Leeds restaurants: Meet Zorbas Bar and Grill head chef bringing a taste of Greece and the Mediterranean to Cross Gates
Chef Besmir Sechou grew up on an idyllic Greek island, but he now calls Cross Gates his home.
As the co-owner and head chef of Zorbas Bar and Grill in Austhorpe Road, he brings a taste of the Mediterranean to hungry diners in east Leeds.
Born in Albania, Besmir moved to the Greek island of Tinos when he was a toddler, where he discovered his love of cooking.
Watching his mum, also a chef, in the kitchen inspired him to turn his passion for food into a career.
After training at the established Le Monde cooking school, he worked his way up to head chef at a high-end Greek restaurant in his home island before moving to a restaurant in Athens.
Besmir was then approached by the the former owner of Zorbas, Gerti, who wanted to use his expertise to design the restaurant's much-loved menu.
The 32-year-old told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Zorbas was just a coffee shop and the old owner decided to make something nice for the area, bringing in Greek and Mediterranean food.
“That’s when we built the famous Zorbas menu. We were booked out for the first two weeks, it was crazy times."
Besmir moved to Cross Gates where he fell in love with the suburb's community spirit.
After a stint working at Côte Brasserie, Besmir took over Zorbas with his sister Giona in August 2019.
He has received high praise for his menu - which offers meat dishes such as steak, lamb ribs and chicken, traditional Greek moussaka and kleftiko and Mediterranean-inspired pasta, risotto and fish dishes.
Just eight months into Besmir and Giona's ownership, the pandemic hit.
"It was a really tough time for us," Besmir said.
"But I have to say a big thank you to the community of Cross Gates who supported us in these difficult times.
"We have good customers; nice families and lovely people from the community. People even travel from Garforth and the city centre, sometimes driving many miles to pick up a collection or dine with us."
Besmir starts his day picking up produce from local suppliers, before meeting his chefs in the kitchen, guiding them through service and managing the paperwork of the business.
It's a lot of pressure, Besmir admits, but it's his love of the dishes he creates that gets him through the day.
He added: "It’s busy from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep.
"But cooking is my passion. If you don’t love what you make, your results won’t be as good. It’s a hard job, so you have to have that.”
Zorbas is open for bookings in the beer garden until May 17, when service will resume indoors and the outdoor area will be reserved for drinks.
Besmir is proud to be part of the offering in Cross Gates, which he believes is going from strength to strength.
"I’ve lived in Cross Gates for over seven years and I love it here," Besmir added.
"It’s like a little town. You can find a lot of restaurants and small bars, markets, shops - there’s everything. This area is growing up faster and faster and in the future it will be even stronger."
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