“GREEK cuisine is not one thing,” says Greek chef Nikolaos Fotiadis, who recently visited Cape Town to prepare a sumptuous six-course meal at the Hellenic Club in Mouille Point in partnership with the Greek Embassy and sponsored by Cruises International. “What we want people to understand is that the cuisine is different from south to west to north – so different.”
Fotiadis, who has been awarded both Michelin stars and Golden Chef’s Hat Awards, was thrilled to have the opportunity to prepare the meal for members of the Hellenic community, Greek enthusiasts and dignitaries alike. His main consideration when planning the menu was variety. “The menu represented all of Greece,” he says, adding that while some ingredients are available locally, others he brought with him.
“It was about all of Greece. We wanted to remind people here about the ‘real’ Greek food. Many were born here, and some others have forgotten,” he smiles.
Fotiadis began the culinary voyage with a selection of Greek meze, which included blinis from Santorini fava beans with sour cream and Trikalinos Melichloro fish roe, also known as botargo. “It’s one of the 10 best ingredients in the world,” he says of the Greek caviar. “Three pieces of that is your Omega 3 for the whole day.”
Also on the meze plates were marinated sardines with Florina peppers, tzatziki with beetroot and walnuts and served with Babatzim ouzo.
Next up was a traditional soup called magiritsa. “We usually eat it at Easter but with lamb offal. It comes from the monks of Mount Athos, but they didn’t eat meat,” he says, explaining that like the monks did, he used seafood. “People were really excited by the soup.”
He also prepared vegetable pies with spinach and herbs – small pastry parcels with olive oil and lemon dill. Those were followed by lemon sorbet with mastic (Arabic gum). Mastic, a kind of resin, is produced on the island of Chios and is known as ‘tears of Chios’, due to its teardrop shape. Fotiadis explains that the Romans used to use it as medicine and to make their teeth white.
Guests tucked into a small salad with dakakia from Crete, arugula (rocket), chopped tomato, pine nuts and feta. “Dakakia is a toasted bread you usually find in Greece,” says Fotiadis, of the rusk-like ingredient. “It’s very hard and you must soak it in water to make it softer.”
Then there was a mixed fricassee with Kopanaki chicken and lamb T-bone, followed finally by yoghurt cake with cherries served with sweet wine.
Fotiadis is au fait with the specialities of various regions in his country, and is excited to share them with people. “In northern Greece you find foods from Byzantium, and on the islands you find food influenced by the Venetians. Every area takes advantage of the land and the geography.” He also makes note of how regions have been influenced by neighbouring countries, combining their cultures and traditions with their own.
“That’s why I think the gastronomy of our country is one of the richest in the world, and it has history of thousands of years.”
In his book, Olive Tree and Rice, the chef takes that interest a little further as he examines the common elements between Greek and Chinese cuisine. He also has plans for a book on how in the past people used terracotta and iron to cook, and other objects in the kitchen.
And as far as his own cooking goes, Fotiadis likes to take traditional dishes and give them a modern twist. His favourite ingredients? “Vegetables – lots! Fresh fish and meat,” he laughs.
Through his work as the president of the Institute of Greek Food Culture and Gastronomy, he aims to unite both Greeks and those simply interested in the culture. He hopes that in future he will have the opportunity to return to Cape Town to help to arrange a festival celebrating Greek cuisine and ingredients.
“You do find ingredients, but maybe not all of them, because people here don’t know everything. And the feta here needs more work. You don’t have very good feta,” he smiles apologetically.
“Greeks live to eat, not eat to live,” he says, adding that the dinner at the Hellenic Club unsurprisingly turned into quite a big party. “But a Greek dinner is not just to eat – it’s eating, enjoying, talking – many things.”