Greek cuisine gaining fans around the world

Greek cuisine received unprecedented praise in the Michelin Guide in its presentation of the bistro L’Olivier, which opened three years ago in the Marais neighborhood of Paris, describing it as one of a kind. The simple eatery, run by chef Vassilis Alexiou and his partner, was also hailed by the daily Le Monde for putting a modern twist on the forgotten flavors of Crete and the Cycladic Islands. Alexiou remembers the early days of the restaurant. «At first people would read the menu at the entrance and then walk away. They expected to read that we had gyros and tzatziki.» This Greek chef, however, has long departed from the customary, stereotypical Greek dishes, drawing instead on the wealth of cuisines across the country and through the ages. Today, L’Olivier works with reservations only, as it has just 10 tables. One of the reasons behind its success, Alexiou believes, is the fact that the menu changes depending on the seasonal ingredients available and the weather. Over in another part of the world, in Stockholm, another Greek, Constantinos Giannoulis, is the driving force behind the World of Flavors catering company. The 29-year-old has a PhD from the University of Stockholm in IT and a passion for food. «My parents only every fought about what was on the stove,» he recalls. Wanting to explore this passion, he teamed up with fellow Greek students Giorgos Mavrogonatos and Giorgos Kryparos and founded a small chef-at-home service about a year ago. «I don’t think of myself as a chef; I cook because I like it,» he says. Within months, Giannoulis’s food had generated a lot of buzz around Swedish gastronomic circles. «One day, a colleague of mine asked me if I could cater his birthday party,» says the cook, who has lived in Stockholm for the past five years. And so the catering business grew out of his original rent-a-chef initiative. Now, when their day jobs are over, the three Greeks get together and decide on a menu. «We shop for all the necessary ingredients at the supermarket and take them home. We cook in our customers’ kitchen and then clean everything up, even taking out the garbage at the end of the night,» Giannoulis explains, adding that cooking in a different kitchen every time poses its own challenged. «The client may watch you work and criticize you. The magic of food is also lost by many customers who look in to see how we do things.» The success of the service is that the menus are never exclusively Greek. «I combine elements from different ethnic cuisines, adding my own personal brushstroke,» says Giannoulis. Yet he admits that traditional Greek fare is still one of his top sellers. «You can’t imagine how successful our traditional bean soup is.» Nevertheless, Giannoulis prefers to go the gourmet way, also incorporating many Swedish favorites into his dishes. «I wouldn’t exclude the possibility of one day dedicating myself entirely to cooking,» he says. Over in London, Sofia Gkiousou, known to her friends and readers as Aunt Sofia, created the Greek-language blog «Digital Scullery» in 2009, featuring a myriad of recipes, videos of their execution and a forum for readers to post their input. «At some point I realized that we had a plethora of sites dedicated to gourmet recipes, but I couldn’t find one to tell me how to make traditional soutzoukakia,» the 30-year-old foodie told Kathimerini. It seems that there are many Greek living abroad who have a yearning for the dishes and flavors of their childhoods. «I uploaded a video on how to make walnut cake after a request from a group of Greeks living in San Francisco and another recipe for lentils for Greeks in London. There are Greek restaurant everywhere, but most of the dishes they serve are already familiar to non-Greeks,» says Gkiousou. Her blog, however, does not snub gourmet recipes or ideas for dishes from all over the world. «I get e-mails from students who don’t know how to boil and egg or who ask me what marinade means,» she says. «My aim is to convince them that cooking is an easy sport.»