I first heard about his cooking. I remember my friend Ivi telling me I absolutely had to try out brunch at Nixon. This is where she was spending all her Sundays, and I was missing out big time. Many years later, I got invited to try out this super famous brunch over small talk with Silo and Marko for OUGH. And that’s when the rumor and the taste became a face. This guy is so passionate about food, I wanted to finish up the shooting and go grab billions of sandwiches and delicious food for myself. He is totally focused, totally inspired, so young and so talented. And I have to say, it has been one of the best, easy going sessions I ‘ve had so far. Serisously, I could stay and chat in his golden foiled apartment all day long. Here he is, the uber-stylish, uber-talented chef Marko Rossi in his downtown Athens apartment.
What made you become a chef?
I knew since I was 12 that I would become a chef. I loved food from a very early age and I would eat a lot and almost everything. So, when my mom would cook something at home, I would eat what she served and then go out and buy myself a souvlaki. I always had a thing for snacks and treats and I always loved discovering new tastes and places. In my teenage years I knew more restaurants than my parents did! I figured I spent a lot of time watching over my mom in the kitchen. And I knew I had to make a job out of it. I enrolled at Le Monde here in Athens and later moved to Switzerland for my Masters.
Is it hard to be so young in this field? Do you get equal career opportunities?
The truth is that the younger you are, the less you get paid. But in the end, either you can pull it off or you can’t. And people will be able to see that. There are many chefs that become old and never actually get the whole deal about food. And it is a tough job. You work in a very stressful environment, with lots of anxiety and pressure and you are always part of a team, which needs to work smoothly. There is tension, there are fires… it’s a dangerous occupation.
How different is your job from what you had in mind when you were in your mom’s kitchen?Are there any limitations? Perhaps regarding the budget… things that pull the strings to your imagination?
The truth is we each have our own character and style when it comes to food. And you will always bring out your own self wherever you are cooking, in relation to what the place inspires you to do. You go with the flow, but maintain your own character. For example, I have studied gourmet cooking in Switzerland. I would never think of proposing foamy food for the Nixon menu. It just won’t do. Or molecular kitchen….
You know about molecular kitchen?
Yes, but it’s not my style at all.
Me neither. I don’t get it. It’s not food to me.
It is food. But it’s not for me. I am much more sensitive. I love the basic taste of each ingredient. I prefer to have the perfect tomato and make a simple recipe out of it, so as to bring out the taste of the tomato, rather than calculate my ingredients and the portions in order to cook something. Cooking is not chemistry. I love cooking. But not with strict rules. If I wanted to weight everything before using it in a recipe, I would become a pastry chef. I know how to do it. I have been taught how to do it. But I choose not to.
Why is that?
Because I don’t have a sweet tooth and I don’t like weighing things. I want to grab a large cooking pan and throw in there anything I want to use and then test it and see what is missing or what went wrong and work on it. I want to be the author of the food I am cooking, not the recipe, not the book.
You sound so passionate. Do you master your cooking skills on the things you love to eat?
But if you don’t like something, how do you know you succeeded at cooking it?
I will taste everything. I just won’t order everything that is on the menu.
Let’s talk a little bit about Gastronomic Collectiva.
It all started last year. Gastronomic Collectiva is an idea I ‘ve had for quite some time now. I decided to take on a partner, Inigo. I was working at the time, and still am, so I couldn’t pull it off all by myself. I needed an extra helping hand. We hosted several projects. Our most famous was at the Breeder gallery, where we cooked for several months. Our most successful project would be the around the world menu, where we would cook food from countries that cannot be found at any restaurant in Athens.
How many local menus did you make?
Many. We did Peru, New Orleans, Basque, Chile, Hawaii , Cuba.
But how easy was it to know that you are on the right track with a recipe that comes from a country far far away and that you haven’t tasted before?
The fact that we both went to the same school in Switzerland helped a great deal. Our school was international, so we made chef friends from around the world. We talked a lot with them, got their advice and worked on our menus. Of course our ingredients were Greek.
Which country was the most successful?
Can’t really tell. We did so many. New Orleans turned out nice!
Which one was your favorite?
New Orleans. We also did a very nice project last year, which was themed straight from the farm on your table. The whole project was about eating fresh food that your grandmother from the village would serve you. We had bio eggs and veggies and fresh meat and fresh butter. We cooked wild hens and bio potatoes and wild greens.
Food is often dealt with guilt. It seems to be a sinful pleasure.
Personally I eat a lot. When I am cooking I get stressed over the outcome of what I am doing, so I always test and eat to check every part of the procedure. When I am finished working, I am full and don’t have a proper meal.
What are your criteria when cooking something? Do you also take into account health issues?
Yes, of course. I want to cook healthily. I only fry potatoes in my menus. I want tastes to be clean and clear. If you stuff your food with cheese and bacon and butter, you just end up covering your basic tastes and ingredients and that the most insecure thing you can do. Because then you are in no place of producing a taste that can be romantic.
Do you feel like we are getting food – obsessed? There are so many blogs and tv shoes and magazines and people posting on facebook and twitter their success in the kitchen…
There is a lot going on with food, but nothing is really important. You see, we get billions and billions of websites and magazines. In the end, every Clean Monday they will host the classic fish-egg salad recipe. The point is, you know how to make it, they know how to make it, the lady that buys the magazine knows how to make it! We don’t need another replication, because in the end it’s a constant repetition. What we need is a change. A different type of fish-egg salad.
Why are we so involved around food? Is it a cheap way to entertain ourselves?
I don’t really think so. Most of my salary goes to food. But yes, food is getting really popular nowadays. Is it the recession? Can’t really say.
I see a lot of souvlaki restaurants or fast food restaurants popping out.
I know. I also see lots of restaurants. Casual tavernas. Because gourmet is dead. People have finally realized that a simple restaurant is a big deal. They want to go someplace where they will pay for what they are served. Where they will order ten different dishes and whatever they order will be cooked finely. Where they will drink good wine and have a good talk. That’s what we are getting back to. The good food and the good company.
Do we appreciate our cuisine?
The last couple of years yes. But you know, we Greeks tend to be a bit snobbish and we don’t really take into account where we came from and what we have learned and we underestimate a lot of things. We thing a tavern is very un cool and we prefer to go to modern chic places. I went to Glyfada the other day and was impressed at all the neo-tavernas. All white, white chairs and walls and old tins used as lights and nets on the wall. It’s like a bad copy paste all over the place.
Where do you eat when you are not eating at home or at Nixon?
I go to Μαύρος Γάτος in Psirri every Sunday after I finish the brunch at Nixon. A friend of mine owns it, there’s good food and drinks. I have my lunch there and then head home to watch a movie and relax. I also go to Avocado almost every day. I am really into juices the past couple of months and they serve some very good ones – I recommend the beetroot juice.
Are you into vegetarian and vegan restaurants?
I don’t mind vegetarians. Vegans I think are a bit too much. I cannot think of not using milk, or eggs or butter. I believe that it’s ok to eat meat, and you have every right to know where that meat came from. I wouldn’t mind killing my own dinner.
Have you ever killed an animal?
No, but I would do it. If you are a chef, and you cut meat all day long, it is only reasonable to say you are killing the pig you will be later cooking. The sensitiveness of a cook starts from the moment he puts the carrot seed into the ground and ends the moment he serves the carrot cooked. It’s the same with meat. It starts with the day he feeds the pig so it grows and ends with the day he actually cooks it. Why are you shocked? If I said I went hunting, would you be shocked? It’s the same thing!
Would you like to have your own restaurant?
I am not ready for that yet. I haven’t found my personal style I guess yet. Right now I am into exploring new local tastes and food. Last year I was really into Latin America. This year, who knows? I shift and change all the time. This is not the attitude you want to have when having a restaurant.
Have you eaten anything that has made a very good impression on you?
Oh, this is a tough question. I have eaten so many things, I really can’t remember.
Anything that was a real bummer?
Νο, Ι guess not.
So you always find the good in food?
No, but I chose carefully where I will eat. So I don’t get disappointed that often.
If you had a street food cart touring around the Greek islands, what would you serve?
Sandwiches from around the world! Maybe I would pick like ten countries and make ten different types of sandwiches. In Latin America they serve the chivvito, which has many different types of meat in it… in Venezuela they have the arepas, which has veal in it and cheese and sour cream and so on…
If you could eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Souvlaki. It is too good to miss.
A few comments on the things pictured and said above:
Marko’s goldfish was named Mohammed. He died several days after our session. Rumor has it he killed himself. / Marko loves gold. He wraps objects around golden foil. I think it’s the coolest thing I have ever seen. / For a chef he has a rather empty fridge. He eats out a lot and cooks out a lot as well. / The book he is holding in the picture with the blue shirt is his favorite cooking book of all times. Chefs pick out the best recipes and restaurants around the world. / The board he is pointing at in the picture is a memory board of all his trips and journeys around the world. His next trip is probably going to be Egypt. He really wants to go there. / The carpet in his living room comes from the Middle East and was found left outside a house while roaming the streets. You can find treasures on the street. / The carrot cake was delicious. I am still thinking about it.