Ari Vezené is a Greek chef who has seen a lot. Raised in New York in the mid 70’s before returning to his parents homeland of Greece to open restaurants in Athens and one on the Island of Meganissi, his first cooking job came working the line at Burger King before he climbed the ranks and went off to study the art of butchery and dry ageing meat.
His bio says he does not miss days at work, a hands on chef who has rarely skipped service in the 18 years he’s been working in the kitchen. He bucked the trend of global recession when, against all advice, he opened his first restaurant in 2008, his second in 2011 and a third currently planned for Mykonos in the summer of 2016.
He’s a man who loves fire and a chef who truly appreciates the application of that fire in the process of cooking. His knowledge of butchery, fire and the lost skill of dry ageing allow him to present meat in splendid glory, a world away from the early burger patties he’d flip on the lines of BK.
He’s an inspirational chef with an inspirational story and this is one the main reason he’s been brought on board as one of the mentors for the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015. Vezené will now help the area finalist for the Mediterranean countries Alexandros Tsiotinis to perfect his dish before the Grand Final in Milan on June 25th.
We caught up with Vezené to discuss his own career as a young chef and to ask him to impart some of his knowledge and advice for the young chefs of the future.
How would you describe your style of cuisine?
Greek Inspired Bistro cuisine, with wood-fire flavors and aromas of the Ionian Sea region blending the Earth and the Sea.
What’s your signature dish?
Raw Gambari Shrimp from the Amvrakikos Gulf, Whiskey gel, Lime Zest, Smoked Sea Urchin and Bottarga emulsion with Aji Amarillo chili & Corinthian black garlic.
Who was your most important mentor for your profession and why?
Sergio Bastard Comas from Casona del Judío in Santander, Spain. He taught me the true potential of roots and vegetables in building memorable flavors.
What’s the best advice you were ever given when you were training?
Try everything that goes out of your kitchen.
Do you remember one of the big mistakes you made in a kitchen when you were training? (Can you explain what happened and what you learned?)
Impatience. Trying to learn everything in zero time. In fact you waste your time instead of saving it.
I felt the stress of multitasking about 15 years ago, while staging in various restaurants and at the same time running my own business. It’s not something I’m proud of and I don’t think I would recommend this to anyone. Specifically I remember a time when we had to work on a lamb dish. I had to prepare the broth, a tartare, and wash the bladder and intestines very thoroughly to create a traditional spit roasted lamb dish called “kokoretsi” where the intestine is wrapped around the liver through a spit process. At the same time, a station across me was working on molecular techniques, a subject I barely knew about but was very keen to learn. My impatience was such that I rushed to finish with the intestines and go glimpse across the station while waiting on the lamb’s broth. Needless to say that my dish never made it to service. Only the owner tried it at the end of the night and I’m not sure he liked it.
Is there one mistake you see young chefs making very often? What should they do instead?
Impatience. Technology and the web serve as substitutes to actual culinary practicing and mastering techniques. The process of real time learning is ongoing and never-ending yet many young people think that throughout the push of a Like Button or watching Chefsteps they can cover the distance to expertise whereas in reality they are at the very starting. Any advice, tutorial or simply contact through a website, a food blog or a social media platform is supplementary help to a trial and error journey that happens mainly in the kitchen.
I urge them to embark on a hands-on journey and to learn from their mistakes. As James Joyce said, “mistakes are the portals of discovery”: It’s only through failure, challenges and re-evaluation that we can achieve success. It’s a journey where Japanese-like repetitive practice in all sections and levels of a kitchen is needed, until they feel they proudly master their own section. They should try to reduce their heart rate to a more steady pulse and build patience, loyalty and love for all the aspects of cooking. They should learn that time is the most precious thing in life, for being the only thing that can’t be bought or transferred. Taking the time that’s needed for a full hands on practice is not a waste of time. It’s an investment.
What are the best characteristics a young chef can have, nowadays?
Eagerness to learn, provocativeness, modesty and adaptability to the ever-changing surroundings without losing respect to her/his ethnic heritage. Being firmly rooted in the past while growing the future.
What are the worst?
Arrogance. Aspiring cooks thinking that previous generations were wrong for paying their dues in hard working kitchens for an extended period of time. Wanting to conquer the world without submitting the necessary effort.
What’s your main focus in advising the S.Pellegrino Young Chef candidate of your region?
To create a palette of ingredients that represents our local terroir and pays respect to the Greek culinary heritage while maintaining a personal view on the usage of foreign techniques. To be Greek with a Mediterranean flair and a global impulse.
What’s your message to all the finalists of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 worldwide?
Keep it straight, keep it simple, and aim for flavor and unique memories.
Be simple and straightforward and use advance techniques for the sake of flavor and nothing else. Challenge your audience with respect and substance.