Greeks of the World – Natalia Gaspari

 

“I was born and raised on the beautiful Ionian island of Kefalonia.

In September 2011, at the age of 22 years old, I arrived in Australia. Everything looked so different. A kid who had grown up on an island all of a sudden found herself in a large country, in a city full of massive sky scrapers. Nothing resembled Greece. Right in front of my eyes was a mixing pot of different cultures and political persuasions unfolded.

My first few months here were productive and included visits to museums, aquariums, seeing all the tourist attractions. There were also visits to various restaurants with cuisines and foods from all around the world. My impression of Australia was that it is a beautiful country with so much greenery and with a very solid political infrastructure. Here you abide by the law, but the law also protects you. I became increasingly enthusiastic about life here.

I didn’t make the decision to leave Greece entirely on my own. In the summer of 2011 I received a phone call from the Hellenic Club of Sydney with a job proposal. My inner voice said ‘Why not? Let me give it a go.’ I have always liked taking risks.

I realised I had a passion for cooking at a very young age. It is a special thing for a person to have a talent and it is wonderful to discover it at a young age because you have your future ahead of you to be able to cultivate it and alongside that, to develop yourself as a person as well.

In Greece my first experience with work and with cooking was in 2005 at the age of 15 years old at a lovely restaurant on the beach in Kefalonia. The following year, my parents created a beautiful family business on the island, where I was able to continue with my cooking until 2008. After that everything was crystal clear for me. I studied to become a chef and I have not stopped cooking since then.

My career as a chef in Australia began in February 2012 in the most central point of Sydney. I started working at the Hellenic Club, which had been the site of the first Greek restaurant in Sydney. A unique place with years of history and ethos attached to it.

In June 2013, again at the Hellenic Club, I started working at the multi award winning Alpha Restaurant, which is renowned for its Modern Greek cuisine, and warm service. In September last year I took on Beta Bar and Gallery – the ‘new kid on the block’ in the Hellenic Club. It’s a beautiful space and hosts exhibitions and functions pretty much on a daily basis.

One of my favourite experiences in Australia so far has been representing Alpha Restaurant in front of SBS Television’s cameras for the show The Chef’s Line. It was such a unique experience and it filled my heart with happiness. It’s an amazing feeling being able to share the gift of Greece’s culture and gastronomy with millions of people in every corner of the world.

What I like most about Australia is that you have to be a proper, law abiding citizen in this country, but also that in turn, this country acts accordingly towards its citizens. There are lots of beautiful things to do, there are lots of job prospects. In this country, your efforts do not go to waste. The only negative is that life here is very expensive. Australia’s infrastructure, however, is very strong an admirable.

I find Australians to be very warm and open people. I have seen that they embrace the Greek culture within their hearts, they have a respect for it, which is something I have felt very much through my work. They live in a country which has everything to offer them and yet they have this admiration for a country like Greece.

Truth be told the Greeks here in Australia are very warm and hospitable to the young people from Greece. On occasion I have sensed a slight bitterness, which is of course justified when you consider what they went through when they left Greece as migrants to come to Australia. One thing that always upsets me, and I have only heard it from a few people, is when someone says “you are all at fault for what has happened to Greece.” My reply to that is always “don’t forget you are also Greece’s children and she kicked you out once upon a time in the same way.” Overall, I have encountered a lot of support and hospitality from the Greeks here.

For me, the most difficult part of coming to Australia was the language. I did not speak English well, but with the passing of time, everything worked out, it all comes down to how much you want to do something, how much you want to learn.

I consider myself lucky because I made the right choices and I had wonderful, established people by my side, who I really would like to thank with all my heart, such as the 12 member committee of the Hellenic Club, who have shown me support in everything I do, Alpha’s Executive Chef Peter Conistis, who has been my mentor since I arrived in Australia, and also to Arthur Balayannis and his family who are always by my side.

What I miss most about Greece is my family, and the people and friends I grew up with. That feeling of time not passing you by so quickly, the days there are more enjoyable, especially on an island as beautiful and gifted with a richness of nature as my Kefalonia!

It is far too early to say if I’ll return to Greece permanently. Right now I am building a career and I have to try and reach as high as I can. Cooking for me has always been life and creation and within that comes knowledge. It is a thing of beauty to be able to transfer that to others, irrespective of their race or background. I am preparing for my own Greek restaurant in the near future, something that will happen this year. Its goal will be to show the Greek cuisine and the soul of Greece to even more people.

My wish for our Greece is for this nightmare it has been living to be over as soon as possible, and for joy and prosperity to enter the lives of its people near and far. It is a nation with such tremendous history and culture, it deserves to soar to new heights, not to be relegated to the position its leaders have reduced it to.”

Natalia Gaspari

Gina Mamouzelos

Gina is a third generation Greek Australian who grew up immersed in her Greek heritage, including the language, traditions, culture and listening to her grandparent’ mesmerising tales about life in Greece. Passionate about ensuring the Greek language is not forgotten among the younger generations, in 2002 she became a panel member on the SBS Greek radio show ‘Let’s Talk Openly.' She graduated with a Media and Communications degree from the University of Sydney and has put her lifelong passion for writing to use working in social media, public relations and advertising. Gina now joins GCT's team as a writer.

1 Comment
  1. What a delightful story – well done Natalia! You are living proof that passion, determination and hard work can make dreams come true. I hope your new restaurant is promoted as I would really like to visit – thank you for sharing your story, it’s very inspirational! We take for granted that our political structure in Australia is relatively solid compared with Greece. The new taxes that emerge in Greece as part the austerity measures hurt many vulnerable people. Although there are many wonderful reasons why Greece is an incredible place to live, it is so much more affordable there and the produce is good too. It is difficult to be prosperous in such an unstable political environment. Wishing you all the best!

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