What is it like to be a Chef in Greece?

What comes to mind when you hear the word Greece?  Is it ancient history, incredible monuments, crystal clear waters, delicious Mediterranean food, romance? Or is it all of the above? For many of us, Greece is still a faraway place; A magical journey to a world where past meets present.  I have never been to Greece; it’s on my list, like everything else, right?

While I still ponder why I have not made the trip to that historical and romantic part of the world, I did have chance to learn more about it from three incredible Chefs. They run the restaurant at the Annapolis Inn Hotel in Rhodes, Greece; and being the inquisitive person that I am, I asked them to sit down with me to talk about this wonderful hotel, the restaurant, Annapolis Taverna, and what it’s like to serve up Mediterranean cuisine on this historic Island.

 Questions:

Ready to Cook in their Chicken Chef Uniforms

Why did you want to become a chef? It runs in the family.  My dad was a cook on the ships when my family immigrated to the USA.  Soon after, he bought a restaurant and I was basically raised in the kitchen.  I’ve always loved food and its preparation.  And it’s rubbed off on my own daughter who is now a Master Chef.

What education would you recommend for aspiring chefs? Any particular Country choices for education you would point to? I have had no formal training of my own.  My daughter has attended schools in Switzerland and finished as a Gold Medal Master Chef at Le Cordon Bleu London, England.  She highly recommends Le Cordon Bleu London for anyone who is interested in the culinary arts.

What do you recommend for on the job training? Patience!  Lots and lots of Patience!

Do you see any changes in food trends? Yes.  I think that people are going for a healthier diet and lifestyle.

What is your greatest challenge in getting the ingredients you need? Our biggest problem is our geographical location.  Living on a small island in the Mediterranean makes getting the proper ingredients difficult.   When something is out of season, it really is out of season.  So many times we have to make substitutions.  But it does make for creative cooking.

Has the price of energy affected your industry? Yes.  The costs for shipping to Rhodes Island have greatly increased as well as our energy bills.

What is it like Cooking Greek Cuisine? What are the Challenges? How does it differ from other styles of food? Greek cuisine can be very inventive.   Our meals are prepared with fresh meats, sea foods, vegetables, olive oil, and fresh herbs.   Many times we are given ingredients from the local farmers.  We were once given a freshly slaughtered 40lb. turkey to cook – now that was a challenge!  Since we don’t use any packaged or prepared mixes, we cook from scratch.

Do you see any dining trends within Greece or abroad; including types of food today? For the Greek locals, a never ending dining trend is freshly prepared seafood and meats that are charcoal-grilled.  It is also a favorite of the tourists that visit Greece and Rhodes.  Nothing beats fresh Grouper grilled with eggplants and peppers drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice!

Do you see any dining trends surfacing for the future? There will always be new trends in dining but I think that the Mediterranean cuisine will continue to be popular because it’s so healthy and flavorful.

How much of the recipes you create is corporate and how much is your own? All our recipes are our own.

What fabric and style of uniform do you enjoy wearing most? Since all of us in the kitchen are women, style and fit matters to us.  We love the selection of lady cut chef jackets and pants that you offer.  And because Rhodes is so very hot in the summer, we prefer the light weight chef uniforms that are easy to move in.  We wear our dress-up uniforms – ‘The Chicken Chefs’, when we have banquets and parties.  Our guests just love it and we are always in demand for photos.

What is your method of developing your sous chefs? I’ve been very lucky in that my sous chefs recognize what I want and how I want it.  Although I can be picky about my kitchen, I trust their instincts and give them freedom to be creative.

Do you try to create a team spirit and environment with the kitchen staff? If so how do you accomplish it? Absolutely!  I accomplish this by keeping the peace so the knives don’t fly.

When preparing your menu do you consider health and try to prepare foods that are healthier? Personally, I am a sucker for the good taste.  I like butters, creams and rich foods.  It is my Chef Mary who is the health conscious chef.  She takes on any special diets such as diabetic, allergies, celiac, etc. and reminds me to cut down on the butter.

Do you notice any resistance to unhealthy dishes? No, not at all.  Since we are a tourist based enterprise, we find that our guests want to try Greek cooking in all its full glory.  The exception being any special diets which we can cater to.

Do you enjoy dining out in your free time? What free time?

Do you try to experience the food at your competitors? Do you ever get ideas from competitors? No.  I don’t like trying to follow others.  I prefer to brainstorm in house and come up with our own creations.

Do you think it is important to visit the markets rather than just have standard orders? Yes.  Rhodes has a fabulous open air market which we frequent.

How do you test a new recipe without putting it on the permanent menu? We cook up a storm and serve it free of charge as an appetizer to our guests.  Then we make the rounds, introduce ourselves and get their opinion.

Do you pick the wines or is there a separate beverage manager? We don’t have the need of a beverage manager because we serve Greek wines.  The majority of which  are grown, fermented and bottled here in Rhodes.

If so does he try to pick wines that work well with the type of food that you prepare? We always suggest a wine with our meals.

What is your advice for planning a menu for a new restaurant? A  restaurant?  Don’t do it!  Think twice!  But if you must….location…clientele….costs… do you have nerves of steel….and…..can you take the heat?

Could you please share a recipe with us???

Excerpt From:

Greek Generations: A Medley of Ethnic Recipes, Folklore and Village Traditions

By Susie Atsaides

ISBN 1-56167-718-3

Stuffed Suckling Pig / Gourounópoulo Gemistó
The very fancy dish, Stuffed Piglet can be served whole for any holiday dinner table.  The ingredients may seem like a lot, but the preparation is not at all difficult and you can show off your talents as a Greek Chef. 

 Ingredients:

One 10 to 15lb. whole piglet.  Ask your butcher to remove the internal organs but to leave the head and feet intact as the presentation of the piglet is an important part for an extra pat on the back for the cook.  Remember to ask him to give you the liver, as you will need it for the stuffing.

lemons
salt and pepper
cumin
softened butter
preserved grape leaves in brine, rinsed
a red apple

Stuffing:

½ cup olive oil
½  cup butter
1 piglet liver, chopped
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup white wine
1 cup seedless raisins
½ cup pine nuts
1 cup rice
1 cup chestnuts, blanched and chopped
1 cup chopped, pitted green olives
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp. rosemary
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
Soak the piglet for one hour in salted water then let it drain thoroughly.  Using fresh lemon halves, rub the pig inside and out, squeezing out the juice of the lemon as you go along.  Set the piglet aside to absorb the juice.

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet.  Fry the liver with the onions until the meat is cooked.  Pour in the wine, raisins, and pine nuts and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat.  Stir in the rice, chestnuts, olives, bread crumbs, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg, and season it with salt and pepper.  

Sprinkle the entire piglet with salt, pepper and cumin, inside and out.  Take the butter and smear it all over to coat the meat.  Fill the body cavity with the stuffing and using bamboo skewers or a poultry needle, close it up. Preheat your oven to 325ºF.   Lay the stuffed pig on its stomach on your work surface.  Pull the fore-legs forward and tie them together with some butchers cord.  Pull the hind legs so that the pig will sit nicely without tumbling over.  Tie them in the direction which is easiest for you, forward or back. Set the pig in your roasting pan.

To keep the mouth open, so you can insert an apple later, use a piece of wood, a washed potato or some bunched up foil in the opening.  Pull the mouth open wide, and insert the wedge.

Wrap the ears with aluminum foil then cover the whole pot with a lid or some foil.  The pig will take 3 to 4 hours to roast and during this time, you should check on it occasionally and baste it so you have juice, tender meat.  For the last half hour of cooking, remove the foil and let the pig brown.

Once the pig is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool off for a few minutes to set.  Gravy can easily be prepared by using the drippings and some basic thickener.

Prepare a large platter by spreading preserved grape vine leaves on the bottom, so they hang over the edges.  Carefully tumble the pig and remove the string from the cavity and spoon the stuffing around the outside edges of your platter.

Carefully scoop up the pig by using two large spatulas and set it in the center of the platter.  For this part, it may help to have a friend or husband handy to use another set of spatulas.  Once the pig is situated, cut away the strings from the legs.  Remove the foil or potato from its mouth and gently insert a red apple.  Be prepared for the Oohs and Aahs of your guests as you enter the dining room.

Bon Appetite!!

While in Greece, visit the Annapolis Inn Hotel and sample the succulent Mediterranean cuisine in an intimate and romantic atmosphere. And while you are visiting the site, please do not forget to visit Susie’s Place to get great recipes for Greek & Mediterranean cuisine.

For a great selection of chef uniforms, chef coats, and chef pants, please visit: www.chefuniforms.com.

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