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Alex Tsiotinis is the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 finalist for the Mediterranean Countries region. The 28-year-old chef from Calypso restaurant in Elounda, Greece, will showcase his signature dish Cretan Salad in a Pot at the grand final at Expo Milano 2015 the 26th of June. He spoke to us ahead of the big event.
Tell us about your signature dish...
To create a plate which would capture the zest of the country I was born in - that was the concept behind my signature dish. This led me to thinking about an ‘accidentally’ broken pot, and a potent but delicate stream of flavours coming out of it. My end goal was much humbler: to show there’s much more in Greece’s gastronomic culture than the proverbial Greek salad and the moussaka.
What made you decide to become a chef?
I like experimenting with substances! All jokes aside, I think cooking was for me the best thing to channel my need for creativity. Oh, did I tell you I like eating very much too? Maybe this played a big role in my decision as well.
Which chef or chefs inspire you daily and why?
Tough one. To be honest, the one chef that I always have in mind when cooking is Pascal Barbot. His amazing personality, combined with an unmatchable sense of taste, makes him unique. Moreover, I cannot leave out the influence of Arnaud Bignon, who was the one to make me understand the importance of dedication in the profession.
What’s the best dish you’ve ever tasted - where did you eat it, who cooked it?
Taste is all about memories. My father always loved fishing, but I was never keen. One day, he insisted I go with him. I can vividly remember him coming out of the sea, carrying some urchins. He opened them with scissors, squeezed some lemon and gave me a bite. It was like the whole sea exploded in my mouth. This is the magic I am always looking for in gastronomy.
What’s the most challenging aspect of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 for you?
It is really hard. The fact one has to compete along so much talent from all four corners of the world says it all. Once you are in, the flavours really take your mind away. S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 is like a voyage of taste. One starts from one’s own country and explores the world through the flavours of the other contestants.
What kind of help/guidance would you like from your mentor?
I always seek advice to help me get better and to keep my feet to the ground. In fact, I am really lucky to have the highly acclaimed Greek restaurateur Aris Vezenes as my mentor. He will add wisdom and experience, two extremely important elements for success.
What will you do if you win this competition?
I will probably ask the person next to me to pinch me.