After the fall of communism in 1990, thousands of Albanians crossed the borders, dreaming to find a better life in a non explored world, since during the 50 years (1950-1990) dictatorship period, Albania was isolated from the world. Italy and Greece, Albania’s nearest neighbors were the first countries which opened their borders to poor Albanians, back in nineties. Today, more than twenty years later, Albanians are sharing unbelievable stories of success throughout the world.
One of them in the story of the renowned Albanian chef Renato Mekolli, born in southern city of Fier, which is the head of Vassilenas Greek restaurant cuisine. Renato left his city and moved to Athens when he was only 10 years old. Being an emigrant, the young boy had no other choice than to work at an early age to help his family. He started working as a dishwasher in a restaurant, at his fifties and at the same time following a professional economy high school. Nowadays Renato keeps in his tray the “Golden Hat” and “Gourmet” awards on Greek cuisine.
In an interview for the Albanian “Class Magazine”, Renato owns to destiny a part of his success while telling his life story. “While I was in charge of washing the dishes for the restaurant, the French chef named Herve Pronzato sometimes asked me to help him in cooking. I never noticed that he was impressed by my abilities in cuisine before an ‘accident’ happened at the restaurant. Our owner had ordered a very high quality collection of dishes and glasses from France and when they came, they told me to wash them carefully but my mission turned into a ‘catastrophe’ because I broke all the plates and glasses. I was immediately fired and at the time I was leaving the restaurant with tears in my eyes, French chef Pronzato went to the restaurant owner’s office and insisted to change his mind. He hampered me to quit my job and inspired me to start a cuisine school, because according to him I was very good at cooking. After this incident, I dropped out of economy school and entered at “Chef d’oeuvre” cuisine school in Athens. Since then, I started working along with my French chef and a few years later I had a job at Vassilenas restaurant, one of the most renowned restaurants in Athens, with a 100 years tradition in Greek cuisine.”
After noticing his talent in cuisine, Renato started investing in professionalizing his abilities and knowledge in New Greek cuisine by reading and experimenting on various dishes. He is now in charge of a professional team of 10 chefs at the oldest Greek restaurant which every year is awarded for the quality of finesse of the dishes it serves to a selected clientele.
Renato Mekolli became famous in Albania since he got choosen as one of the three Master Chef Jury members at Master Chef Albania program, which in its two editions has had a record audience, at Top Channel national TV.
Renato has also won many prices for his abilities in cooking, but one of the most important moments in his career is an unexpected visit of a New York Times columnist at Vassilenas restaurant. “He had booked for two but came all alone. He ordered everything in the menu and started trying and taking notes on every dish we served. I was very excited when I learned that he was New York Times journalist, Frank Bruni. All of restaurant’s equip was waiting for his article and when it published I got so excited because of his good impressions about the food he had tried.”