Panagiotis Kokkalas, an Executive Chef with more than 20 years’ experience in the food industry. Founder of "Greco Food" promoting the traditional Greek cuisine and Greek products. A member of the IBM" International Bartender Association" as well as the "Journalist of Greek Flavors".
When did you start cooking? What made you want to become a cook?
I started cooking at the age of 10, helping at my father’s coffee-ouzeri shop in the central square of Argos, learning the cuisine and customer service.
In my free time I was entertaining myself in the basement of the shop playing with the empty wine crates and bottles from the cellar...
Where did you pursue your culinary studies?
At the 'Chandris' tourism and shipping school for cooks and confectioners in the island of Chios
I have been watching you for years taking part in every exhibition that had to do with the Greek Traditional cuisine in Greece and abroad… tell us about it.
My love for the traditional cuisine began in my early years when I used to follow my father at the local traditional folk festivals which he organized.
Boiling cauldrons, the traditional wood burnings ovens, the authentic feast with traditional folk dancing and the hard work of the locals and my father to organize something traditional and beautiful. This gave me the necessary experiences and the drive to appreciate the:
Authentic, simplicity and tradition.
What is your description of Greek cuisine?
The Love and hard work of the Greek farmers on this blessed land, producing few but of excellent quality products. All these products that come from different parts of Greece with their unique flavors..
The Greek flavor?
Greek flavors represent the Nectar and ambrosia of the Olympian Gods
Which is the best way to promote our cuisine in Greece and abroad?
We have to start the education at home, cooking the old traditional way, meaning real cooked food and not fast food type meals which unfortunately have widely in the everyday life in Greek families.
Then comes the schools; they must make a better effort to teach school kids the true nutritional values of the Greek diet and not the Mediterranean. The school lunches must support local products i.e. natural juices, olives, homemade pies and not prepacked products like industrialized pastries, soft drinks etc.
Finally the government has the most important role for the proper promotion of our country's gastronomic tourism-Greek cuisine and every region thereafter, with the exception of Crete; they should systematically record their cuisine with recipes, folklore and products of each area and create gastronomic maps. Finally organize targeted campaigns abroad.
Right now is only the personal initiative of some private clubs and organizations doing the job of the government for the development of Greek gastronomy.
Why are we known abroad as the country of the moussaka and souvlaki?
As I said, there is no specific policy of promoting Greek gastronomy so it is easy to promote false messages, through media, because of a movie or in the internet. The world takes those messages and turns them to trends. .
This is what my partners and I are trying to do with love and pride; to keep alive the authentic Greek flavors that Greeks all over the world have in their memories.
The “Gate Peloponnesian Culture”, “ Grecofood” and “ Grecopaths” were created to serve those purposes.
“The past is our future”
What is your favorite gastronomic destination in Greece?
Dealing with exhibitions for “Kername Ellada” throughout Greece, I got to love the Cretan cuisine. Still best come my childhood memories; Peloponnese...
Is there correct education on traditional Greek cuisine to the new generation of cooks in the culinary schools?
Unfortunately not. Because the leading role belongs to the food industry sponsors. They are calling the shots, not the tradition and our culture.
What future developments do you foresee for the Greek Gastronomy?
We only going to see development if we manage to work as a team in the food industry in order to promote only Greek products.
After all those years in the “cooking pots” what is your advice to young cooks?
Pay attention only on their ingredients and come into contact with nature and the producers.
Tattoos are a trend, a habit. And will be passed as well. Just like the Mediterranean diet became synonymous to Greek. Shepherds used ink to mark their cattle... Respect to the temple of our soul, stay away from the wrong prototypes. Cooking is your passion along with your knowledge and memories of your ancestors.
Because as my dear friend Nikos Fotiadis says; the gastronomy of a race, is one of the most powerful elements of its culture, its existence and, its history.
What will be your next move in the gastronomy field?
It will be the development of the allies companies of Peloponnesian diet that will show and highlight the local character of each area.