October Q&A – the Chef

Petros Koryzis came to cooking in a rather roundabout way. At the moment he is working in the family pastry shop, Cake & Cookie Co., who are famous for their 100% homemade goodies. They sell out of their tiny shop, but work mainly on orders, and cater events such as kid’s parties or christenings. Petros also does catering on his own or with friends, for parties and events of all kinds.

Tell us a little about yourself

After school I went to college in the United States, where I studied Italian and Economics. Then I went to London and worked for Starbucks for almost two years, completing their management course. I decided that the service sector was something I liked, but not that specific job. Brainstorming with friends, I realized the restaurant industry was what I was most interested in, so I went to the Cordon Bleu London school where I acquired the Grand Diplôme which included cooking and patisserie.
I’ve always enjoyed cooking. The hardest part to control in a restaurant is the kitchen, so I decided to start there. I spent about 7 years working in various kitchens in London, starting with an internship at Hybiscus Michelin star restaurant. I then moved around, getting experience in bistrot-style, Italian, and Mediterranean food and ending up at Buddha-Bar, which specializes in Pacific Rim cooking.
At some point I decided to come back to Greece to help my mother who had opened a pastry shop, which has now become a mother-and-son affair! Once here I also developed a catering side-line with other friends.

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

Returning to Greece was something I’d always wanted, although London afforded more immediate possibilities. Despite Greece’s problems I always felt there was the potential to do something in the food industry. After all, it is my home, and my life here gave me an edge. In London the competition is vast and it’s a hub, where you get the best of the best. Here I have personal contacts and even today many of my clients are people I went to school with and their friends and families, and I’ve met many more through them.

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Did anyone help or inspire you?

At Cordon Bleu they kept telling us that our choice of career was hard and offered little financial benefit. They taught us a lot about discipline and organization, which was useful as I’m not usually one to take the difficult route! Also one of the hardest kitchens I worked in taught me that this job can be a test of humility. Like in any job 90% is difficult and boring and it’s the 10% which makes it worth it. In my case the 10% makes it really worth it
A major inspiration were  Peter and Hiili, the couple who were executive head chef and head chef at Buddha-Bar when I worked there. They’d met at Nobu, stuck together and risen together. They loved their job and managed to make it work. They were the chefs that opened Buddha-Bar London, and are now married with a lovely little girl. Having a woman head chef was a best case scenario for me because the kitchen ran very smoothly.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

Ideal scenario would be to put together a group of chefs and build a team which would enable me to partly move out of the kitchen and have a choice in the catering jobs I do personally. I’d like to groom and grow others to do it properly. I think that Greece has excellent chefs who are highly skilled but perhaps do not have the disciple to offer what abroad would be seen as upscale catering. An example being the state in which some leave the kitchen at the end of the night. I’m not interested so much in the grand scale of things, but in private ‘cheffing’ at a normal price. To provide a level of quality which would be consistent and ensure repeat customers.
One of the difficulties to be faced, for example, are the waiters. There are plenty of waiters in Greece but it isn’t considered on the whole a respected profession. They are mostly people who do this as a stopgap, or a stepping stone. Having met a few who are truly professional, I’d like to form waiters who know exactly what the clients want and how to provide it.
One of the most interesting things in catering is that I get to go into houses and take over! I get to see people in their family environment, with the kids the dog, and I love being part of this, as well as delivering the food.

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope /would you like to see?

I hope that Greece will manage to get through this period of turmoil and unrest, although I fear the unrest has not reached its climax yet. My main hope would be that we all together start thinking as a group, instead of as individuals.
In Greece we have the classic example of ‘envying the neighbor’s goat’. I don’t think this is wrong per se: people should want to acquire a goat like the neighbor’s, or a whole herd of goats, in the sense of bettering themselves. To make and have more, we have to understand that we all need to benefit, and we need to work together, in order to better the current psychology, and so that the markets and infrastructure pick up..

 

Petros with his mother in their shop, Cake&cookie Co.
Petros with his mother in their shop, Cake&Cookie Co.

 

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why? If you have decided to leave what would make you stay?

I think of leaving every day! But I don’t think it would make a difference to my situation at this point, unless I get a very well-paid job. Leaving the country wouldn’t solve anything. Staying here and fighting for what I believe in and working with others I hope I may even, in a small way, be able to help.
If I left the obvious place would be London, because I know it well and I could get a job tomorrow. However I would love to work in France for a while.

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

I’d love to think that just by going to work every day and doing my best I’m helping! I do believe that by staying and working with others I give something to the whole.
Would I like to do something more? Yes – my problem being I have no idea what that would be. I’m not one for taking to arms or politics.

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

I don’t see much happening in five, to be honest. In ten, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to see some positive change.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life?

By venting! I have discovered in the last 5-6 years that I have a short temper, which, growing up, I never did. So I vent, not always on the right person. And by dancing! Sometimes out with friends, sometimes alone in my room.

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

Not to sound corny, but I still believe Greece is one of the greatest countries in the world. Geographically and geologically we have everything, mountains and sea and climate. However, I also believe that we have good people in Greece.
Something my job affords me is to see people as they are at home; they are fathers, and mothers, and hard workers.
Thanks to the store and the human contact we have with the customers, I experience  the everyday reactions to the ongoing problems and I see that everyone has to wake up in the morning and smile. There’s still good in Greece – people who want change, people who enjoy the good things going on in their life, like births, marriages… I love to travel by car, and all you need to do is go into a small village anywhere in Greece and you’ll see what Greek hospitality is all about.

For those of you living in Greece, Petros can be contacted on:  info@cakeandcookieco.gr or the numbers +30 210 8078169 and +30 6946468882

Although I’m sure he’d love to be asked to go and cook in Australia or elsewhere, as long as he gets a plane ticket (first class, of course!)

20 thoughts on “October Q&A – the Chef

  1. Petros has a solid and impressive background, and I hope that he does well with this new venture back in his homeland of Greece.
    I would love to try his cakes, as Greek pastries are some of my favourites!
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  2. How interesting to read how a person came to be where they are now. Wonderful interview and a great chance for Petros Koryzis to finetune his life with his background. Interesting to read again how a Greek-born with much i’national experience regards the future of his homeland . . . don’t think any of your previous interviewees have looked at matters thru’ rose-coloured glasses: so wish all well . . .

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  3. I had the honour of spending time with this lovely family when Petros was growing up – and they are truly lovely people with great family and community values. So delighted for them all, that their hard work, dedication and community spirit has found them success and happiness.

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  4. What a great picture of mother and son. And what a special endeavour ……………I could eat an entire cake, unfortunately!! Love to you both.

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  5. This should be an inspiring read for young Greeks. Do go abroad and work on acquiring and perfecting your skills – whatever they may be. And then come home and apply yourself to making things work and bringing change. As usual, many similarities with Italy: chefs who come back have trouble training waiters to really care about the service they’re giving.

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  6. Another interesting interview. I really loved the food when I was in Greece, but I’m a simple soul and prefer rustic food, rather than haute cuisine. Petros sounds like he knows what he’s doing.

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