her. The smells coming out of our kitchen always made me curious as to what lay in that oven tray or saucepan! The truth is that what really drew me to cooking in the first place is that I saw it as an opportunity to travel the world and try new tastes from different cuisines.
Next to attending the cooking school, you also studied to be an accountant. What was it about cooking that eventually won you over and what are the positive aspects of accounting that you keep?
In my opinion, good cooking comes down to 90 percent emotion, five percent proportions and another five percent is the actual making. Accounting no doubt helps with the proportions part. It’s always useful, let alone when you’re managing a café-bistro and a burger house.
You’d worked in a number of restaurants in Greece before moving to the UK where you ended up staying for five years. What inspired that decision?
After completing my studies both in cooking and accounting, and having worked in Greece for a while, I decided the time had come for me to discover the secrets of the international culinary scene. And so, I found myself in Brighton, UK, before moving to London shortly after. I wanted to experience cooking through the British culture and the country’s culinary presence, which is considered ‘number one’ in the scene, enclosing elements of different cultures and cuisines.
What’s different about working in UK restaurants, compared to the Greek ones?
What I like about England, and specifically about London, is the fact that you can try any cuisine you like, from any part of the world and usually at its best! Therefore, working there, I felt that I could explore and experiment with the entire world’s gastronomy! I was lucky enough to work next to accomplished chefs and learn a lot from them. The whole experience turned out to be truly educational for me.
What do you remember the most from that time?
Lots of anxiety, mostly, as well as hard and demanding work…
At one point you found yourself cooking for the British royal family. How did that come about and what was it like?
I happened to be working at one of London’s best restaurants at the time, which was also a royal family favourite. I was thrilled when I found out I’d be cooking for the Queen herself and other members of the family!
What sparked your collaboration with Jamie Oliver on his web cooking channel and how did you feel about addressing a different audience this time?
My collaboration with Jamie on his ‘Food Tube’ officially began when we started uploading videos of Greek food recipes. These included the horiatiki (the traditional Greek salad), the moussaka, the souvlaki and more. All of that contributed to more and more people getting to know the amazing flavours of the Greek cuisine, which has always been my dream!
Apart from the strictly cooking part of your job, you’ve also presented a number of cooking shows on TV, released your own cookie brand and cookbooks, while managing your own bistro as well as your Greek and English YouTube channels. How do you combine your love for cooking with all those different business projects? And, ultimately, which part of your work do you love the most?
I’m lucky to have an entire team helping me realize my dreams one by one through steady and well-organized steps. Each of these is meant to reach a different audience; YouTube, my website, social media, my books, the magazine… All of those have given me the opportunity to reach out to a wider audience and I love them all equally. Our latest project is Burger AP, a burger house which gives a whole new meaning to street food! The business side of my work blends with the more creative one and they actually feed from one another.
Describe Greek cuisine in three words.
I’ll just use two: mediterranean ingredients! They are the best and they taste delicious. We are so blessed to have such local produce. The products don’t really need a lot of spices for their flavour to stand out.
Which is your own favourite dish?
I don’t have a favourite dish but I do have favourite ingredients. I love tahini, honey, peanut butter and, of course, virgin olive oil.
Could you share your favourite spots in Athens or Thessaloniki, where you love to meet up with friends and relax?
Thessaloniki is my town. I believe all Greeks have connected the city with great food. It fuses different culinary worlds into the best possible outcome. As far as Athens goes, Agia Paraskevi is my base, while the city centre provides me with endless inspiration to create.
What’s your relationship with social media?
I love social media because it allows me to communicate straight with the people. I hear and read everything they say and I try to respond to everyone. I feel they’re the ones who inspire me, after all.
What should we expect from you in the coming months?
I am preparing lots and lots of new things at the moment! You’ve yet to see – and taste! – a lot more! Stay tuned... ■