The New Greek Cuisine is here

During a recent dinning at the Athiri restaurant in the center of Athens return strongly in my mind, thoughts for the New Greek Cuisine. Is there such a thing? How is it classified, and what are its characteristics?

At Athiri restaurant, low profile chef Alexandros Kardasis presents dishes such as, sea bass marinated in lemon with white fish roe spread and dill flavored oil, puree lima beans with sweet paprika and green pepper, seafood pastrouma and caramelized onions sauce as well as petoules with braised vetouli with tomatoes, gruyere Naoussas and paskitan yogurt. What are petoules and vetouli?

The New Greek Cuisine, briefly TNGC, is actually difficult to define for two reasons. Firstly because the old Greek cuisine has yet to be identified, and secondly because TNGC is still a work in progress. Therefor if we wanted to define it, it would be through a description and with reference to the results of the work of professional chefs in recent years, which presented a revival of Greek cuisine recipes and tasteful memories, using modern cooking techniques and plate presentation. This definition contains several concepts that themselves require separate analysis and explanation which I will try to clarify below.

The Greek cuisine is difficult to define as it has received influences from other cuisines both neighboring and other countries. We often take for "Greek", dishes like the moussaka, tzatziki, Dolmadakia or the souvlaki, which are global ambassadors of an imaginary Greek cuisine. In reality although not purely Greek dishes, they bring out culinary memories, emotions and images very Greek and therefore we take them for Greek. In fact we describe as Greek cuisine what we used to eat at home and are inextricably linked to the products of our land, to our mothers cooking and the family table. In other words Greek memories, emotions and images.

Although each region of Greece has developed a different cuisine, mainly because of the territorial diversity of the Greek land, some of these memories remain common. In these memories are included a number of foods such as fish, goat meat, legumes and vegetables, herbs, olive oil, olives, wine, cheese, honey, bread and dishes such as pies , gemista, the spanakorizo, the Greek salad, moussaka, jams and preserves that make up a large part of the base of Greek cuisine with numerous variations and versions.

30 years ago, in the mid-80s, a timid attempt began was made by charismatic people like Lefteris Lazarou in Piraeus and George Chatzigiannakis in Santorini. They were the first who presented dishes using local produce; fish from the Aegean, capers, dried tomatoes, eggplant, etc. and techniques advanced for their time, resulted in a more refined cuisine of the previously degraded Greek cuisine. These efforts were the predecessor to what would follow, as a series of remarkable chefs, followed by their students, formed what today is the dynamic development of the TNGC claiming a significant presence globally.

Young Greeks cooks have studied alongside well known international chefs. They keep up to date with the most recent techniques and global trends, while being carriers of our culinary heritage based on local products as well as the memories of a developing Greekness as described above. So the spinach, orzo, trachanas, fava, the taste of tomato and feta together with Greek olive oil, find again their place in the Greek table through a process of composition and decomposition seeking simplicity and purity. The same applies to primitive tastes like the saltiness of the sea in a sea bass, of aromatic herbs in oregano, the refreshing acidity of a lemon, spicy aftertaste of an oil from Kalamata, the sweet feeling of a fig and many other flavors from all over Greece.

An explosion of flavors directly from the source that floods your mouth and make you mind traver back to the gurgling waters of Epirus, the smell of the Macedonian soil, the rich character of Thrace, the aromas of the fruits of Thessaly, the scent of yogurt from Sterea Ellada, the olive groves of the Peloponnese, the abundant fields of Crete, the white light reflected on the Cycladic houses and the blue waters of the Aegean.

The petoules is traditional round shape pasta like small pitas, while vetouli is the mature goat one or two years old with more tender meat. The paskitan yogurt is a Pontiac dish made from skimming and straining the milk. Thus, the dish of Alexandro Kardasi in Athiri is an excellent tasty proposal reminiscent noodles with tomato sauce and grated goat cheese, recalling of rustic tasty memories and tradition in a modern version.

tzanni pitoules

These are some example dishes made by another talented Chef, Alexandro Charalampopoulo. They are cooked with Greek ingredients, new technology, excellent presentation and full of flavor.

tzannis ink

Olive oil butter, spray of mastic oil, Metsovone cheese in squid ink.

tzannis flogeres

Philo wrap with finely chopped lamb meat, spinach, lemon foam, Cretan “gitsiko” cheese and Florinas tomato pepper.

tzannis kakavia

Fish soup made with grouper, frumenty and saffron from Kozani, pearls of vegetables and tapioca.

tzannis semifredo

Melon soup with “soumada” and semifredo with Aeginas pistachios

This is the TNGC seeking to find its identity beyond the gyro, the oily mousaka and tzatziki by the kilo. A tourist cuisine that we should forget. The Modern Greek Cuisine is based on simplicity, raw ingredients, knowledge and talent of Greek Chefs as this is the cuisine that represents us, and that we must present it to the rest of the world.

by Harry Tzannis

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