“Atole” and Dimitris Afentakis came to redefine the place of Mexican cuisine in the gastronomic map of Athens

6 mins read

Author: Pepi Nikolopoulou
photo: © Alexandros Petsavas

In Mexico they grow up eating mole sauce. An essential ingredient in Mexican, authentic cuisine and always present when they want to celebrate, to wish, to feel absolute happiness. Its preparation requires deep knowledge, mastery and encloses the whole essence of the history of this mysterious place. Mole Negro is the queen of mole, its taste dresses the Day of the Dead, a day sacred to Mexicans. This is what Dimitris Afentakis will choose to prepare for the Mexican Ambassador when he asks to visit his restaurant “Atole”. A hot sauce made especially in the Oaxaca region usually with 38-40 combined ingredients, with the basics: chili, chocolate, corn, and a demanding and difficult preparation, which takes 4 days of preparation.

An attempt at culinary suicide? A business disaster? Audacity? No. On the contrary, Dimitris Afentakis, a perfectionist by nature, knows how to take risks and with perseverance, hard work and above all knowledge, aims only for the top. Confirmation will soon come and will be the best reward, especially when it comes to a person of prestige and knowledge. “You remind me of my mother,” the Mexican Ambassador and his wife will say to him excitedly.

The beginning comes with the best of omens, I would add, as Dimitris Afentakis’ creation, Atole, with only a few months of operation, is here to stay, here to redefine the place of Mexican cuisine in the gastronomic map of Athens and beyond, since his personal project would be the envy of many European metropolises:

“What is done here at Atole is done by only a few restaurants in Europe”, Dimitris Afentakis tells me, a statement not subjective, but on the contrary coming from the biggest names of Mexican cuisine in the world such as that of Rosio Sanchez.

Perseverance, passion, thirst for knowledge and perfectionism

Dimitris Afentakis is a man passionate about cooking, more so with Mexican cuisine for which he constantly sets high goals by constantly raising the bar.

He studied economics in Sussex, England, worked for two years in the old Albion, but will soon return to Greece to find himself in the creative climate of advertising agencies but on the wrong side, that of Client Service. He had creative concerns, his artist mother’s fingerprints and suddenly the big idea knocks on his door. A one-way ticket to New York for an enviable MoMA seminar on conceptual photography, with Abramovic among the professors teaching it, the next step.

But only for a while as New York’s frightening pace, isolation, loneliness and, above all, an exclusive obsession with money will lead him back to Greece and into the arms of a new love: that of wines and tequila. He started attending the WSPC courses that will bring him in close contact with tequila and, by extension, with Mexico.

“Each time, with every next step and decision came a confirmation that I was on the right track. I began to invest in knowledge and reading. I hadn’t even read as much about economics as I had about food. I bought the books of all those great chefs and started making their recipes and at the same time I started looking for seminars I could attend. This is also the time when I start writing articles about food and I am preparing an article about Mexican cuisine, giving my personal opinion that it is the Next big thing, all this in 2011.

I had figured out that this is a serious food, with depth, tradition and substance that is not being represented adequately and in the way it deserves. A few days later, Rene Regepi announces his plan to set up a pop up in Mexico. This was the moment I would decide to dedicate myself to Mexican cuisine.”

“All the top chefs I watched with great attention. I was very interested in the different way they approached cooking with science on their side.”

She will be taking courses at MIT and Harvard on sustainability in the Mediterranean, sustainability and continues to immerse herself in reading. And when he finds himself in Denmark sampling Mexican cuisine from the hands and mind of Rosio Sanchez, everything inside him will take on a deeper meaning. The Leadership and Business scholarship at MAD Academy will set the stage for his next big personal venture, Atole. A venture that still remained a business plan on a piece of paper. A community then and now importantly by his side, with advice and guidance highly instrumental in bringing the authentic side of Mexican cuisine to his vision.

In the following period, and for the next two years, he remembers himself constantly sending letters to Rosio Sanchez to work alongside her; for those who don’t know, we should mention that she is one of the most dynamic and successful chefs currently on the international gastronomic scene, she appeared alongside Rene Redzepi in the charming Noma project in Mexico and then opened her own restaurants and taquerias in Copenhagen (Sanchez’s eponymous restaurant is the most famous Mexican restaurant in Europe at the moment).

On his birthday that year he will receive a big present. He will be asked to go to Copenhagen for an interview with her. “The pleasure I got was very great. She was one of my idols. So I will find myself at 40 working endless hours alongside Sanchez. I’ll learn a lot next to her a lot but the most important thing I’ll learn is that what matters to them is firsts. They have no stress or anxiety about sharing their recipes with other cooks. Everyone knows who has made it first. The second thing that impressed me is their great need to educate their farmers, their suppliers, not only to always have high quality raw materials but to adopt sustainable techniques, such as designing recyclable packaging.”

But when the offer to live permanently in Denmark and work with them on a new basis is made to him after a long time, although an interesting challenge, he will decide that he is ready to spread his own wings.

Atole – The name of the new culinary arrival that hides the secrets of the Mexican tradition

With a history of three thousand years, Atole (Atole) is a drink made of chocolate, cornflour, chilli and cinnamon that Mexicans used to prepare as an ode to their gods, a kind of thanksgiving and now it is the name that Dimitris Afentakis has chosen to give to his new personal restaurant, hidden in a beautiful little pedestrian street with a simple but mature and wisely chosen menu, exquisite decoration in earthy colours, minimal aesthetics (there is no room for skulls here, unless you are there on the day of the dead – Día de Muertos), open kitchen and heart, introducing with moderation, the authentic, fine dining version of Mexican food, which has been unjustly limited for many years among the street food options.

“Unfortunately, traditional authentic Mexican cuisine is misunderstood. It has been greatly altered by American culture that has almost hijacked Mexican tradition. Its depth and roots have been almost flattened by the American interpretation,” Dimitris Afentakis tells me in our conversation.

“Also, when we talk about authentic food we should however always be careful. For example, in Mexican cuisine they cook with pork fat that a European can hardly metabolize. It is also a very spicy cuisine, more than we can tolerate here in Greece and of course they eat insects. This means that I have made a few small additions thinking about our own standards and favourite Greek products. Culinary boundaries are a challenge always wanting to keep their tradition intact.

It’s like being a painter and having to exclude and deprive myself of colours. So any kind of fusion I do, I will necessarily put some Greek elements, I cook for example only with high quality Greek olive oil and Greek spices, I make sure to keep the DNA of each cuisine intact as much as possible and not to affect the final taste.”

For him there were some important decisions. Bringing corn from Mexico, one of the most difficult issues to resolve, would take him two years to resolve – try as he might he could not replace it with any Greek to make the flour he needed for his tortillas. “I didn’t want to get ready-made flour, I wanted to take my corn, cook it, grind it and get the right result. A time-consuming process but worth it. It took me three months to overcome the difficulties of communicating with the Mexicans and the other two years to overcome the bureaucracy of Greece.”

The peppers and chocolate are also products he brings from Mexico, and traditional techniques are his standard:

“I don’t tend to use modern cooking techniques. To imagine, I make guacamole in a mortar and pestle, not in a blender. Which of course one can taste. I can’t settle for anything less.” That’s why the wood-fired oven plays a central role in the food she prepares. It’s where almost all the food on his menu is cooked in front of guests. Here, nothing is hidden.

And this is a point that Dimitris Afentakis has not made by accident. His quest is to offer a complete, authentic, high quality, experience that starts with the vendors, the outsourcers, the staff and ultimately the customers/guests. Make yourself at home…

The menu currently hosts about 21 dishes and an extensive list of interesting wine pairing options consisting of labels from all over the world and Greece of course, with ancient Greek and Byzantine varieties. There is no shortage of premium tequilas and good mezcals.

“Fine Dining keeps the cook and the guest at a distance. It was impersonal. I want to offer a holistic experience to the guests, with a welcoming atmosphere and to the partners. I want people to relax in the space, to enjoy themselves.”

Atole | Grivaion 3, Kolonaki | Online reservations

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