Sotiris Kontizas has taken a meandering route to his current occupation. With a Greek father and Japanese mother, he studied economics, but ended up in the kitchen.
I met him in his new bastion, the recently opened Nolan, on Voulis Street. When I arrived, preparations for the next dinner rush were underway.
Sous-chefs bombarded him with questions, but he remained imperturbable as he sat opposite me.
He was born and raised in Athens. The memories of his childhood flavors are a mix of Greek and Japanese ‒ from his grandmother’s dinner parties with kebabs, pies, lemon and tomato sauces, lots of salt and even more olive oil, to the delicate dishes from the Far East that his mother made: steamed rice and sushi, noodles, soups, tofu.
He loved them all equally and grew increasingly fascinated by cooking.
After finishing high school, he attended the Panteion University’s Department of Economic and Regional Development.
“I got my degree, but dealing with food is what won me over. On the grounds that you only regret the things you don’t do, I decided to try my luck.”
“Three restaurants were the most famous in Athens back then (mid 2000s): Varoulko with Lazarou, Spondi with Binion and 48 with Peskias.”
He learnt that Christophoros Peskias, having studied Business Administration in Boston, had a background similar to his own. So he turned up on the steps of 48, asking to work in the kitchens.
“Put me in the kitchen, chef, try me,” he said. “I just want to learn. I’ll work without pay!”
“This last argument won, as it turned out, and I got in,” he says laughing. “From Christophoros I learned everything: how to stand in the kitchen, what things you need to be careful about.”
He reminisces fondly about the dishes from that time ‒ the foie gras peinirli, souvlaki with tzatziki foam, meatballs with star anise and cinnamon, even the french fries. But he needed money.
“So I got a job in a bank, initially at the counter and then in customer services. Monday to Friday, morning hours, a different way of life.”
A few months later, the manager happily told Kontizas that he had been made a permanent employee.
The next day Sotiris resigned.