When Zacharias (Zak) Antoniou decided to quit his high-profile marketing and advertising job in Melbourne in 2019 and move to his hometown in Adelaide to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a pastry chef, he never anticipated than in less than two years from launching his online dessert business, he would be named Pastry Chef of the Year at the ACADA Awards.
The ACADA Australasian Cake Oscar Awards were held at The Brisbane Showgrounds in Queensland from 14-16 May.
“I still don’t know who nominated me for the award, but I am forever grateful to the person that did. I didn’t expect to win as the competition was fierce, but I was thrilled when they announced me as the winner. I guess the hard work is starting to slowly pay off,” Mr Antoniou told Neos Kosmos.
The son of Kostas and Sermatenia, who migrated to Australia from Thessaloniki and Sparta in the 1950s, said his passion for the sweeter things in life was passed down to him from his big Greek family whom all love creating magic in the kitchen.
“I was always surrounded by the aromas of Greek sweets. I remember I loved watching my yiayia and my mum in the kitchen making Greek food and desserts, and I would always offer to help them bake.”
Mr Antoniou is known for his unforgettable, unique custom-made glazed cakes, including signature cake ‘The Mati’ which plays homage to the chef’s Greek heritage.
Interestingly, the idea of the ‘Mati Cake’ was conceived after a good friend of Zak’s offered to ξεματιάσει (undo the evil eye from) him following his appearance as a contestant on Zumbo’s Just Desserts Season 2 television series on Netflix; a dessert cooking competition, co-hosted by the master of sweets himself, Adriano Zumbo, and acclaimed chef Rachel Khoo.
“I thought I’d make my friend who ‘ξεματιάσει me’ a cake in the shape of ‘the evil eye’ to say thank you; little did I know that the mati cake would turn out to be so extremely popular amongst Greek Australians. It is now my trademark cake,” said the 41-year-old pastry chef whose creations require days of preparation, high quality ingredients, a tonne of talent and a lot of patience.
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“For me, seeing the end result and my customers happy is the greatest reward,” Mr Antoniou said.
His name, Zacharias, literally translates to sugar (ζάχαρη) in Greek, and – true to his name – the talented chef, inspired by his first travels to Greece, has been thinking of opening a zaharoplasteio (pastry shop/sweet cafe) of his own in Australia, but with a modern twist.
“My dream is to open my own pastry shop in Australia, reminiscent of the Greek zaharoplasteia shops where everyone comes together to enjoy all traditional Greek sweets and creations inspired by the country of our ancestors, Greece.”