Nicolaos Billis was named the best young chef in Mediterranean Countries region during the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 regional heat and he will now put his passion for cooking to the test at the Grand Finale in Milan under the guidance of mentor chef Meir Adoni.
We spoke to him about his preparations on how he turned a passion into a profession.
My dish is unique because…
It is made up from a plethora of ingredients which combine to bring out the versatility of Greek nature and ultimately form a balanced taste. A taste so intensely emotional that it reminds me of the land I grew up on.
What are the main influences in your signature dish?
Dishes served during festivities held in my home village Pilio. Travels but also the longing to return to my roots.
How are you collaborating with your S.Pellegrino Young Chef mentor in order to perfect your dish for the final?
I was shown a few technical changes while making use of the ingredients in order to better assist the taste intensities of the dish to shine. But he mostly shared his experience with me.
What led you to choosing a career in the kitchen?
In the beginning it was mainly childish curiosity of how everyday ingredients can take on a new life being brought together in the kitchen to transform into unique scents of existence, such as the aroma of freshly baked bread...
However, the ability to create and offer via a stove was the main reason I chose the chef occupation.
Who has been a mentor to you throughout your career?
Each and every chef I have collaborated with up to date have aided me with their guidance. But if I had to distinguish one as my Mentor that would certainly be Ettore Botrini as next to him I have be taught and I am continuously learning the three most important ingredients, essential to every dish:
Patience, evolution and respect to all basic products gifted to us by nature.
What are your professional ambitions?
My vision is to create an organic farm in the mountain areas of central Greece and more specifically on the mountain of Centaurs where I grew up and where all taste of my childhood lie.
A place where visitors may be taught the ancient Greek philosophy, may mark the changes of seasons on Greek soil and may explore its ingredients through meals that will express the land's legacy. They may get a Greek cuisine experience. In this manner I would like to do my part in saving and advertising Greek gastronomy all over the world.
What’s the best dish you ever tasted? Where did you eat it and who cooked it?
Tough question for a cook because due to our line of occupation we are lucky to get to try exeptional dishes on a frequent basis. One creation however that has stayed with me is 'Pork trotters and sea cucumbers' (manitas with espardenyes) at the restaurant Miramar in Llanca prepared by Paco Perez.
What is the most exciting/challenging element of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition for you?
The opprtunity I got to mingle with young people with whom I share the same passion for cooking.
How we got to exchange ideas and hang out. Also for me the competition will always be a lifetime experience not only because I got to meet chefs I admire for their strides but also because I got to cook next to them!
What will you do if you win the competition?
I will keep up the hard work because that is the only way to make your dreams come true... and also a huge party with champagne, S.Pellegrino and "nostinon imar"...