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MY GREEK REVIEW 2016

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Ok. So here it is. We don’t smash plates, ok? You do. We don’t dance Zorba. You do. And we don’t eat lamb. You do. (Ok, maybe on Easter Sunday when the lambs are delicious.)

It’s not hard to fix Greece. We need to start with the basics – e.g. I will never complain again in Australia about a parking ticket. I mean it’s shit, right.  But it’s governance. We have rules for a reason. I love my country so much because of it. Yes, Australia is beautiful, economically strong, forward thinking, safe – the list of positives goes on and on. So the purpose of this review? Simple.  Let’s not ruin our amazing country. Let’s take some lessons from the mistakes of this other amazing country, Greece.

When you think about it, Greece as a property proposition, is the best in the world – and I don’t say that just because my cultural background is Greek. I am serious. Having travelled to Greece for the last 25 years, each visit has given me something that has stayed in my heart for life. Its beauty is palpable and extraordinary. It’s got so much going for it – for instance, the climate. For 365 days of the year there is sunshine, resulting in amazing agriculture. Things grow and grow so well. For instance Greece has over 300 native varieties of wine grapes. The islands are breathtakingly beautiful. The landscape, the food and culture – all beautiful.

Global interest, in Greek gastronomy, has never be so high. Not just for its health benefits but it’s also goddam tasty. The food journey and memories are incredible, they’re heart filling. Greek cuisine is one of the best ways to experience the country and will stay in your heart for life.

Greece needs to go back to being simple again. Like its food; which is delicious. EVO [extra virgin olive oil] and lemon; it’s yum. It’s simple.

If Greece had a voice, it would say: “Hey – stop throwing rubbish on me. Stop grafting me. Fix my roads. Bike riders – you must wear a helmet and appropriate outfits. Drivers – you need to wear a seat belt. Remove bureaucracy. Jobs for the boys must end. Stop smoking in restaurants. Bring back creativity and inventiveness like the past, and tell the world about how beautiful I am. Tell people how wonderful our ‘philotimo’ is.”

I propose we focus on what we are good at. Tourism, for example. This year Greece will break its all-time record of 85 million visitors, but in saying that, it needs to be better. It needs to market itself better and tell the world. Greece is not just the islands. The mainland is just as amazing and interesting and Athens, as a city, is more than the Acropolis. It’s rich and deep. But yes, you need to know where to go.

Not included in that 85 million people from the tourism count, are the most important people in Greece right now – the refugees. It’s funny that one of the most problematic countries in Europe financially, a country in crisis, is accepting refugees and giving them shelter, food and support. There are so many philanthropic stories out there of local Greeks taking people in, giving their food to people that are less fortunate than them and us.

Being extraordinary is just ordinary.

To eat Greek is the art of sharing. Its cultural, it’s warming. To eat Hellenic is to be alive. This is what Greece needs to consider and focus on its food culture; use it to spring back. Yes, Greeks need to change.

I hope this review has confused you like it’s confused me but hey, I CARE THAT’S ALL.

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OMG – What a week!

APL PHOTOGRAPHY - www.aplphotography.com.au
APL PHOTOGRAPHY – www.aplphotography.com.au

If you didn’t make it to an event at Oh My Greek Week, you missed out on a taste of the world’s best Hellenic hospitality right here in Melbourne.

But it’s not just about the amazing food and drink from top Greek chefs and mixologists.

It’s a symposium and celebration of all things Hellenic. No stereotypes whatsoever.

No smashing plates. No Zorba the Greek. We’re not about what Greeks have invented or the current economic state of the country and how we can fix it.

OMG is about the future of Greece. It’s about creativity, care, love and commitment to being a Hellene. And being a Hellene is not about being born in Greece. I wasn’t. And out of my 400 hundred staff only 12 of them started their lives in Greece. Being Hellene is about the spirit within ourselves – always looking forward and never sitting still.

But OMG Week also respects the past by representing Hellenic creators, inventors and, above all, a community of individuals with care for each other and ooze the word “filotimo”. This is a word with no direct translation, but it represents a generosity of spirit among Greek people who get more satisfaction from giving than from taking. It’s about giving to your community without expecting anything in return.

And this is why I am so proud of my incredible team for making OMG Week happen. My Hellenic Australian heart just wants to cry with happiness and joy. Amazing chefs, mixologists and a world-famous singer accepted our invitation to come to Melbourne, and they did it with opens hearts. It was a double win, as we were able to showcase Melbourne to our international guests while giving Australia a taste of modern Greece.

It’s The Press Club’s 10th anniversary this year. Right from the start, our intention was simply to build a place for which we could be proud. It’s such a simple thing in life – pride.

So in this time of hardship, when we all know Greece is struggling, it is my duty to give back and tell the world about that incredibly beautiful place that we have taken so much from. It’s also my duty to make our local Hellenes of Australia proud.

Global interest in Greek gastronomy has never been so high. Not just for its health benefits, but also because it’s so tasty. Greek food memories are incredible and heart filling. Greek cuisine moments stay in your hearts for life.

To eat and drink Greek is the art of sharing. It’s cultural. It’s warming. To eat and drink Hellenic is to be alive.

So you can count on an even bigger and better OMG Week next time. We’ve already started planning, and it’s going to be awesome.

OMG Week would never have happened the amazing leadership group at Made Establishment, along with seriously generous support from partners and sponsors, including Qatar Airways – our presenting partner – and our other many supporting sponsors.

GREECE THROUGH MY EYES

What better way to teach Hellenic hospitality than a visit to Athens? Hellenic Hotel’s assistant venue manager Fleur White shares her favourite experiences from a recent trip to Greece’s fascinating capital.  

Athens inspires me and not because of its magnificence like many other major cities of the world. It’s quite the opposite really. She’s grungy, raw and full of complexity. She’s like a breathtaking woman who knows her own beauty yet disregards it and laughs in your face when you tell her. She knows that beauty is only skin deep and it’s what’s underneath that really counts. My kind of lady because she makes you work for it.

You might go to Athens and wonder what all the fuss is about – you’ve seen the Acropolis, walked the Plaka, eaten bad moussaka. You have to be prepared or else it won’t work. I was lucky enough to have best travel consultants to Athens in George Calombaris and his partner Nat. Trust me, once you scratch the surface, a whole new world opens up.

Athens is full of contrasts, which is what makes it so interesting. Pavements made of marble with cigarette butts everywhere. Dilapidated grand buildings covered in graffiti. Police officers drinking frappes. People going through a major economic crisis but still prepared to give you the shirt of their backs.

I have compiled a list of my favourite experiences in Athens. Most of them involve food #sorrynotsorry

 

1. The Athens Market
Evripides 45, Athens, +30 21 0321 7187

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I love a market, not just in Athens but in any city. It really is the heart and soul of the place. The market in Athens is what made me fall in love with this city when I first visited in 2014. It’s raw and real with an amazing energy and the meat section is certainly not for the faint hearted. It’s confronting and these butchers can spruik like no one else. It’s a great experience. I loved seeing locals queuing for spices and amazing delis, contrasted against shops full of junk and graffiti everywhere. It absolutely inspires me.

The Miran cured meat shop is my favourite. It’s more Turkish then Greek with the guys all wearing old-school ties and aprons. They specialise in cured meats and fish but they do great cheeses and olives too. What I love most is that you can choose what you want and eat it there, with some warm bread and an ouzo or beer. The cured bonito is absolutely to die for. The array of cured meats hanging from the ceiling is plastic, but for me, that only adds to its charm. Another favourite at the market is Diporto Agoras, a little eatery that isn’t anything fantastic. It’s all about the experience. Not far from the veggie section of the market, Diporto Agoras literally translates to “two doors”. It’s hard to find, as it’s underground, but the search is so, so worth it. There is no menu, no napkins and pretty much no cutlery. A grumpy old Greek man runs the place wearing a butcher’s coat. He serves three dishes every day and wine served from a huge barrel inside. That’s it. And it’s 22 Euro for two with the bill written on the paper on the table. There’s a no smoking sign but everyone’s smoking. Sardines are terrific but watch out for the lemon as its thrown at you. Find Diporto Agoras on the corner of Sokratous and Theatrou, Omonoia, Athens, +30 210 321 1463.

 

2. Street Art

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I love graffiti. If you do too, Athens is your kind of place. To me, Athens is like one big creative, colourful canvas. Some of the murals are absolutely magnificent. Some are super political and some are just plain awe inspiring. I even love the crappy black tagging if I’m totally honest, because it brings out that contrast again. To me it makes the streets talk and come alive. I read about one artist who likes to paint elephants down what was once a scary side street to brighten up the area and make people feel happy. I love that.

These are my top five places to view the best street art in Athens

1.Sari
2.Pireos
3.Exarhia
4.Monastirki
5.Gazi

3. Balthazar
Tsoha 27, Ambelokipi, Athens, +30 210 644 1215balthazar.gr

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This place is hot and so are the staff, so be prepared to regret having that second helping of loukomathes for lunch. It’s an old neo-classical mansion which was owned by a famous Greek actress until 1973 when it became Balthazar. It’s unique in the way that it’s kind of a bar/restaurant. It’s all set up outside in the garden during summer and they move everything inside the mansion during winter. It reminds me of somewhere that Al Pacino and Michelle Pheiffer would have hung out at in Scarface. It has a really cool late 70s feel. The garden is magnificent and everything is by candlelit. The food is light, yum and totally fresh with an Asian spin by chef Peskias Christoforous. The cocktails are delicious too and you can happily go there for just a drink. My partner Guillaume and I were lucky enough to work there for three days (him in the kitchen and myself front of house), which certainly enriched our holiday and put us out of our comfort zone. If you love GAZI then you will adore this place, but remember that people eat late in Greece, so book at around 10.30pm and dine with the locals. And make sure you order the green bean salad and the meatballs.

 

4. Loukomathes 

Eolou 21 & Ag. Eirinis, 105 51, Athens, Greece

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Speaking of loukomathes… you have to try this place if Greek donuts are your thing (and isn’t that everyone?). As the name suggests, they specialise in loukomathes and that’s pretty much it. It’s a really simple little shop, but it works and it’s great watching the donuts cooked right in front of you. It’s more about the crispy batter than the filling inside. They taste as light as air. There are Greek Favourites or a New Style menu and you can have them filled or au natural. My favourite was the Chocolate Bueno sauce. Yum! Time to get out the fat clothes that I packed….

 

5. Aleria

Megalou Alexandrou 57, Metaxourgio, 104 35 Athens, Greece

If you want to really experience modern Greek dining at its finest, look no further than the absolutely stunning Aleria. Whenever I asked locals or people in the know for restaurant recommendations in Athens, I always got the same answer – “Aleria is the best”. It’s my partner Guillaume’s favourite also. You have to work for it to get there though, as the neighbourhood is a little on the rough side (interesting street art though). I certainly wouldn’t wander around there late at night. Once you step through those doors though, the contrast is amazing with a gorgeous courtyard dining and fairy lights everywhere. The service is what gets me though. So warm, modern and everything great about Greeks. There is even an Aussie Greek who works the floor there and used to drive taxis in Melbourne. Lovely bloke. There’s a degustation and an a la carte menu but go the full experience in my option. It’s totally worth it at 58 Euro for eight courses. It’s all about the purity of the food and you feel that nothing has been put on the plate that hasn’t been thought about and cared for. Béchamel Pastichio is honestly to die for.

6. Stick Bar

Patriarchou Ioakim 48 Kolonaki, Athens Greece

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Simple, simple, simple, fresh, fresh, fresh, yum, yum, yum. I honestly could have eaten at this place every day. Kolonaki is pretty much the Toorak of Athens, with ritzy boutiques and lots of Athenian ladies who lunch. Defiantly don’t go here for street art – you won’t find any. Stick Bar is super reasonable though and they specialise in skewers, or as the Greeks call them, “kalamaki”. There is a tiny open “kitchen” next to the front door. The star feature is the kalamaki grill. I couldn’t go past the chicken, but the haloumi kalamaki was delicious too. Served with salad and some piping hot pita, it’s happiness personified Greek style. Oh, and it’s kind of, almost healthy too.

 

7. Sweet Alchemy by Stelios Parliaros 

Irodotou 24, Kolonaki 10675, Athens Greece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still in Kolonaki, and if your in the mood for something sweet, you simply must treat yourself to a little something delicious from Sweet Alchemy. Stelios is pretty much the God of pastry in Greece and whenever you mention his name it always brings lots of head nodding and murmurs of approval. I love the little chocolate petit fours and anything with salted caramel (of course). His cakes are stunning however and nothing is overly sweet. Stelios instead relies on the flavour of the magnificent produce he uses, plus his incredible technique and flair for pastry. His niece Poppy works in the gorgeous architecturally designed store. Poppy is an amazing pastry chef in her own right. The chocolate scented candles and bags are fun too. My partner Guillaume was lucky enough to spend a day with Stelios and his team at his production kitchen. He said that it was one of the highlights of our trip. Stelios is such a gentleman. He taught Guillaume his version of some classic Greek and Turkish deserts such as melomacarono, baklava, kourabies, halva and muhalebi kaimaki ice cream. I was lucky enough to sample everything later. Lucky me!

 

8. Paleo

39 Polydefkous Street, Agios Dionysios, 185 45Piraeus Attica Greece

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Don’t be put of by the name and assume that this is some anti-bread place like you would see in South Yarra. Paleo is divine. It’s a little bit out of the city of Athens, in the seaside port of Piraeus (20 mins by taxi). Yannis is the owner and sommelier and the place is essentially a wine bar but to call it that would be selling it short as its built entirely out of love without any hint of pretension. The wines are all hand-picked by Yannis and display all of the wine regions which he has visited. These regions are also printed on the back of the chairs. There’s defiantly a leaning towards Greece (of course), as well as South West France, Italy and Spain.  I almost felt like I was in the South West France at one point sitting there. The food is full of love too, featuring regional dishes from around Europe and the bread is house made and deliciously warm. The spirit of the place is really Yannis however and his warmth and hospitality is something I will never forget. He was born in Piraeus and you can absolutely feel that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.

 

9. Kostas Souvlaki 

2 Agia Irinis Square Monastiraki, Athens 104 31 Greece

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It would be sacrilege to write about food in Athens without talking about souvlaki and it would be sheer lunacy to write about Athenian souvlaki without mentioning Kostas. Kostas has been feeding the street food of Greece to hungry Athenians for oh, just a lazy 65 years now, so I guess this family know what they’re doing. The business has been passed down from the original Kostas to his grandson Kostas Jnr. All produce is bought at the nearby market in the morning, and when it’s gone, it’s all over and Kostas and his crew call it a day. This place is old-school personified, and you get the feeling that everything works in exactly the same way as it did when they first opened way back when. Once you reach the counter (be prepared to queue) Kostas enjoys some banter with his customers, and I loved seeing Guillaume attempt to order in Greek and Kostas answer in French and top up his innocent looking teacup with beer. Brilliant. Kostas’ souvlaki is simple but extremely well seasoned and very tasty. It consists of pork or chicken souvlaki, pita, Greek yogurt, onion, parsley, tomato, paprika and the option of red chilli pepper. And just for the record – Greeks don’t do lamb souvlaki.

 

 

Qatar Gala Dinner in Sydney

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George and his gun chefs cooked up an epic feast at the Qatar Airways Gala Dinner – a lavish affair in Sydney with a performance by superstar Kylie Minogue. Here’s a taste of the action from The Press Club’s new development chef Reuben Davis…

The pressure was on to deliver an amazing dinner for the Qatar Airways VIPs, not to mention Kylie Minogue.

But the Made Establishment team worked together to create something special. It was an awesome experience working with George and his top chefs: Luke Croston, Hellenic Republic’s Travis McAuley, Alex Xinis and Arron Lynch, and Gazi’s Guillaume Montes.

Preparation was crucial, so I flew to Sydney a few weeks before the event to make sure everything was covered. We soon came to realize the airline wanted luxury – and plenty of it.

As soon as we arrived back in Melbourne, George and I started planning the menu – four courses plus eight canapés for 250 people. We decided to start with Meze Dips and Lavoush, plus Prawn Kataifi, Pickled Plum and Oxtail Kibbeh. For the entrée we decided to go big and feature Marron and Caviar with Tomato Jelly and Cucumber, a very lavish and luxurious dish fitting for the occasion. The main course featured Beef Cheek with Carrots, Dates and Seed Spiced Granola, finishing with our iconic Peach Baklava which was paired with a smoking dry ice centerpiece, filling the room with the fragrance of baklava.

It was a complex menu for such a large group of people, so we made sure our preparation was done in Melbourne. With all hands on deck, Luke was responsible for making sure we had everything ready to go and drove the lot up to Sydney overnight.

Nick Imanisani, General Manager at The Press Club and Gazi, also came on board to make sure the dining room experience was top class. Nick and I flew to Sydney a few days before the dinner to get everything organised before the big event.

It was amazing to have the head chefs from across the Made Establishment group in Sydney to help because come event day the pressure was definitely on. Our first obstacle was having the run sheet changed at the last minute to extend Kylie’s set. This meant we had less time to send out the food before she hit the stage.

We all put our heads down and pushed to get everything out in time, making sure every component of every dish was perfect before hitting the tables. We got the last dessert out just as Kylie started singing.

To celebrate a perfect dinner, George took the team out to celebrate at Mr Wong’s. This was a great treat for all the team involved and the food was delicious.

It was so great to have the team come together and achieve success at such an extravagant event. It really brings George’s motto (one team, many dreams) to life when you see everyone working together to create something amazing.

 

Written by Reuben Davis

 

Dubai tastes The Press Club

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Working as a chef in The Press Club kitchen can lead to all sorts of adventures, Thomas Mann discovers on a whirlwind trip to Dubai…

How would I describe Dubai? WOW, from start to finish. It’s such an amazing and interesting place.

And when you’re visiting the city for the Dubai Food Festival, it’s even more exciting.

I was part of the team representing The Press Club and MAdE Establishment, working with George Calombaris and head chef at Hellenic Republic Kew, Alex Xinis. There were other Australian chefs in Dubai for the festival, including Gary Mehigan, Matt Moran, Shannon Bennett and Manu Feildel. It was great to meet them all.

After a 14-hour flight, we hit the ground running, making sure everything was ready for three cooking demonstrations and the festival’s main event, a massive dinner for 250 people at the Armani Hotel. All of the celebrity guests plated up a course at this special dinner, and George’s dish was dessert. George chose a dessert from The Press Club menu – our delicious Peach Baklava with sesame, fresh and roasted peaches with Greek basil.

George’s cooking demonstrations also featured The Press Club’s most iconic dish – the Hills Hoist, Prawn Saganaki and Slow Roasted Lamb – along with Hellenic Republic’s delicious Prawn Kataifi, Burnt Leek Ravioli and the famous rice pudding, Risogalo.

Everything about Dubai is big and luxurious, from the Burj Khalifa (one of the tallest buildings in the world) to the shopping malls and many restaurants. We were staying at the Palace Hotel in downtown Dubai, and our events were just a short walk away at the Armani Hotel. This was located at the bottom of the Burj Khalifia. The size of this building was unbelievable.

Jet lag, crazy traffic and time differences were a bit of a struggle, but there was no time to think about any of that when there was so much to do and see. On our night off, we had amazing barbecue with a selection of chicken, rib eye, lobster and prawns. We also tried some traditional UAE classics and continental foods.

The most challenging part of the trip was plating up the Peach Baklava for 250 people. It was a complicated dish, with 10 different components including a date gel and a caramel milk jelly, which was much loved by people in Dubai. The dessert was a success and all the preparation paid off as the finished dish looked really good and tasted even better.

After the final cooking demonstration, we had the afternoon and evening to relax and explore Dubai, starting with sushi and burgers in a massive shopping mall, followed by a drink at a roof top bar overlooking the Burj Khalifa (which was awesome). We all went out for dinner as a group that night to celebrate what we had all accomplished in our stay. Our night finished watching the spectacular light shows on the Burg Khalifa, and the water fountain shows in the lake.

Dubai and its people were absolutely amazing. I loved every minute of it and would do it all again given the opportunity. Thank you to the Dubai Food Festival and all the organisers. It was a great experience, and I learned heaps, while making some great memories that I’ll keep for the rest of my life.

Written by Thomas Mann

The Press Club on Tour

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George and two of his gun chefs travelled across the Tasman recently to give New Zealand a taste of The Press Club. Senior Chef de Partie Thomas Mann shares the highs and lows of cooking on the road.

Our trip was amazing from start to finish, even if we got off to a messy 4am start. First we tried to check in at the wrong terminal. Then we stumbled through domestic airport security rather than international. And our flight was delayed for three hours.

But somehow we made it to New Zealand, with two functions ahead of us. The first one was on a big scale (Gazi style) for more than 250 people at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium, followed by a more intimate dinner for 22 guests showcasing The Press Club at the beautiful Waiheke Island. The pressure was on for me at the second event, as George placed his trust in me to organise, prep and deliver the dinner.

But first… North Harbour Stadium. We go straight to the venue as soon as we land in New Zealand to work out the logistics of how we were going to run the service the following day. Food was to come from the downstairs kitchen with Gazi sous chef Simon Merrick plating up the food and overseeing everything before it goes to the tables. After sorting out these logistics, we checked out the ingredients, equipment and work space with the venue’s catering company Austin’s Food Design Events. We then checked into our hotel and found a place to have a quick dinner and a drink – it was an early start the next day.

Our first job was to work with five prep chefs from Austin’s to get the protein ready with plenty of time, including The Press Club’s 72-hour slow cooked beef short rib. Ice cream was another big task. I only had three litres to make, but Simon prepped 20 litres of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, which he had to churn off-site 30 minutes away.

But Simon and I were both keen to be as prepared as possible, as George had just arrived in Auckland and we had to be ready for dinner by 7pm. At 5:45pm, we still had a 25 minute cab ride to the hotel, so we both knew we would be cutting it fine. But it was and amazing feeling, knowing what we had accomplished over the two days. We left the prep kitchen with smiles on our faces, knowing we were ready to transport prep to North Harbour Stadium and Waiheke Island. It also meant we were both able to enjoy a night out in Auckland, experiencing the city’s excellent food and nightlife.

Back at North Harbour Stadium the next day, Simon and I had a few small jobs to get done before service started, including a small briefing where Simon ran through the order of service with the back of house team. Transporting the food from the downstairs kitchen to the upstairs service area was a challenge, especially when the freezer decided to die, slowly melting the ice cream in the Bombe Metaxa cone, a combination of caramel sauce, chocolate and vanilla ice cream topped with Italian meringue. The doughnuts in a warm chocolate sauce sprinkled with hazelnuts went down a treat though. Unfortunately, the day ended at casualty as one of our front of house colleagues had a nasty fall and fractured his hip, so we all visited him at the A&E to make sure he was okay. Not the end to the day we were after.

 

Sunday took us to Waiheke Island. This was the day I had to prove to George that his trust in me was well placed. It was a rocky start, making the 7am ferry with a minute to spare. I can tell you now, it was a very tense cab ride to the ferry terminal. I had to get bread ready for lunch, and the next ferry left at 11am. But we made it to the ferry and the views were absolutely amazing. I have always wanted to see New Zealand and what a way to do it. It was everything I had hoped it to be and it was about to get a whole lot better.

The rest of the morning ran smoothly, as did the service. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the food and George was very pleased with what I prepared and delivered. It was such a great feeling to know I had represented George’s flagship restaurant, having only been working there for months.

 

To top off an amazing trip, George and the organisers had one more surprise for Simon and I – a bottle of wine at Te Whau Vineyard and Restaurant followed by a helicopter ride to the airport. This was a mind blowing experience and we were all so excited. The views were stunning, creating memories I with never forget.

So thank you to the City of Auckland and everyone involved who helped make this such an amazing trip, along with a massive learning experience.

– Thomas Mann (Senior Chef de partie The Press Club)

Greece Trip 2015

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By Nikki Reid

I have been to Greece before. I have done the islands and the parties and the hours of lazing around on beaches. That is all well and good and I regret nothing, but this time I want to see more of Greece. I want to taste more food, drink more wine and meet more of the people who live in this beautiful country. Working at Hellenic Republic Kew I am immersed in Greek food and wine every day. Yet nothing quite compares to experiencing this aspect of Greek culture in its origins, feeling the warmth of Greek hospitality and seeing the traditions first hand.

I set off on this trip with my fiancé Nicholas who also works in the industry. He is a wine buyer and on his extensive wine list there is nothing from Greece. He is unsure about Greek wine and I am aiming to change his mind.

We land in Athens, a gritty, hectic, lively city definitely prepared for the hordes of tourists. After the obligatory tromp around the Acropolis we find a little ouzeria in Plaka and sip on a karafaki of local ouzo whilst devouring plate after plate of mezethes. Pickled octopus, smoked mackerel, white anchovies and Kalamata olives all provide the perfect match. There is a wine bar just meters from our hotel called Heteroclito with an extensive list of Greek wines by the glass which is perfect to while away the hours over a glass or two (or three). In Athens we also dine at Funky Gourmet, a two Michelin-starred restaurant where every dish is not as is seems on first inspection. Here the chefs use innovative techniques to present their dishes in a playful, unconventional manner, turning fine-dining into a fun and engaging experience. My favourite dish is a tiny little round of goats cheese dressed up to look like a beetroot.

The next stop is the Peloponnese peninsula where we set up base in the beautiful little port town of Nafplio. It sits on a small finger of land poking out into the Aegean Sea and is overlooked by an old Palamidi fortress. A romantic weekend get-away at its best. The tiny streets and alleys of Nafplio’s old town are lined with restaurants and boutique shops. Given that it is no longer high season the town is quiet and we have our pick of seafood restaurants on the waterfront. We choose a lively looking place called Elatos with a friendly street spruiker and tuck into fluffy white taramosalata, prawn saganaki with a rich tomato sauce with pan-fried wild greens.  The next day we visit our first winery.

There is a new wave of young winemakers in Greece combining old tradition with new technology to bring Greek wine into the international limelight. Two of the fore-runners are Sotiris and Katerina Bosinakis, a brother and sister team who focus all their energy on one label, Bosinakis Moschofilero from the PDO Mantania. With a clear step away from the lightly coloured and simple wines of the past, the Bosinakis Moschofilero has more of the grapes varietal characteristics, playing up the pink hues of the indigenous grape to create a fresh, crisp, aromatic white wine with a pretty pink blush. It is my most common recommendation in the restaurant and a great way to first experience a characteristic Greek white varietal.

Across the mountains on the Ionian Sea lies the old Greek family estate of Domaine Mercouri. Now run by the 5th generation of winemakers the old property holds an abundance of history. The estate was established in 1864 by Theodore Mercouris who imported cuttings of the Refosco variety from Italy. Protected from the worldwide phylloxera plague which saw most of the vines in Europe wiped out in the late 19th century, Domaine Mercouri is home to one plot of 150 year-old Refosco vines, making them some of the oldest in Europe.

Our next stop is the Island of Kefalonia. The beauty of this place is extraordinary.  The white limestone cliffs provide a scenic backdrop for the turquoise-watered beaches in this Greek island paradise.  Kefalonia is home to the little-known Robola grape, grown on the steep slopes of Mt Enos. One of the biggest personalities in the industry, Petros Markantonatos of Gentilini Winery and Vineyards is our tour guide for the island. We taste the Gentilini 2015 Robola straight from the tanks. With its gripping acid and chalky minerality it is almost like you can taste the limestone in the glass. This fresh, crisp wine screams for plates piled high with seafood. And that is just what we get in the seaside town of Fiskardo, where the seafood tavernas line one side of the shore and the yachts from all over Europe line the other. At Thassia restaurant we eat whole sea bream cooked on the grill paired with a beautiful Cellar Series Robola from Gentilini.

In Kefalonia we also taste Robola from Sclavos Winery with Mr Sclavos himself. He is a quiet, introspective character yet something about his demeanour hints at a wealth of knowledge and experience. He quite obviously garners the respect of all those around him. His Robola is very different to that from Gentilini. He follows a biodynamic winemaking approach and this version is a lot fuller in body and slightly oxidative. On this particular day he explains that all the wines will taste unbalanced as it is a ‘grey’ day according to the biodynamic calendar.

Once back on the mainland we head for the mountains of Naoussa. Up here they are best-known for the bold Xinomavro grape. At Domaine Dalamara we meet with Burgundian-trained Kostis Dalamara, the 6th generation of winemaker in the Dalamara family. He takes us out to the vineyard to wander through the vines of the flagship ‘Paliokalias’ of the PDO Naoussa made from 100% Xinomavro. Xinomavro makes an age-worthy, medium bodied, high tannin wine reminiscent of Nebbiolo and which I personally think will be giving the Barolos a run for their money in the very near future. We also witness some of the local winemakers gathering at Dalamara to distil the grape spirit tsipouro. It is a jovial affair and we are assured it ends in many a fun-filled afternoon in the distillery.

On the recommendation of Kostis, we visit a restaurant in the town of Naoussa called Oinomageiremata, which translates to ‘cooking with wine’. We eat a traditional dish of slow cooked pork and cabbage and pair it with a 2008 Dalamara Paliokalias. The duo is to die for. The tannin and great acid structure in the Xinomavro cuts through the richness in the meat and leaves us speechless. We are quite content to sit for hours and prolong the pleasure of such a great wine match. Yet for the locals this is an everyday experience, and to them our two hour lunch probably seems bizarre.

Our final stop is the second biggest city in Greece, Thessaloniki. This is a vibrant, metropolitan city with a large student population giving it a vibe of youth and energy. The cafés which line the traffic jammed streets are full of young people sipping on coffee and chatting the day away. A hike up the hill to the kastro presents you with a panoramic view of the city and bay below. But by far the best thing to do in Thessaloniki is to find a café on Leoforos Nikis, order a frappe and watch the world go by.

Half an hour outside of Thessaloniki in Epanomi is the home of my first love in Greek wine. The estate at Ktima Gerovassiliou is impressive before you even taste the wines. The state of the art winery is decked out with all the latest technology and the vineyards are meticulously cared for. There is a fabulous restaurant on site and a wine museum built to honour winemaking culture and tradition. Probably the most impressive is the collection of corkscrews. Thousands of examples lovingly collected over decades are displayed in an exhibition under the winery. My inner wine nerd is enthralled. Although Ktima Gerovassiliou cultivates numerous indigenous as well as international grape varietals, it is the aromatic Malagousia that I first fell in love with at Hellenic Republic Brunswick all those years ago. In 1981 Vangelis Gerovassiliou revived the family vineyard by planting the indigenous Greek Malagousia grape, bringing it back from the brink of almost certain extinction.

The Greek word filoxenia translates to ‘hospitality’ and you can feel it everywhere. The Greek people are so warm and welcoming. The winemakers show us around their estates with a sense of pride and generosity. More often than not we are treated to lunch at the winery or a local restaurant before being farewelled with a boot load of wine, hats and t-shirts to take with us. We are certainly well looked after, in fact we feel rather spoilt. Our hosts provide endless tips on where to go, what to do and where to eat. Our experience is so much richer because of their genuine interest in our trip and their insights into the local culture. Now back in Australia I have a new appreciation and love for the food and wine I serve every day at Hellenic Republic. Oh… and Nicholas has put some Greek wine on his list.

EVERYONE’S A CRITIC

When I started my cooking career almost 20 years ago, chefs yelled and screamed like nutbags, ruling their kitchens with an iron fist. I’m the first to admit that I was a shocker – full of arrogance and agro.

That’s all changed now, as it should. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. You get the best of out of people that way. We’re all humans at the end of the day.

But as kitchens become more calm and polite, restaurant diners are going in the other direction.

Just think about it how much things have changed in just the past 10 years. People went out for a meal and talked to each other across tables without smart phones. Remember that? And they ate their meals without taking a single photo of their food. If people didn’t like what we served, we wouldn’t see them again.

Not now. Everyone is a critic. Most people are fair, and our restaurants get loads of smart phone love on social media, but there’s a small and very vocal group of people out there who go online and sink the boot in with really vicious comments.

They make it personal.

For all you gutless wonders throwing personal insults behind the anonymity of social media, let me ask you this question. Can you tell me why you did it? “It’s nothing personal,” they might say. What rubbish. It’s very personal.

I take it on the chin when people criticise our food. If somebody doesn’t like a meal, it’s his or her call. I respect that. I can even handle opinionated bloggers going on their stupid, self-righteous attacks. They’re just losers desperate for public attention.

But I can’t stand it when people make personal digs. “He’s just a celeb chef now… doesn’t actually cook anymore,” they snicker. Jeez I hate being called a celebrity chef.

It’s true that I’m rarely on the stoves these days, but I’m right next to the flame leading my team. Why would I be chopping carrots? It’s not my job any more. My job is to inspire and direct my team. If I’m not doing that, I’m not doing my job. It’s about the culture of the place, and it’s not something you can stick up on a wall or talk about. You feel it. It’s part of the DNA of a great restaurant.

But it doesn’t matter how hard we work behind the scenes. There are people out there who use their smart phones as weapons of hate.

When did it become OK to be so disrespectful to other human beings, trashing people’s reputations and livelihoods online? I’m cool with people having opinions, good and bad, but what gives people the right to make it personal?

How would you feel if I walked into your house and started slagging off about everything, from the food on the table to the clothing on your back. What if I picked holes in the way you walked and talked, followed by a tirade on how bad you are at your job?

It’s inconsiderate and rude. When did that become normal?

– GC

A WHOLE LOT OF JUNK

GC + kids reworked

 

If you believe the headlines, I’m on a one-man campaign against a big company with golden arches.

Some silly creative writing by a newspaper reporter (who I won’t name as they don’t deserve any more airtime) made it sound as if I have it in for McDonald’s.

This isn’t true. I didn’t even mention that company’s name during the interview. Singling out a company like that is disrespectful – not how I work. But that didn’t matter when the story went viral, telling the world I only let my son go to McDonald’s birthday parties with a cut lunch so that he doesn’t eat their food.

Now it’s time to set the record straight.

Like any other Australian parent, I want my kids to be healthy. This is why my partner and I decided to cut out processed food. Sometimes this means we feed the kids before they go to places that serve it, or give them something to eat while they’re there.

It’s not whether my position is right or wrong. It’s simply an opinion, and I’m very passionate about it. I’ve had people say I’m mean for not letting my kids be kids and eat what their friends eat. I’m cool with that too – it’s their opinion.

But my family doesn’t miss out on the fun stuff. We eat pizzas. We go for burgers. We have doughnuts. We just make sure they’re made with whole ingredients. We need to know exactly what goes into our food.

If we want a pizza, we head to Tony Nicolini’s DOC Pizza and Mozzarella Bar. My favourite topping is ham and pineapple, but I have to sneak in my own pineapple into Tony’s place – he’s old school when it comes to pizza. And it’s amazing pizza, made with whole flour – not bleached and refined. And the toppings are simple and delicious, like Buffalo mozzarella and real ham sliced from the bone – not the square processed stuff next to the square cheese in the supermarket fridge.

I just don’t get it. Why would anyone eat burgers in sugar-laden buns with plastic cheese when you can order a spectacular burger with the lot from Andrew’s in Albert Park? It’s made with real bread and full of whole ingredients, right down to the runny fried egg.

This isn’t some fad diet I’m talking about. I’m not telling you to go paleo or sugar free. That stuff is all blah blah blah to me. My food religion is simple. I follow the lead of the world’s longest-living people from the Greek island of Ikaria. They only eat whole food, and they do it in moderation.

It’s not that hard. All of our ancestors knew how to eat whole food. Now I walk into a supermarket for a bottle of milk and it does my head in. Skim milk, full cream, extra protein, light milk… why can’t we all keep it real? Just give me natural, whole milk from a cow.

We’ve all got so much choice that we’ve lost our way. I know and there are people out there who can’t afford fresh apples for their kids’ lunch boxes, so they buy five cinnamon donuts because they’re a fraction of the price. But there’s a reason why those donuts are cheap – they’re made with cheap and nasty ingredients, all bleached and refined. Basically shit.

My family loves doughnuts, but in our house we buy half a kilo of wholemeal flour and make the doughnuts with the kids. We all have an amazing experience together, and we know what we’re eating.

So next time you go shopping, ask yourself this simple question: Is this food real? When you hit the dairy aisle, why would you even think about eating chemical-filled margarine when you can eat butter? Go for the real thing. Butter is whole food and tastes bloody good.

I’m no doctor, and I’m certainly no scientist. I’m just a chef who loves food, especially when it its cultural values shine through. I also know that life is short. And we all know people out there who are suffering from illnesses related to poor diets.

It’s not hard to make the change, and it’s certainly not some expensive gimmick. All you need to do is keep it simple. Just keep it real.

– George Calombaris

#MADEONTOUR

One Country, Two Cities, Countless Memories
Tuesday 11th – Monday 17th AugustIMG_0410

Written by Arron Lynch (Head Chef at Hellenic Republic, Brunswick)

India. WOW. As good as it was to be going there, we always expected challenges. We got them, but they were offset by the absolutely astounding hospitality of the Indian people from start to finish in both Bengaluru and Delhi. The team included myself, Simon Merrick (Gazi’s Sous Chef) and George.

George’s mantra was ‘Boys, demand fresh, set the bar high’ – we did, but as they say over there ‘THIS IS INDIA!’. We understood what they meant by the time we were leaving!

Bengaluru: at a high altitude (800m above sea level) and is known in India as having the best climate in the country.

Arriving at the hotel on Tuesday night, we were greeted by some of the staff who were so warm and welcoming. It was only the start of their great hospitality!

Wednesday was filled with meetings! As it turned out, George had been right to tell us to set the bar high, because when we had our meeting with Chef Amit, from the JW Marriott, we realised how difficult a task we had ahead of us. Produce was not just a challenge; it was just not readily available. We happened to be in India on the weekend of their 69th Independence Day (a national holiday), when basically the whole country shuts down. Even normally,
quality fresh fish and meat are not easily sourced products in India. So this was going to be a struggle!

On Thursday was our debrief with George. The fact that we had to have a vegetarian option for every course, which accounted for 25% of the guests, was proving to be an issue but ‘THIS IS INDIA’. We edited the menu and came up with some great combinations, like an Onion Bhaji Naan Souva and they absolutely lapped it up!! Gazi’s soft shell crab souvlaki was on our Press High Tea for the Friday, but we did it in a Naan, and it was awesome. For the lunch we did a beetroot one. Beetroot and feta puree, pickled beets, beet gel and a POPPADOM on top for crunch. Dish was outstanding. But the feta, was not as we know it. More like a cream cheese, with Greek writing on the box, but hey, ‘THIS IS INDIA!!!’. Again, loved by the guests.

In the kitchen, a lot of the local chefs were cooking techniques and methods they had never seen before and this drove their interest and willingness to help. And of course, so many of the chefs were excited to see George! There were two stand outs, Chef Chinna and Chef Alkesh, two absolute guns who we would have been lost without. From start to finish they were there to assist in any way possible. After the lunch we gave them signed aprons from George, Simon and myself, I don’t think I’ve seen two people so genuinely shocked and happy at the same time for a long while!!

George was in high demand in Bengaluru, he set off to do meet and greets at each individual table, taking photos (soooo many photos!!!) and signing whatever needed signing. Then back to the pass for the next course to be plated up, all the while answering questions from the guests via the microphone headset he was wearing.

The lunch went off without a hitch, although the vegetarian numbers increased with every course!! We created a Potato Curry Spanakopita with a mint and coriander yoghurt for the mains for the vegetarians, luckily we had gone overboard on the prep on that one, we sent out 26 of them, from 116 guests! After the lunch Simon and I said our quick goodbyes and thanks to all the staff and people who had been there for us, then it was straight into a taxi and off to Dehli!

 

Delhi. Belly. 38oC, clammy, hot, BUSY!

Arriving at The Leela Ambience Gurgaon late on Saturday night we were pretty exhausted. We only had to do one dish for the next day, for 60 people, but we had to do everything for it. We received news that the numbers had slightly increased for the night, up to 120!!! And of course the obligatory 25% vego’s that would be there! ‘THIS IS INDIA!!’

Our vegetarian dish, tortellini with beetroot and paneer was pretty damn good, which was a good thing because there ended up being 30 vegos out of 120!! ‘THIS IS INDIA!” Our lamb dish came off without a hitch too, and was stunning. With a roasted loin we did a soubise, onion fondant, potato fondant, shank cigar and to top it all off we got some beautiful local curry leaves and deep fried them to a crisp to give the dish that little taste of India. Executive Chef Ramon Salto at The Leela Hotel has a team to be proud of, there were so many chefs willing to help and keep things looking perfect at all times!

The next day we were left to explore, and George had organised lunch for all of us at Indian Accent, the best restaurant in India. We knew we were in for serious amounts of eating! Driving on the road to get to the restaurant was a sight to behold. NEVER in my life have I seen so much traffic!! Everybody weaving in and out of lanes and crossing each other and beeping the horn, always beeping!!! We had been told Delhi has the highest concentration of cars in a metro area in Asia, it was obviously no lie!!!

Arriving to the restaurant after a good hour and a half in that traffic and we were all ready to eat!! Chef Manish met us as we arrived, he and George had met a few times before and Chef Manish had even eaten in The Press Club last time he was in Melbourne. We sat and the food started coming. Degustation. Dancer! Each course was outstanding – detail, flavour, combinations, fusion of cultures, beauty- and there were so many!! My favourites were the peanut and beetroot kind of cake with wasabi, the chicken tikka tortilla in a baby naan (incredible), the duck spring roll with coconut barley and an exquisite saffron sauce and finally the lentil dhal that came with the braised lamb dish (AMAZING!). Desserts were spectacular too, so colourful, so creative and so damn tasty! All in all, an amazing lunch from a great chef and very humble one at that.

After lunch we decided to take a turn at making roti in the tandoor oven, a great experience and a first for all three of us! George and Simon had a little laugh as I stuck the dough to the inside of the oven with the cushion like implement and I let out a ‘yeeooww!!” – the inside of the oven is around 300oC- they weren’t laughing after they each tried it!! Also I’m pretty sure my roti was the best!! India was an amazing experience. I hope to do it again, it’s taught me a lot, I think we all learned a lot over there, but the one thing that will stay with us all is the warmth and the level of hospitality afforded to us by every single person we met, from the bottom to the top. THAT WAS INDIA!!

THANK YOU so much India, until the next.
#MADEONTOUR, Goodbye.

I CAN FIX GREECE!

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Now I have your attention.

I know this sounds ridiculous. What would a chef in Melbourne know about the crippling mess in Greece right now?

And how could anyone possibly fix it?

Well I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life going to Greece for both business and pleasure. I’m a proud Melbourne boy, but I’m also very proud of my family’s Greek heritage. I built my career on those strong Hellenic links, promoting all things Greek through my Aussie eyes.

Like many of my fellow Greek Australians, watching Greece go down has really brought a tear to my eye.

But there’s no need to get emotional anymore. There’s no need to talk about the past… how the Greeks invented everything and all the notions that come along with it. It needs to stop, now. I am sick of hearing it as now it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the future.

Of course I respect my past, but it’s time to start creating again, to be leaders not followers. Greece needs to stop being a burden to the world. I don’t want to laugh about the jokes of Greeks and cash money under the table or the other illegal connotations that come along with it. Greeks no longer need or should be recognised as the “Zorba the Greek” country.

So here’s my plan:
  • LEADERSHIP. Greece needs a strong leader who puts the interests of their country first – not their pockets while lining the pockets of their mates. Greece needs its own version of Jeff Kennett. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Kennett was a Premier who took charge, made tough decisions and created big projects to get Victoria back on track.
  • RULES. Greece must make some tough decisions, implementing rules and abiding by them. Yes, Australia’s many rules may be considered excessive, but they are there for a reason. Yes, you have to pay parking fines. Yes you must pay your taxes. Yes, you need to get to work on time. Yes, it’s your responsibility.
  • CREATIVITY. The world has so many creative Greeks doing amazing things in all fields. It’s time to come together and harness this wisdom. The problem right now is that Greece is losing creative minds overseas. These people need to stay in Greece, to create the new Greece. A powerful Greece. A creative Greece. The Greece that’s always been but has lost its way.
  • LOCAL INDUSTRY. I am frustrated that in an industry like hospitality – one that I understand and I love – Greek chefs are cooking with ingredients from France and all around the world. No more. Local is the only way. Greece has some of the best produce in the world and the nation’s cooks need to make an effort to utilise it, as it creates jobs inside Greece and the money stays in the country. For example, I sat in a restaurant last month where they sold lychee ice cream. Why? Greece doesn’t grow lychees, but they are growing incredible summer berries at the moment. It’s an easy but significant step to start celebrating their local produce, creating more jobs and a more sustainable food industry
  • STICK TO WHAT YOU’RE GOOD AT. Greece is a beautiful country, a tourism mecca. Greek leaders need to focus on attracting more people to Greece. They should make plans to triple the tourist trade over the next three years. Concentrate on agriculture – the beautiful olive oil. Why sell 80 per cent of the oil to Italy, France and Spain? Greece should keep it and sell it as their own – not in generic bottles from other countries. It’s the basis of all good business. Realise your potential, focus on what you do well and concentrate on that.

On the positive note, during my travels to Greece I ate in some incredible places where young chefs are pushing the boundaries. A great example is CTC’s Alex Tsiotinis, a young man who learned his craft overseas and returned to his motherland. Alex is paving the way, as part of a new wave of Greek culinary innovators.

We talk about Melbourne being the coffee capital of the world – and we are – but there is a place in Athens called Underdog which is another example of an amazing coffee house pushing the boundaries. It’s cool, hip and makes great coffee along with incredible cocktails.

Another amazing chef is Christoforos Peskias, a guy that has adapted with the market, going from fine dining to creating innovative concepts, adding interesting Japanese touches to his Greek food. Then there’s Stelios

Parliaros – a perfect example of what Greeks should be doing: Believing in their dream and making their dream a reality. Stelios is looked upon as one of the most incredible pastry chefs in the world.

I haven’t even got to wine. Greece has an amazing, thriving wine industry that needs to be revealed to the world. Greece has local indigenous varieties which are not only interesting and complex, but also world class.

Finally, let’s talk about Spiro my taxi driver. He is an example of a hard working Greek. He is on time, punctual and offers amazing service – all keys to a successful business.

Greece has so much to offer. It is the Golden Fountain, but the Greeks aren’t drinking from it. Most of them are looking at Greece with their blinkers on, while a passionate minority are working hard to bring their dream to life.

A lot defines us as humans – our hard work and patience when we have nothing and our attitudes when we have it. Don’t change and dream big every day – GC

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