Palorosa’s friends: Vasiliki Kouzina, poetry, food and the city
Vasiliki Pierrakea, a creative entrepreneur, cook, and now a mother, has invited us to spend a day with her, sharing her story and the beautiful piece of Greece she has brought to Milan.
Tell us about your time in Milan as a university student. Why did you choose to take us to the market on Via Benedetto Marcello?
I lived in via Stradella, near the central station, for over 7 years.
It’s a place close to my heart, where I realized that all my happiness was hidden at the bottom of my cooking pot. The market and the surrounding area allowed me to feel free and keep my eyes clear and my heart sincere. I deeply love Milan. I see its limitations, but they don’t hinder my affection. My story with Milan is a true love story, and like all love stories, it’s a matter of instinct and destiny more than logic. It was an instinct-driven choice that led me to Bocconi to study non-profit company management, pursuing an academic path and then working in the real estate sector. However, underneath it all, I harbored a passion for cooking and hospitality, inherited from my grandfather. Then came the turning point a few years ago while on vacation under the Greek sun I conceptualized the name “Vasiliki Kouzina” for a small catering business. I wanted to move away from the stereotypical idea of Greek cuisine and offer something more authentic.
Then, over time I also became the Vice President of the Fiera Foundation, a way to give back to Milan for all it has given me. Of course, despite my love, my Greek spirit occasionally clashes with the city. Sometimes, it seems superficial; people want to showcase and judge without knowing. The pace is frantic, while life’s matters require time, much like cooking. As they say in Greece: “siga, siga”, meaning “slowly, slowly”.
Creativity and curiosity are, as in your case, key characteristics of many successful entrepreneurs and chefs. When did the need arise to bring business and cuisine to the same table?
There comes a point where there’s no turning back, and one must throw their heart over the obstacle.
I was born near the sea and under the protective shade of Taigeto, in Kalamata, the city of black olives. I left my city at the age of 18 to study at the University of Patras, but after a romantic disappointment, I boarded a ship and found myself in Italy for the first time. It was love at first sight! I left Greece with few possessions, not knowing what my future would hold, facing everything without fear. Not all journeys have predetermined destinations; sometimes, you have to let destiny guide you to make things happen. I am instinctual – in fact, instinct is my only god in some ways. I have never had a sense of danger and have always thrown myself into things just as my grandfather always advised me.
He used to tell me:
“Throw yourself into everything, just know when and how to get out…
and if you come back and don’t know how to eat, drink, and love
even if you’ve done everything else, for me, you have failed.”
We imagine entrusting your recipes to someone else wasn’t a decision made lightly. What were you looking for in the person responsible for embodying and narrating your cuisine?
Actually, much less than I thought. I love Vasiliki Kouzina so much that I threw my heart beyond my ego! Since the summer of 2018, I decided to embark on a path of collaboration and consultation with the Greek chef, Gikas Xenakis, whom I deeply admire. It’s an ongoing and profound dialogue aimed at presenting the contemporary essence of Greek cuisine through the dishes of Vasiliki Kouzina. We are united by a deep passion and recognition of memory, the only true heritage of humankind. As Marcel Proust wrote in Remembrance of Things Past:
“…when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised for a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”
Our collaboration over time becomes increasingly solid—less talk, more action. It resides in the soul, a storm and freedom. Our revolutionary slogans are both shouts and whispers from a world of unbearable yet miraculous lightness. Our shared and genuine passion for Hellenic cuisine guides our dreams and visions for the future. The most important thing we gain daily from this apprenticeship is to avoid emphasizing seriousness as a prerequisite for being truly serious. Instead, we serve elegant absurdity! We are a restaurateur and a chef, or simply two individuals who believe so deeply in their land that they narrate it freely, surpassing stereotypes, as we often dare not imagine them. Our freedom is the premise upon which our profession is built, and our cuisine praises the beauty of error—the magical moment when the wrong spice slips from your hands. I still remember my grandfather’s hands tilling the land and his trattoria, La Rondine Ubriaca; the flavor of the toil that revealed and dominated our home, the sense of care, and his words: “The table hides many lives and many opportunities”.
We’ve known you for some time now and have seen you flaunting our bags in various settings – from evenings out and business meetings to market shopping, like the day we spent together. Which model represents you the most, and why?
The clutch and the large shopper bag truly resonate with my anarchic soul elegance and simplicity, practicality and beauty.
Just as with Palorosa, color is a central element not only in your dishes but also in your kitchen as a space. What led you from the white of lime and the blue of the Greek sky to the intense red and pine green of your establishment?
I began as a home cook, but today, apart from a few catering services that I personally oversee outside, I passionately take care of the dining area, warmly welcoming guests to whom I narrate and convey the story, flavors, and traditions of my beloved Greece. For me, the dining area is like a symphony that encompasses both pain and profound passion – an odyssey characterized by a mosaic of emotions. That’s precisely why I created Vasiliki Kouzina, to get closer to everything the heart desires.
I felt free to “betray” what many thought Greek cuisine should be. I took, “stole.” I allowed myself to be authentic, staying close to what the heart desires. Even in the décor, I chose the Byzantine style, seeking to arrive at unexpected places, where one doesn’t expect to find something surprising simply because it is unexpected. I am an entrepreneur, a chef, or simply someone who believes so deeply in their land that they narrate it freely, going beyond stereotypes as we often dare not imagine.
In just a couple of snapshots, we saw different people come and go at your restaurant. What does it mean to become a daily reference point for a significant part of Milan?
When I opened Vasiliki Kouzina, I had no ambitions; it was a completely instinctive gesture because I wanted to create a lounge, a space close to what the heart desires. A lounge, a reservoir that collects souls, myths, stories about Greece. Oh, Greece! It belongs to everyone. This is the Hellenic journey chosen and painted by instinct and destiny for which we are responsible. It commands and guides me. It always has been, always will be, for what it is, for what is to come.
Several years after your arrival in Milan as a university student, do you believe you’ve found what you were looking for?
I’ve never sought; I simply act and persist. Every single day, I look in the mirror and ask myself if I’ll make it. Then, I believe there are no ideal conditions in which to write, study, work, or reflect. It’s only the will, the passion, and the stubbornness that drive a person to pursue their profession.
We also extend our official welcome to your child, who, just like Palorosa, holds dual citizenship and a heart in two countries! What qualities would you like them to inherit from your Greek heritage? And from your Italian heritage?
Oh, motherhood! My little giant, Leonidas! Honoring my dear friend, the gallery owner Pasquale Leccese, who passed away a few months ago, I would so love for Leonidas to be “restless”. “If you’re restless, you can be calm”.
Vasiliki shares her story as she gets lost among the stalls of the market on Via Benedetto Marcello in Milan, all while carrying her Basket Large Chocolate under her arm. Inside it, she never forgets to bring along her Clutch Small Midnight.