My Country on a Plate

What does Greece taste like, and how has it motivated three of the world's best Greek-origin chefs?


CHEF MICHAEL PSILAKIS

Award-winning chef Michael Psilakis owns the lauded Kefi, MP Taverna, The Hall at MP and Fishtag restaurants in the US for which he has received numerous accolades, including the James Beard Award and a Michelin Star. His book How To Roast A Lamb was received with great aplomb for its heartening references to comforting Greek foods and earned him several TV appearances and articles in major publications.

MOST EVOCATIVE TASTE & AROMA OF GREECE:

Lemon. The bright acidity it provides is the basis of why the simplicity of Greek cuisine is so brilliant. Every bite starts anew when the lemony finish cleanses the palate and prepares the taste buds to experience subtle nuances, as if it were the first bite.

FAVORITE GREEK FOOD TO EAT RAW:

Sea urchin, cracked on the rocks, rinsed in the ocean, with a squeeze of lemon, salt… equals heaven.

IT’S WORTH DEDICATING HOURS TO COOK…:

Live fire, spit-roasted lamb, embodies the memories of childhood, dad and backyard celebrations. As I become older, I realize that food is the catalyst to my memories.

FAVORITE SEASIDE TAVERNA IN GREECE:

Kiki’s on Mykonos. There is seemingly always a two-hour wait, but they offer free-flowing rosé wine and you can stroll down to the cove, just down the path, and go for a swim while you wait. The food is excellent – but it always is when you are in paradise.

MOST COMFORTING GREEK FOOD/DISH:

Yiouvarlakia. When I was young, my mother always asked us what we wanted to eat for our birthday dinner and I always chose “meatball soup.” To this day these memories remain the building blocks of who I am as a chef, father and man.

A DASH OF GREEK CULINARY WISDOM HANDED DOWN TO ME:

Vinegar is a seasoning, not an ingredient. Salt, pepper and acid transform the simple to the spectacular.

“Vinegar is a seasoning, not an ingredient. Salt, pepper and acid transform the simple to the spectacular.”

CHEF DIANE KOCHILAS

A major culinary TV personality in the US, Diane Kochilas celebrates her Greek roots by educating the global public on the many health and pleasure benefits of her native cuisine. An acclaimed food author who has published 20 books, most recently Ikaria: Lessons on Food and Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die and The Country Cooking of Greece, she presents the best of Greek cooking on The Food Network and other major media outlets. Based in New York, she often returns to Greece and especially Ikaria, where her parents are from, to teach the art of authentic Greek cooking.

MOST EVOCATIVE TASTE & AROMA OF GREECE:

Really good olive oil pressed from young olives, flaky sea salt (fleur de sel), sourdough bread, figs and avgotaraho (bottarga). Sour cherry spoon sweet with sheep milk yogurt. Garlic, oregano, the honey-pine dust of Ikarian forests on hot summer mornings. Sea salt on my own skin after a swim.

FAVORITE GREEK FOOD TO EAT RAW:

Warm tomatoes from my Ikarian garden. Little sour cherries that have dried up but still are juicy, straight from the tree. Figs.

IT’S DEFINITELY WORTH DEDICATING HOURS TO COOK…

A really good hortopita (greens pie) with 20 different herbs and greens and homemade filo.

FAVORITE SEASIDE TAVERNA IN GREECE:

A tiny place in Nanouras, on the south side of Ikaria, by a road that, thank God, has not yet been paved!

CHEF MARIA ELIA

Of Greek-Cypriot origin, chef Maria Elia trained under the likes of Ferran Adria at ΕlBulli in Spain, and has successfully headed Delfina and The Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room in London, as well as writing books such as The Modern Vegetarian and Smashing Plates: Greek Flavors Redefined and numerous articles in publications including BBC Good Food, Independent, Guardian, and Home and Garden. Elia also appears on TV and teaches cooking classes.

MY MOST COMFORTING GREEK FOOD/DISH:

The crush of feta, oregano, salt, olive oil, fresh tomato pulp – and the bread soaked in that! Really good roasted potatoes. Pasta with Greek yogurt, garlic, lemon and fresh herbs or with Greek yogurt and caramelized onions – called syvrasi.

A DASH OF GREEK CULINARY WISDOM HANDED DOWN TO ME:

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. In other words, stay away from junk and eat fresh food in season, mostly plants.

MOST EVOCATIVE TASTE & AROMA OF GREECE:

Oh, that’s a hard question! I’d have to say cinnamon, vine leaves and dill, such evocative aromas and tastes, especially when all three are used in dolmadakia (stuffed vine leaves): it’s like heaven’s scent on a plate for me!

FAVORITE GREEK FOOD TO EAT RAW:

Fresh figs and almonds straight from the trees or a Greek salad.

IT’S DEFINITELY WORTH DEDICATING HOURS TO COOK…:

Whole spit-roasted lamb. I also love to spit-roast a whole pig over charcoal which I’d marinate in orange zest, coriander seeds, bay leaf and garlic.

FAVORITE SEASIDE TAVERNA IN GREECE:

There’s a taverna right on the water’s edge at Aghios Georgios in Antiparos that serves delicious seafood. There was another on Parga that served the best tomato keftedes (balls) and Greek salad. I try to avoid touristic places; I like to eat where the locals hang out. One of the best tavernas I’ve been to was in Crete called I Sterna tou Bloumosifi in the village of Vamos. It’s the epitome of a traditional taverna. Specialties include wild fennel pie, stuffed zucchini blossoms, squid-and-olive risotto and goat roasted in a wood-fired oven. For dessert, kalitsounia (crispy cheese pies with mint and honey).

MY MOST COMFORTING GREEK FOOD/DISH:

My Cypriot aunties made hirino me kolokassi (a pork and taro stew), this dish is so emotive to me as it reminds me of Sunday afternoon feasts with my family.

A DASH OF GREEK CULINARY WISDOM HANDED DOWN TO ME:

Taste as you go and always cook with love! Sit down and eat, whether you’re hungry or not is another story!

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. In other words, stay away from junk and eat fresh food in season, mostly plants.”


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