Constadina Voulgari: “Cooking is not just a profession, it’s the art of expression”

The young chef finalist from Greece explains how she will transport the Seven Sages to ancient Greece with her signature dish at the Grand Finale.

Constadina Voulgari was the young chef finalist that managed to woo the chef judges of the Mediterranean Countries local final with her signature dish inspired by ancient Greece, finally securing her victory.

The finalist from Pelagos Sea Side restaurant in Ierapetra, Crete, will now have the enviable opportunity of representing the region at the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 Grand Finale in Milan in May 2018 along with mentor chef Nikos Roussos.

We caught up with Constadina as she prepares for the ultimate challenge ahead, when she will face off against 20 other global finalists with the hope of being crowned the best young chef in the world. 

Here’s what she had to say ahead of the big day:

Describe your signature dish…
My dish is called “Ellinwn Gefsis” and is inspired by the unique raw materials and eating habits of ancient Greece and have been collected from different areas of Greece. Wild partridge in wine lees with parsnip puree and vineyard salad! The partridge was smoked with characteristic scent of myrrh and incense, whilst the salad was based on products from all the vineyard. 

It contains vine leaves and vine tendrils, baby grape, crithmun maritimun, Askordoulakos bulbs (of the plant muscari comosum), oxalis, yellow beetroot and is marinated in fresh juice of sour grape and grape seed oil and quail egg with gold as well. 

My dish also contains the gifts of the Three Wise Men – Myrrh, Incense and Gold. All of them are materials that were used by ancient Greeks in their everyday life because of their beneficial and therapeutic qualities. 

What made you become a chef?
Cooking has been part of my life since childhood. Starting with basic influences from my grandmothers – traditional and strict housewives who introduced me to cooking with love. In 2007, while going to Crete to study at the Polytechnic University as an Electrician Mechanical Engineer, I also discovered Cretan culture and as a result its gastronomy, which sparked my interest further. 

In 2011, I decided to study, and at the same time enrolled at a culinary school and that is when my trip into the cooking world began...

Who has influenced you in your career?
Restaurant L’auberge de l’Ill (3 Michelin stars) with Marc Haeberlin as chef, where I studied in France which is based on French (Alsace) traditions with an emphasis on technique and raw materials. The outstanding quality performance of the dishes, made me want to follow their philosophy and try to reflect the roots of the gastronomic wealth of my country in my cooking.

Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years’ time?
I would like to continue “marrying” my raw materials from the past and forgotten traditions with the necessity of the modern gastronomy of today. To me cooking is not just a profession. It’s the art of expression, creativity, love, passion, imagination, freedom and finally of power. The power of taste that stirs up the excitement of the human senses. 

How are you/will you collaborate with your mentor in order to perfect your dish for the Grand Finale?
I am working with a unique chef mentor, Niko Roussos of Funky Gourmet restaurant. We are focusing on the final global contest, with undeniably powerful equipment, the wealth of nature, history and the art of Greece. 

Our mutual supporters, are individuals who share the same philosophy as us, who represent the modern art and create inspired from its history. We hope to work in such a way as to give us credit and give prominence to Greek and Mediterranean participation.

What is the most exciting/challenging element of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition for you?
The S.Pellegrino Young Chef contest is a fascinating life experience. It’s crucial to be distinguished among so many candidates. The experience is also important because not only will I compete against other professional colleagues, but I will also get to know them fully, the fact that as a professional cook I get the chance to show my love to this that I represent is challenging. 

I want to import the same energy to the Seven Sages, while having a main aspiration to allow the judges to travel as deeply as I can in the gastronomic map of Greece and eastern Mediterranean. And my challenge is just that, “The Journey”.

Why do you think you can win the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 title?
The title of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 is itself a life dream. A dream that I can pursue in my 30’s. This qualification gives me the opportunity to show off the gastronomic wealth of my region. 

The feelings are very overwhelming because I already feel like a winner being in such an organization and competing for the title of Young Chef 2018 with 20 globally distinguished young chefs. I see it as an opportunity to show the love and passion I have for my job, to listen to reviews that will awaken my own critical thought and will foster the good sportsmanship through rivalry and not antagonism.

If you weren’t a chef what would you be?
I can’t imagine myself not being occupied with gastronomy. Cooking is not just basic principles, but it’s love and passion. I feel blessed because cooking is not just an occupation, it’s a combination of feelings and things that compose all these things that I want to be.

What’s your most memorable food experience?
I remember the wild potherbs and spices of the mountainous slopes of Peloponnese that I used to collect with my grandmother. She taught me to smell the “smelly” herbs as she calls them! She used to say that when the food begins to smell nice, it is ready! 

What do you like to do in your free time?
During my spare time, I like dipping into the past. I love travelling to distant villages that are unaffected by modern life and exploring their history. I often visit female monasteries, where I find peace and can feel and experience the origin of gastronomy of the nuns. 

Read the interview with mentor chef Nikos Roussos

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