Antonis Selekos: The chef who introduced panettone to the Greek Christmas table

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Βy Ilias Karagiannis

A leisurely walk in Italy on Christmas Day is enough to convince you that the ultimate dessert of the holidays is panettone. This fluffy dessert comes in various variations from including raisins and dried fruits to chocolate and other flavours. It is the equivalent of melomakarona and kourabiedes in Greece.

Only in the last five years, panettone has invaded the Christmas tables of the Greeks. And whilst it may not have dethroned the traditional kourabiedes and melomakarona, it is now a necessary supplement to the feast table. From the simple ones that can be found in supermarkets to the incredibly tasty versions found in pastry shops, like those created by the master of the genre, Antonis Selekos.

Antonis is a young pastry chef, only 31 years old, who distinguished himself at the well-known restaurant in Athens, Greece called ‘Funky Gourmet,’ which was honoured with two Michelin stars. Today, in the bustling neighbourhood of urban Pagrati, which is the ultimate gastronomic suburb of Athens, he maintains a boutique pastry shop, ‘Antonis Selekos Conceptual Desserts,’ where he sells his panettones at a frenzied pace.

Panettone-Selekos_

He is one of the main reasons that the panettone trend has strong foundations in Greece. Although he tells me his favourite dessert during the holidays is tsoureki, he believes that panettone is here to stay. Although he does not believe that it will ever replace kourabiedes and melomakarona.

“Many homes have been adding a panettone to their festive supplies in recent years. This is a trend and we see it in our orders. As Greeks, it is difficult to change our habits. We will definitely take melomakarona and kourabiedes for the holidays,” Antonis says.

However, the trend exists. It is possible, since it is fed by the supermarkets that now have panettone in a prominent place, to steal the show from the traditional sweets in Greece.

“The supermarket is both good and bad for promoting panettone. The consumer constantly sees it on the one hand. On the other hand it is not the best version of panettone that you will buy from there. It is not fresh,” Antonis explains.

Antonis’ passion for panettone

It all started in the summer of 2020. At the time, the young pastry chef was working at Funky Gourmet and was thinking of doing something of his own, but he had not decided what exactly that would be.

“It began by chance to tell you the truth. It was the quarantine period during the pandemic. The restaurant was closed and there was a gap to think about. At the suggestion of a friend of mine, I started to try creating panettone,” he says.

“I told him that the preparation of panettone was very difficult but I thought ‘let’s give it a try.’ I started experimenting with sourdough in Astypalea, where I spent my summer holidays. When I returned to Athens I continued experimenting and after a while I made a panettone, which I liked and sent it to Georgiana Hiliadakis, the chef of Funky Gourmet. She told me it was really tasty, and uploaded it to Instagram. That was it. I started taking orders.

“At the time, I set out to sell 100 panettones and eventually orders reached 700 in less than a month. As a result, I realised that I could not make them the way I wanted to any more.”

Panettone-Selekos_

In fact, the idea was born of distributing the panettones himself in order to change the image that the average consumer has of a chef.

“I wanted to hear the customer’s comments and see that I’m a normal person and not a chef shouting inside the kitchen,” Antonis says.

The 8,000 panettones of 2023

In 2021, thanks to the idea of his partner Anna Dionysiadou, Antonis first opened his shop in Pagrati, where they had initially decided to make only panettone. But because they weren’t sure if that’s all they were going to do at the store, the name given to the shop was ‘Antonis Selekos Conceptual Desserts.’

From 17 December to 7 January, 2021 they sold 1,300 panettones. Twice as much as the first year. In 2022 they reached 4,500 panettones, without making a wholesale sale. Retail only.

We ask him, what is the bet for this year.

“Very timid… This year’s target is 8,000 panettones,” he says.

I ask him if we will see in the next few years even bigger productions given the great success or if he fears his quality will be affected.

“Obviously I have a fear that quality can be affected if we produce large quantities. I don’t want to do big productions, I prefer to keep the shop as a boutique confectionery and do the best we can,” he answers.

The ‘Everest’ of pastry

Later, I ask Antonis what his own favourite dessert is for the holidays and he answers me immediately.

“I like to eat a tsoureki,” he says.

Many of the readers of The Greek Herald may think reading these lines that the pastry chef will offer a recipe in order to test their pastry skills. I discuss it with him and he tells me something that encapsulates the difficulty that his preparation holds.

“Panettone is the ‘Everest’ of pastry,” he says.

So is it better to get it ready-made?

“I encourage readers to buy it from somewhere from Australia. But I would say they should try to create it to understand how difficult it is. It will not be so good for them, so they will be forced to buy it,” Antonis says.

With the difficulties he describes, I spontaneously asked him when he was entirely satisfied with a panettone of his own. He began making them in the summer of 2020.

“Just last year [2022],” he answers.

“Even in every preparation we may find something that does not satisfy us. But now there is a constant improvement.”

Antonis has not yet visited Australia, but perhaps this interview with The Greek Herald could prove a good reason for him to travel Down Under. He also has friends in Australia, such as Giannis, who used to work at Funky Gourmet and Alex Xinis, who works with many restaurants in Melbourne and during the quarantine had created “Almost like Yiayias.”

Perhaps Antonis also has an implicit relationship with Australia, since his grandfather’s brother had emigrated to the Antipodes.

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