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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 21 May 2016
12 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 21 MAY 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Cooking with the Greeks Three cuisine aficionados of Hellenic background are among the 2016 MasterChef favourites NELLY SKOUFATOGLOU N etwork Ten's MasterChef Australia 2016 features some of the best amateur chefs of the country facing gruelling challenges in the kitchen. Season eight's contestants will be constantly put to the test by famous chefs and show judges Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston. This year's pack has raised standards, taking skill and creativity to a whole new level while presentation is fine-dining Instagram material. The aspiring chefs put their black aprons on to go head-to-head in coming up with inspired, mouthwatering creations and replicating intricate five-star dishes to avoid elimination. As well as the $250,000 award, Australia's MasterChef 2016 winner also receives a monthly column in Delicious food magazine. The class of 2016 will have to prove themselves before Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White, Nigella Lawson, Luke Nguyen, Curtis Stone, Maggie Beer, Kylie Kwong and many more internationally-acclaimed chefs. Among the talented favourites of the season are three contestants of Greek background. Let's meet them. CON VAILAS, 31, RESTAURANT SUPERVISOR Growing up in a close-knit family, Con learnt most of what he knows in the kitchen from his talented mum. Along with dad, who immigrated to Australia at a young age, Con has learnt the values of family and hard work from his parents. With three sisters, Con says cooking was always a big part of family life. Growing up in Hobart, Tasmania, their Greek heritage meant that food was always central to bringing people together. After high school, he began working in hospitality and has spent many years honing his skills across multiple disciplines, including working in front of house, housekeeping, bartending, menu planning and, most recently, in his role as a restaurant supervisor. It was while working at a Hobart hotel in 2012 that Con met his now wife Sarah, a colleague. The pair moved to Melbourne in 2014 for him to explore opportunities in both the food world and his other life-long passion, music. Being a talented musician whose band Lavista, in which he plays lead guitar and is the songwriter, Con has supported several popular Aussie bands over the years, including Tame Impala and British India. Describing his cooking style as contemporary with a European influence, Con looks up to the likes of Shane Delia, Shannon Bennett, Scott Pickett, Marco Pierre White, Jamie Oliver and Ben Cooper. After he sees where the MasterChef Australia journey takes him, he says he would love to work under chefs who inspire him and ultimately, open his own café, an inviting space that would showcase his passion for food, coffee and fresh local produce. What draws you to cooking? I find cooking is a great creative outlet for me. I love experimenting and trying new things. Cooking allows me to do that, and I love being able to share with others in the process. How connected are you to your Greek heritage? I am very connected to my Greek heritage. I’m proud of where my parents have come from and visit family in Greece regularly. I want my children to one day share in the beautiful culture I have been brought up with. Are you a fan of Greek cuisine? I love Greek food. I don't necessarily cook Greek as I would prefer my mother's cooking but I do eat it all the time. As long as there is no lamb I will pretty much eat anything Greek. What made you give MasterChef a go? I must admit it was my fiancée Sarah who talked me into giving MasterChef a go. I was too scared as I thought I wasn't good enough, but her support was amazing and made me believe I deserved to be there. What sets you apart from the other contestants? I feel it's my creativity that makes me different. My skills might not quite be there yet, but my willingness to take risks and try really different things makes me stand out. Oh, and definitely my plating. For me food needs to look equally as good as it tastes. How different is cooking in front of a camera to at home or at work? It is so weird at first as everything is under the microscope, literally. Once you get used to it though it’s not that bad. In fact, when I now cook at home I miss talking my way through what I am doing. Where do you see yourself after the show? I see myself persevering to live my dream and open the café I always speak of. Whether this is in Melbourne where I am currently living or back home in Hobart I'm not sure. What is your strength and your weakness in the kitchen? My strength is definitely my creativity, I love both sweet and savoury and have a huge willingness to learn. My weakness is baking. Who do you think is the most 'dangerous' contestant? Without a doubt it has to be Matt. Great ideas, skill, execution and the fact that he really is an amazing human make him my favourite to win. ZOE KONIKKOS, 31, SALES MANAGER Zoe has reached a now-or-never moment. Talked out of becoming a chef by her mum as a teenager, she is now determined to make food her future. From a Greek Cypriot background, Zoe's paternal grandparents immigrated to Australia in the 1950s to flee the war in Cyprus, while her maternal grandparents immigrated here in the 1960s to also seek a better life. She describes her upbringing with mum and dad as very European, not speaking English until she went to kindergarten. As her parents both worked full-time, she spent a lot of time with her grandmother, who would pick young Zoe up from school and they would often cook together. Zoe has beautiful memories of helping her grandmother with massive Greek Easter feasts, complete with making their own cheeses and Easter cakes. Receiving her first cookbook when she was seven years old, she recalls cooking family meals by the age of 12, often having dinner on the table when her parents arrived home from work. After school, she started various university degrees before gaining a Bachelor of Arts from La Trobe University, but was never really passionate about it. She drifted in and out of various jobs before her mum and step-dad offered her the chance to work for them in their sporting equipment distribution business. Zoe's entrepreneurial spirit took hold and she had soon convinced them to open a retail side of the business, which she has now run independently in Melbourne's Fitzroy for two years. Supported on her culinary journey by her husband of two years, Marcus, she now has big plans ahead, and would love her own breakfast and brunch deli-style café in Melbourne, serving simple, tasty food that is close to her heart. What is it that draws you to cooking? I love the fact that food is what brings friends and family together; it can draw out so many emotions and memories. When I cook, it makes me happy. Feeding people and seeing their face when they love what you've made is one of the best feelings imaginable; it warms my heart.
14 May 2016
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