“Wow! What is this?” a young American woman asked chef Lefteris Lazarou after taking her first bite of velvety mashed Naxos potatoes with smoked eel and truffle oil.
Hers were not the only exclamations of delight to be heard around the atrium of the Zappeion Mansion on Wednesday night, at the welcome dinner organized by Kathimerini and its Gastronomos food magazine for the guests of the fifth Athens Democracy Forum.
Praise was heaped on the six distinguished Greek chefs, some of them boasting Michelin stars, who had prepared three dishes each that earned the approval of some very demanding palates. They were Lazarou, of Varoulko fame, Nena Ismyrnoglou, Christoforos Peskias, Asterios Koustoudis, Evdokia Fylakouri and pastry chef Stelios Parliaros.
The Athens Democracy Forum, organized jointly by The New York Times, the United Nations Democracy Fund and Kathimerini, has brought influential personalities from the fields of global politics, economy and the media to the cradle of democracy. It was imperative, therefore, that these eminent guests be welcomed with a gesture of authentic Greek hospitality, or “filoxenia” as the ancients would have it.
Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, president, international of the The New York Times Company, thanked Kathimerini’s publisher, Themistoklis Alafouzos, and executive editor, Alexis Papachelas, for the excellent cooperation that has made the Athens Democracy Forum such a success, and expressed his appreciation for the fact that award-winning Greek chefs had prepared the welcome dinner.
He also encouraged the participants to visit the adjacent hall to view an exhibition of newspaper cartoons titled “A Year in the Democratic World, Through the Eyes of Visual Artists,” running through September 17. The show features a selection of work by The International New York Times’ Patrick Chappatte, and Kathimerini’s Ilias Makris, Andreas Petroulakis and Dimitris Hantzopoulos, as well as Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese cartoonists whose work is published in a number of regional newspapers. There is also a show of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs by Yannis Behrakis, renowned Greek photographer, photojournalist and senior editor with Reuters, at the same venue.
Responding to Dunbar-Johnson’s words of thanks, Papachelas addressed the issue of freedom of the press, and satirists in particular, at a time when “humor is being persecuted.”
Speeches were also made by the NYT’s CEO and president, Mark Thompson, and its vice president of international conferences, Achilles Tsaltas.