Crete, shaped by Constadina

At restaurant Pelagos with Voulgari Kontesopoulou, a cook who translates simple traditional dishes into knowledgeable creations

by Gianna Melis
Constadina Voulgari Kontesopoulou, chef at restau

Constadina Voulgari Kontesopoulou, chef at restaurant Pelagos on the beach of Ierapetra, Crete, Greece

She has mixed memory, ingredients, skill, creativity and tradition to create an extraordinary menu that offers an exploration of the new boundaries of Greek cuisine. Dishes open to the world, that speak an international language. Chef Constadina Voulgari Kontesopoulou, on the beach of Ierapetra, in Crete, gave a new take to the meaning and value of local cuisine, and translated them into emotions.

“Cooking to me is more than a career. It’s a mix of art, creativity, love, passion, imagination, freedom and finally power. The power of taste, stimulating every sense. Gastronomy is a map of sensations that have left a mark on my past, stimulate my present and project me into the future with always new gastronomic possibilities. The image of gastronomy that is marked in my soul is the one I learnt from chef Marc Haeberlin, (3 Michelin stars) at restaurant Auberge de L'ill in Alsace. He taught me to respect tradition, and the importance of technical skill in order to enhance raw materials. I transferred these principles into my cuisine, thought without betraying the roots of my homeland’s rich gastronomy. Thanks to my grandmother, cooking is part of my life since my childhood. With lots of love and patience, she taught me the traditional Greek recipes, which are passed on from mother to daughter and from grandmother to granddaughter”, the cook says.

The Greek chef gives value to every ingredient: seafood, sheep’s and goat’s milk cheese, vegetables from the nearby countryside and herbs from the vegetable garden. And she transforms simple traditional dishes into knowledgeable creations, showing creativity and a deep understanding of the ingredients, local and non-local, with strong technical skills and personal flair. During her career, she has won many acknowledgements: she arrived in the finals of the San Pellegrino Young Chef in 2017 earning a place among the 21 young international chefs in 2018. The 100 Top Restaurant Awards 2018 nominated her as best female chef in the Mediterranean area, while readers of the 2018 Athinorama Alpha Guide awarded her with the Reader’s Choice Award 2019. Restaurant Pelagos Sea Side was awarded with the Hidden Gems Award 2019 in the 2019 100 Top Restaurant Awards.

Fried calamari with pistachio skordalia and traditional chickpea bread from Crete 

Fried calamari with pistachio skordalia and traditional chickpea bread from Crete 

Lunch and dinner are served on the breezy veranda by the sea by a very professional staff. The menu is well balanced between seafood and meat, and cold and hot dishes. The chef’s passion for Italian cuisine can be noticed in the Risotto with cuttlefish cooked in its ink, with spinach and fresh herbs, and in the Tagliatelle with seafood, tomatoes, herbs and Greek saffron. Among the dishes in the menu, the Taramas with bottarga, sliced Cretan apaki that is to say a smoked pork fillet, marinated in vinegar and seasoned with oil and juice of white grapes, and then courgettes with yellow peppers and graviera (the typical sheep’s milk cheese of Crete) and the delicious Fresh mussels steamed with ouzo, ginger and fresh chopped tomato, stand out. Try the Gioulbasi, meat cooked at low temperature with graviera, thyme and roast potatoes.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso