A pioneer of ‘modern Greek’ cuisine in the 1990s, Peter Conistis is still livening up Sydney’s food scene 24 years on. Marrying moussaka with scallops, and baklava with muffins, the executive chef of Sydney’s Alpha has retained a youthful self-belief since his uni days.
Situated inside Sydney’s Hellenic Club, Alpha feels closer to a Greek food emporium than a restaurant. It’s a long way from the 32-seater eatery Peter Conistis opened in the Eastern suburbs, fresh out of a Communications degree at university and completely lacking cooking qualifications.
“24 years ago I was the first one who redefined Greek food in Australia and further abroad,” Peter recalls. “When I opened up my first restaurant it was never to cook Greek food the way most people had seen it.”
Indeed, his restaurant – Cosmos – offered an entirely different cuisine from the rustic, generously portioned dishes most tavernas served. Mixing modern techniques and Australian ingredients with the essence of Greek cooking, Peter aimed to quieten his uni friends and their criticisms of Greek food.
“Everyone kept on saying to me: ‘I’ve never really found a good Greek restaurant in Sydney’,” he says. “So I wanted to prove everyone wrong. Once I completed my degree I decided I wanted to open a restaurant.”
“It was a bit ballsy of me.”
In the eight weeks it took to design and build Cosmos, Peter knuckled down to learn the basics of Greek cuisine, then completely break the rules.
“I didn’t really cook that much until I decided to do this for a career,” he admits. “Then I asked for Mum’s help and got her in the kitchen so she could teach me all the basics.”
Luckily, like many Greek women, Peter’s mum was a kitchen whiz, sharing her knowledge, explaining ingredients and showing him the secrets to homemade filo (phyllo) pastry.