Pastry Chef of the Week: Manolis Stithos, Athens, Greece
We are thrilled to feature Manolis Stithos, a young and super talented pastry chef from Athens, Greece. Manolis is 30 years old and he is Executive Pastry & Bakery Chef at the famous Funky Gourmet Restaurant, a two-star Michelin restaurant in the Greek capital.
For the past three years, Manolis has also taught seminars, workshops, and masterclasses at some of the top culinary schools in Greece.
Funky Gourmet is closed for the time being due to relocation, so along with preparations for the new menu, Manolis is workıng with the famous Greek Pastry Chef Stelios Parliaros for his pastry shop Sweet Alchemy.
1. What inspired you to become a chef?
As a child I never thought I would work in the gastronomy industry. My passion was sport. However, after failing my exams for the School of Physical Education and Sport Science twice, my father inspired me to study pastry. That was it! From the first day I knew that this would be my dream job. The thing I wanted to do all my life.
2. Where did you train to cook?
I studied Pastry & Bakery back in 2009 at the State School of Tourism Professions in Anavissos. It was one the first schools in this field to be founded in Greece and has a long history of tourism studies. It is located in a really beautiful location, next to the sea, in a building that used to be a hotel. Although as a teenager I never really liked studying at school, I graduated top of my class in pastry from the State School.
3. Tell us about your work at the Funky Gourmet.
In 2012, after pastry school, my internships, and one year at the Intercontinental Hotel in Athens at the Premiere restaurant, I began work as a pastry chef at Funky Gourmet. Then, the restaurant had one Michelin star, but gained its second star two years later. From the start, I took over the pastry section on my own. As time passed, the confectionery team grew and I started gaining more and more experience and felt that my creative mood skyrocketed!
Now I am Executive Pastry & Bakery Chef with a team of 4 chef de parties and for the last few years I have taken care of the desserts on the menu.
4. How much pressure is there to perform in a two-star Michelin restaurant?
Working in a Michelin-starred restaurant is like winning a championship. The pressure is great as everything has to be perfect every single day. You have to give 100% of yourself in every situation.Chef Manolis Stithos
5. Where do you find inspiration?
I mainly create my desserts experientially, with recipes that start from scratch. My creations are based on a concept and a story. I try to make unique dishes that pull the customer into a process of dealing and playing with the food. I love creating emotions and evoking people’s memories!
Traveling is also a source of inspiration for me. I love to travel and I think it is the best gift you can give to yourself. Traveling opens your mind as you meet new cultures, flavors, and traditions.
6. Do you have a signature dish or a favorite dish that you enjoy cooking?
Each dessert I have created is unique for me, has a special meaning, and has been created in a very special way. However, maybe I would single out the Soft Boiled Egg, an illusion dessert that looks like a real egg. The shell is made from a mixture of white chocolate and cocoa butter colored like a brown egg. The egg white is coconut sorbet and the liquid yolk is made from mango and passion fruit.
Salt and pepper utensils containing dried coconut and grated tonka beans are placed next to the egg so customers can add their own (as they would salt and pepper on a real soft boiled egg) and the whole dish is accompanied by a super soft vanilla cake for dipping in the yolk.
Other favorite classic desserts in general are Tiramisu and the Black Forest, which I enjoy cooking very much, as well as eating!
7. What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
I love fresh vanilla beans. For me, they are something pure yet excellent. Especially if you find a variety with a strong aroma and unique flavor, then you will have the best ingredient you can use in a dessert and a really interesting result. I also like fruits. I believe fruits can provide chefs with a huge palette of flavors, textures, and colors to work with.
Last but not least, I like using chocolate as a side ingredient, especially for coatings with cocoa butter.
8. Tell us a bit about Greek desserts. What are the top traditional Greek desserts we need to try out.
Greeks love desserts. We love their sweetness. Traditionally, we cook a lot of spoon sweets, each one made with different fruit or fresh nuts.
People need to try the Walnut Pie, a cake with walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar syrup.
Revani, or Ravani, is also a cake with sugar syrup made with semolina and flavored with mastiha. Galaktoboureko, is a famous dessert with semolina custard flavored with vanilla, enclosed in filo pastry, baked in the oven, and then drizzled with sugar syrup.
Of course, there are still many other desserts you can find in Greece that you are going to love!
9. What is the most underrated foodie destination?
I don’t think there is an underestimated food destination, since every cuisine I’ve tried has its own place on the global taste map. Each country has its own audience according to their history, tradition, and products and, therefore, every cuisine has its fans as well as its enemies.
10. The best dessert you have ever had?
Brioche filled with vanilla ice cream and caramelized apples in Barcelona.
11. What is the thing that you are most proud of?
I am very proud of my family, my little son and my wife, who is also a chef. Both make me really happy and proud every day.Chef Manolis Stithos
12. You are also part of a culinary consulting group. Tell us a bit about your work there.
I am part of a consulting group as Executive Pastry & Bakery Chef. This group provides services such as Culinary Concept Development, Menu Consulting, and much more, in Greece as well as all over the world. I am responsible for the whole pastry and bakery sector in creating menus and organizing operations.
13. What advice would you give someone who wants to become a successful pastry chef?
I would advise someone to be patient, persistent, hard working, and to not stop learning. Cleanliness and organization are also key.Chef Manolis Stithos
Everyone can learn techniques and follow recipes and sometimes, if they don’t have those characteristics, talent is not enough.
14. Please provide a tip for home cooks that could help them improve their cooking.
Maneuver in cooking situations, use your instinct, constantly taste the food when you cook, trust your smell, think outside the box, and leave your creativity completely free!Chef Manolis Stithos
Stay in touch with Manolis on Instagram, where he shares his incredible creations.