Mediterranean roots are something that never leaves your bones. It is in your name or in your food for Chef Nikola Karvelas it is both. Greece born Karvelas has been struck with culinary passion from a young age. In 1999 Karvelas won bronze medal in the Young Chef’s Contest in Cyprus, Greece. At that point Karvelas’ career in the kitchen was clear, as he stepped into the kitchens with some of Greece’s famed chefs.
Born and raised in Athens, Chef Nikola Karvelas is as Greek as it gets. Over the past 30 years Chef Nikola has made a name for himself in southern Europe working with some of the biggest chefs in the region. Chef Nikola really got his big break working at Michelin starred Varoulko in Istanbul for 12 years under Chef Lefteris Lazarou. After his time at Varoulko Nikola moved to New York City to try his luck in the food capital of the world.
Nikola quickly made waves with the opening of his first restaurant concept, Anassa Taverna. Chef Nikola moved forward with his career by moving to Florida for a short stint working as a restaurant consultant for his second restaurant concept. It was at this point that Mike Himani and Andreas Kelemidis approached Chef Nikola regarding being executive chef at Nisi Estiatorio, the West Villages latest spot to grab handsomely refined Mediterranean classics.
What was your inspiration to get into the kitchen at such a young age?
My inspiration is all from my family, from my mom and grandmom. They showed me how to have a true passion about food. They were all about the food and it was engrained in me since a young age.
How did your time at Varoulko impact your career?
I learned so much from ingredients to new techniques and skills. Working at one of the biggest restaurants in the country. It was a challenge at first trying to blend to contrasting eating traditions but was able to learn and combine the styles successfully. I was at Varoulko from 1997 and was with Lefteris Lazarou for 12 years. After 2002 we got the Michelin star and it was after that point that I was ready to move on.
What brought you to New York City?
I came to Manhattan to create the concept for Anassa Taverna in downtown. I had a lot of fun creating the concept for Anassa Taverna, and was able to create a modern, chic, and spacious warehouse style upscale Greek restaurant. After my time at Anassa I moved to Florida to work open up another restaurant concept. After my time in Florida, I met Mike and Andreas, partners for Nisi and we began developing Nisi Estiatorio.
Let’s talk about Nisi Estiatorio, what were you trying to accomplish with Nisi?
I am working towards a neoteric refining of Greek and Mediterranean recipes. I wanted to create a menu that helped redefine Greek cuisine but still felt familiar and of course is authentic. I wanted to create a space where I could create authentic Greek dishes with my own spin on it with the best ingredients possible.
How did you go about the menu creation?
The menu is traditional Greek/Mediterranean where everything will be cooked from scratch. I don’t like to use ready to go food, cans, or anything like that. Right now we serve a few unique dishes like our lobster moussaka or our fish gyro. We are always using authentic Greek ingredients, fresh fish shipped from Greece every two days. I am always focused with the quality of ingredients and making sure our guests know it’s the best quality they can get. Our spring menu should be coming out by the time this is written.
What does the layout of Nisi Estiatorio look like?
Mike and Andreas were looking for a quick clean layout that was bright, airy, and spacious. We put in 100 year old hardwood, put in some old style neon lighting, and put a large hanging living picture. We wanted to create a casual, stylish and relaxing atmosphere.
What’s important to you in a kitchen?
First of all for me it is all about the quality. With out quality you cannot have good food. The second is to have a good staff, make sure there is communication and that you are creating the same taste and texture. The third thing is the ingredients, pretty simple if you don’t have quality you cant have good food. Whether it is sub quality equipment or sub quality ingredients, both are essential to create exactly what you want to create.
We try to find our ingredients from local farms or local distributors and as you know we get out fish fresh from Greece. I need to make sure my ingredients have the best quality possible.
To learn more about Nikola Karvelas and Nisi, visit their website.