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submitted by Sydney Morning Herald on 17.11.2013

taste of the mediterranean

taste of the mediterranean
Copyright (2013) Alicia Wood & Edwina Pickles

Sydney Morning Herald
Goodfood, page 12
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Heavenly Hellenic

Several chefs are drawing on their heritage to offer a fresh take on Greek fare. Alecia Wood investigates.

Meet the chefs bringing new sophistication to Greek food in Sydney. "Heritage is a big influence on what I do," says Peter Conistis, head chef at Alpha restaurant, whose family is from an area between Athens and Cephalonia. "My food has quite a focus on both of those regions."

Alpha is one of a posse of Sydney restaurateurs reinterpreting Greek fare by taking inspiration from a personal heritage to create a "new Hellenic" style of cuisine. "We look at tradition. We respect tradition. It's the flavour profiles we grew up with," Jonathan Barthelmess says of his work at The Apollo, a joint venture with fellow Greek-Australian Sam Christie.

"We all go back to an island called Castellorizo, which is just near Turkey. I relate to the Mediterranean island food a lot."

Heading up the kitchen at Anatoli, Matt Fitzgerald has his roots here in Australia. No matter, as there's been inspiration aplenty from the restaurant's owners, Andrew Lazarus and Colin Paras, whose combined family ancestry is from Cyprus, Castellorizo and the Ionian island of Kythera.

"They've let me into their homes, and how they've eaten throughout their lives, with open arms," Fitzgerald says of developing the restaurant's menu ideas from honest, home-cooked dishes. "I've been fed until the food’s coming out my eyes! It's real, traditional food. They're
very, very, good cooks."

Familyrecipes also lay the foundations for dishes at The Apollo. The taramasalata is my mum's and my auntie’s recipe, plus Sam’s dad's recipe. We tested all of them to come up with our own,” says Barthelmess, who even created a custom house-baked bread to get the mullet roe dip just right.

At Alpha, Conistis's home training in the classics seems to be paying off. “The nine-hour slow-roasted lamb is exactly the way mum has been doing it her whole life. It’s the most popular dish on the menu,” he says. Even some modern creations were a mother-son creative collaboration.

"In Greece, they used to preserve lamb shoulder by cooking it in its own fat and flavouring it with ouzo. We just played on that idea," says Conistis of the thyme, honey and ouzo glaze that makes his roasted lamb spare ribs extra sticky.

Drawing on signature Greek flavours to create new dishes is a tactic Fitzgerald has played with too. His dessert of chocolate mousse with hazelnut crisp and burnt honey ice-cream is a nod to Greece's love of the sweet nectar - indeed, about one kilogram of it per capita is eaten there each year - and kourabiethes, almond shortbread dusted in icing sugar.

"We use honey from Gerakas in Greece,” he says. "It's very floral from the native conifers and herbs in the mainland region.”

That variation in regional produce makes for distinct provincial dishes beyond the beloved souvlaki and Greek salad. "Travelling there opened my eyes to Greek food," Conistis says.

Central Epirus’ shepherding tradition has created hard, salty kefalotiri and smooth, sweet manouri cheeses. Olive-oil production peaks in the southern Peloponnese, and the islands boast fresh fish, octopus and squid.

"Speaking to the old grandmas in the villages and picking up recipes - that I found very exciting. In Chios, I found out mastic came from that island and had a great influence on their food."

The aromatic shrub resin, prized throughout history and often used to flavour desserts, can be sampled in Alpha’s grilled quail spiced with mastic and served with feta and watermelon salad.

While the breadth and depth of produce in Greece makes for a distinctive, vibrant cuisine, the use of local ingredients lends its own flavour.

"I've always said my food is Greek influenced because of the flavours and techniques, but it uses all the great produce we have here," says Conistis.

For Barthelmess, it’s about finding the perfect fit for his dishes. We’ll order every feta we can from every supplier and taste them all. The ingredients are the most important thing.”

His wild weed and cheese pie uses feta, alongside silver beet and chicory in place of the foraged greens common in Greece. "They go into the mountains and collect wild weeds, or horta, to make a cheese pie like spanakopita," he says.

Showcasing Greekwine is equally important as celebrating its food, with each restaurant offering a range of varietals.

"Greek wine has come a very long way in the last l0 years,” says Conistis, whose wine list is split between Greek and Australian. "I think it's the next region of wines that will be the big one.”

Although these modern Greek dining rooms are sophisticated, their chefs are keen to ensure a level of accessibility on the plate. "We create the food in a way that a Greek person will come in here and be very familiar with all the flavours,” says Barthelmess.

For Fitzgerald, visiting Greek homes was an education in their food philosophy. "Everyone’s eating around the table, chatting passing plates.” It's great atmosphere. It’s not just about the food. It's the whole food culture.”

Praise the Greek goods

Pick up authentic products from Greece to create your own taverna at home.

Earlwood Wines

The name belies a hefty range of Greek delicatessen goods as well some 120 wines including assyrtiko from Mykonos, agiorgitiko from Corinthos and retsina white wine flavoured with the resin from Aleppo pine trees. They are known for their homemade dips.
285 Homer St, Earlwood. 9559 5673.
Open Mon-Fri 8am to 5pm, Sat 8 am to 4pm

Alpha Foodstore

This has thoughtfully sourced artisanal food products from Greece, including mono-varietal honeys, homemade jams and preserves and regional olive oils. Takeaway house made filo pies will soon be available.
238 Castlereagh St, Sydney. 9098 1111
Alpha restaurant open Mon-Fri noon-11pm, Sat 6pm-11pm.

Lamia Super Deli

Family run and packed with tubs of marinated olives, kilogram bags of dried chick peas and beans, salamis and salted fish dangling over the glass counter, plus almond and chocolate halva sliced to order.
270 Marrickville Road, Marrickville. 9560 1011
Open Mon-Fri 7.30am - 6.30pm
Sat 7.30am-5.30pm.

Chop Shop Carnivorium

Melinda Dimitriades supplies the local Greeks with pasture-raised premium lamb, chicken, beef and pork.
10 Crinan Street Hurlstone Park. 9558 5000.
Open Mon-Fri 6.30am - 6.00pm
Sat 6.30am-1.00pm.

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