2016 WorldChefs Congress, Thessaloniki
“It's time for Greeks to reclaim the mega-mantle of Greek gastronomy.”
COOKING A BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR GREECE
I am humbled to be here today, among all of you, such amazing culinary talent, but especially because I stand with you on my native soil. Your presence, this event, what we all do, is so important to Greece right now. So I say “Hilia Efharisto” “A Thousand Thanks” to Charles Carroll and all the great people of Worldchefs for this platform.
Throughout our history, Greece is credited with epic contributions to civilization—from philosophy to democracy to the arts. Today, she stands at another historic crossroads, feeding thousands of refugees and slowly emerging from our own economic crisis.
We have an opportunity to cook a brighter future for our country and our visitors and share a message of hope and unity with the world.
It took 2500 years, but Greece is ready to claim her rightful roots in gastronomy and find her proper place on the world stage. Global interest in Greek cuisine has never been higher as it is today. Let me share some of the reasons.
This year Greece is expected to break the all-time record for tourism with 25 Million people. That’s a lot of BAKLAVA! I believe one of the greatest gifts for visitors to our country are the memories they leave with, and there is no better souvenir, than a "Greek Food Memory". They stay with you for a lifetime. But more important, they are shared. Here in Greece, we live for those moments with you. And for me, that happens every night at my Athens restaurant, Papadakis. My greatest joy, other than cooking, is ordering! By day we bring in Greece's local bounty and daily catch and by night I share these unique stories for our guests: the cheese from Paros, the fish that has its own car service, the olive oil pressed by the same family in Messinia for 400 years. Making people feel 100% local, in a foreign land, this is what Greeks do best.
That hospitality is mirrored by the refugee crisis. Greece's most vulnerable visitors are not reflected in tourism data, but they are in our hearts. Ordinary Greeks, like the 85-year-old "YIAYIA" bottle feeding a Syrian baby or the heroic fisherman who postponed his livelihood to rescue scores of refugees. These hard-working Greeks, and I am proud to say, Nobel Peace prize nominees, taught us that being extraordinary is in fact ordinary.
Since Classical times, we Greeks have always understood the relationship between food and health, which Hippocrates famously summed up: ”Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food." Never before has this point been more resonant in our society. Did you know, only 100 years ago, the Cretans used to eat food that was more like the food of the Ancient Minoans? Today we are seeing a return to those ancient ideals and trends in alchemy in Greek cooking and modern gastronomy. The Mediterranean Diet has captured the imaginination of all people seeking a path to good health. Just 3 years ago, the United Nations sanctioned our diet as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, giving Greece a wellness platform to engage with the world.
Third, Celebrity Chefs.
For decades Greek food was largely defined by Greek diners and church festivals abroad, and while delicious, these experiences often marginalized the perception of authentic Greek food. Thanks to the world’s greatest Celebrity Chefs and restaurantaurs: Jose Andres, Michael Symon, Cat Cora, George Calombaris, Michael Psilakis, Jody Adams, Jamie Oliver... and so many others, the global foodie is now discovering that Greek food is not just a punch line, but a study of the senses — a journey rich in heritage yet simple in nutritional wisdom. With their powerful platforms and unique twists, they have elevated Greek Cuisine, all across the globe. From Boston to Washington, London to Sydney, Greek Food is downright hot right now! Watch out Italy!
Next, Spirit. The only bad manners at a Greek table is getting up too soon. If you do, you may miss out on a lesson in life. To eat Greek is to dine your way through history. To reveal a simple truth. To surrender to your senses or someone you like. To savor your surroundings. Eating Greek is the art of sharing a multi-generational meal with family and strangers alike. The conversation, the enjoyment, the refuge, the ideas… To Eat Greek, is to be Alive. It gives us the time to contemplate and to celebrate all the things that should matter more. This is our message as we tell Greece’s story to a hungry world. And I didn’t even mention the food! That's the true magic.
Finally, The Recovery. These are not our best times right now here in Greece. Lately, I feel more like a cheerleader than a chef. My profession, and our industry as a whole in Greece, has the potential to lift Greece out of crisis-mode. The proverbial pie is shrinking but we can make more pies by attracting new partnerships, entrepreneurs and tourism in food. If we’re open to fresh ideas and creativity, we can save Greece through cooking and successfully monetize this ancient treasure. I believe this in my heart. Greece must seize this moment to once again, transform lives and set a global example, as only she can.
And Speaking Of Pies... today I will share one of my Greek food memories. As a child growing up on Paros, I clung to my Mother's side while working in my family's restaurant. I watched with respect her techniques and hand motions that over time, became an extension of her soul (the most important ingredient in cooking). However it would my mother-in-law who would later help me master the Greek Pie. To both of them, I am grateful for teaching things impossible to learn, even in the best schools.
In simpler times, we filled pies with whatever was available to feed the family. Today, the Greek pie is en vogue, and enjoyed as both Meze and Meal. I love the endless possibilities which have inspired over 300 of my own recipes. Today I will demonstrate to you Greece's favorite pie. America has Apple Pie. We have Spanakopita!
One of my inherited secrets to the perfect GREEK PIE is to wrinkle the filo. This creates that perfect, airy crispness achieved during baking and helps accentuate the flavors and aromas of the filling. We start with (begin to talk your way through the ingredients, and techniques)