Recent MasterChef GR contestant Dimitris Vamvakas talks to Melina Mallos about cooking, reality TV and teaching his students an important lesson.
Dimitris Vamvakas is a secondary teacher from Athens, specialising in Information Technology. He has taught for 13 years throughout Greece, including islands such as Samos, Lesvos and Kos. Dimitris has a deep zest for life, motivated by his extensive travel adventures and adoration for the natural environment. He strives to be an example for his students, who he believes have the power to reshape our planet in a positive way. You can follow Dimitris’ journeys on Instagram
Why did you enter MasterChef GR?
Last summer I thought it would be fun to apply. I had watched past seasons and an old student of mine, Lambros Vakiaros, had previously participated and won the competition. I was curious to see whether my cooking skills were any good, and, if I could somehow inspire my students to go after their personal goals. Basically, to be an authentic example of living a life you love.
How did your interest in cooking come about?
I’ve enjoyed cooking for most of my life, largely inspired by my extensive travels around the world. Cooking has always been a main point of interest since it helps me to better understand the people, their culture, produce and unique flavour.
What was it like being on a reality TV show?
Being on MasterChef GR was a fascinating experience. It was amazing to see how many people are involved in such a production, and how very hard they work under stressful conditions. The judges were very approachable and accommodating; although onscreen they appear quite strict, just to make it more dramatic to watch! I didn’t feel any pressure, since I knew that no matter the outcome, I was fortunate to have another new life experience.
I imagine you would be the type of teacher who maintains contact with their students well after graduation. Is this true? Tell us about your relationship with MasterChef GR Winner 2017.
Throughout my teaching career I’ve taught over 4000 students and have thoroughly enjoyed the process. I believe that teachers and students have a special relationship, one that can be kept alive after graduation, with a little effort. I have such a relationship with Lambros Vakiaros, last year’s MasterChef GR winner, a young man who invests his heart and soul into cooking. My hope is that all my students get to enjoy life to the fullest, travel and taste the world!
Why did you unexpectedly withdraw from MasterChef GR?
I decided to leave MasterChef GR because I felt I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I thought that some of the other contestants were more qualified for such a competition and that they would benefit more, especially as they were interested in pursuing a culinary career. At the end of the day, I’m happy to not have lost a single hour of lessons with my students, but also grateful for the opportunity to provide a good example for them to follow ‒ if I can do it, they too can do anything they set their mind to!
What reactions have you received from your students who saw you on TV?
The day after MasterChef screened, I went to school and my students were delirious! They thought it was so cool. I had to remind them though, that competing on a TV show, is not that important in the scheme of things. Away from the glitz of TV, so many people are doing exceptional things and we should try and imitate them, for they are the true role models making a difference in their communities.
What’s next for you in terms of travel and cooking?
There are still quite a few places around the world that I haven’t been to … Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and South Africa are on my bucket list! I’m hoping to try as many new things as possible and to find my favourite food, which is still yet to be discovered.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the recipe you will share with GCT readers.
This recipe is my twist to a Greek favourite, Giouvetsi. It’s something I love making and have added some Asian flavours to make it more interesting.
Giouvetsi with beef and an Asian twist!
- 600g of beef shoulder, cut into 4-5cm chunks, room temperature
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 small glass of red wine (the better quality, the merrier!)
- 1 tbsp of tomato paste and 1 glass of boiling water, mixed together
- 1 can of diced tomatoes
- 1 tbsp of uncut cumin (you will find it as jeera in Asian markets)
- 2 tbsp of sweet soy sauce
- 1 tsp of oyster sauce
- 500g of orzo (kritharaki)
- 1500g of boiling water
- 1 glass of cold tap water
- Salt to taste (depending on how salty your soy sauce is)
- Wash and then wipe down the meat. It shouldn’t be moist when you cook it. In a large pot (or a pressure cooker, if you’re in a rush‒I usually am!), add the olive oil on high heat. When it’s hot, add the beef. If your pot isn’t wide enough, brown the meat in portions, as we don’t want the pan to go cold which prevents the meat from browning and losing all its juices. When the beef is brown on all sides (don’t worry if it gets a bit burnt, it’s part of the process!), add the wine to deglaze the pot.
- After 3 minutes, add the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, cumin, soy sauce and oyster sauce. Add salt to taste, but not too much!
- Lower the heat to medium (if you are using a pressure cooker, then turn down the heat to low after you have put the lid on). It will take approximately 30 minutes with a pressure cooker and 100 minutes with a normal pot. Occasionally stir the stew, if you are using a pot, add an extra glass of boiling water, as it will evaporate over time.
- When the beef is very tender, add the orzo and boiling water and cook until the orzo is to your liking (approximately 15 minutes, depending on the brand). Stir often; otherwise the orzo will stick to the pot. Alternatively, you can put the stew and orzo in an oven pan, in a preheated oven at 180ο C or 360ο F, to avoid having to stir continuously (well, only once half way through!). This option will take about 15 minutes.
- The final step is the most important: Add a glass of cold water when all is done, so that the Giouvetsi doesn’t clump and become too thick. That way, even hours later, it will be creamy, and delicious!