from greece to sa: chef aristotle's journey
How love shaped a chef's career
Chef Aristotle Ragavelas wanted to be a pilot. That was the plan. Born in South Africa, he moved to the UK to learn how to fly, but the lessons were too costly, so he decided to go along with his second vocation: working in the hotel industry. He obtained a diploma in Hotel and Catering from the London Marriott, where he excelled in the kitchen, but after working as a trainee chef at the Savoy Hotel in London, he was convinced that being a chef was not for him. 'That experience changed my mind about being a chef. You're working crazy hours and it was really a boot camp in those days. It was basically work and sleep, work and sleep. It was brutal.' So Aristotle decided to work front of house as a waiter and a barman.
He developed a love for food and beverage in the hospitality industry and put his focus on that. He laid the groundwork in England and continued his work in Greece, where he met the woman who would change his mind about being in the kitchen – his wife. 'She was a very beautiful woman, so I tried to impress her with cooking. When I cooked the meal for her, she asked why I was wasting my time working in bars. And she didn't want me working until three in the morning. She gave me an ultimatum: either I become a chef, or she was leaving me,' says Aristotle.
becoming a chef
Aristotle had to start at the bottom all over again. He took a job in the kitchen of a music club working as a salad chef for a horrible boss. Despite this, Aristotle kept learning, increasing his knowledge and developing recipes. Once again, his wife played a vital role, by introducing him to the owner of a restaurant where she worked as a hostess. The owner assumed Aristotle was the head chef and the next season he called him up to be the head chef of a bistro in Athens. 'I said yes right away, but I said to my wife, "Honey, I don't have experience as a head chef." She said, "Just do it, I have full confidence in you.'
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Despite the nerves, Aristotle came up with recipes for the bistro, worked as the head chef and excelled. That led to him working at Kivotos Club Hotel in Mykonos and the Michelin-starred Spondi in Athens, firmly establishing his name as an international chef. Then it was time to bring his talents home to South Africa.
bringing it home
Aristotle hit the ground running. He went into partnership at Anno Domini in Johannesburg, garnering many awards. Wanting to open his own restaurant and bring the taste of the Mediterranean to South Africa, he launched Byzance in Johannesburg. Following a successful eight-year tenure, Aristotle moved to Cape Town where, together with his brother, he opened Ragafellows in Hout Bay. Since 2016, he has been the head chef at The 41, a trendy eatery on the popular Camps Bay strip. Taking the knowledge he learnt from the places he worked all over the world, he developed a diverse menu, which includes his ever-popular signature dish: ostrich steak with putu pap. His food philosophy is to keep things simple
'As I get older, I try to simplify. I try to never have more than four elements on a plate. That is my mantra now. I think that's when the flavours speak for themselves.' He continues to learn and showcase his creativity through food, something that never would have happened if it we not for the love of a very smart woman who pointed him in the right direction.