This February, I spent a few days in Greece in the company of chefs Martin Juneau from Montréal and Anthony Sedlak from Vancouver. I saw them become kids again while roaming through an apiary, milk a ewe for the first time, and go into raptures tasting yogurt, cheese, and other local specialties. I asked them to talk more about this cuisine that charmed them both.
“I really like the conviviality of Greek cuisine,” confided Martin. “Big platters of food in the middle of the table, letting you eat what and when you want to. I’m also a big fan of Greek clichés like tzatziki, Greek salads, gyros, etc. And when you use quality products, they are so much better.”
“I fell for the seafood,” declared Anthony. “Simply grilled, roasted and boiled, with olive oil, lemon and sea salt. Honest presentations, fish served whole, with the emphasis on freshness. Fresh as in ‘it was caught four hours ago.’ It was the best quality fish I’ve ever seen.”
Authenticity above all
“It’s a simple type of cooking, focused on quality: the product is never altered,” continued Martin. “Rich in history, it is often rustic, but always accessible. The same dishes appear on menus in big restaurants and greasy spoons alike, but they are prepared differently. As in Italian and Spanish cooking, the olive and its oil are ever-present.”
The geographic location of the country is not without its influence on the quality of its products, according to the Québec chef. “They are lucky to be in the Mediterranean basin, in a climate that allows vegetable-growing year-round. This is a definite plus in the culinary realm. Sheep-raising is also one of their greatest assets, for cheese and yogurt, as much as for meat.”
Anthony doesn’t remember seeing any American-style fast-food restaurants in Athens or on the coast. “What you eat has a big influence on your health,” he reminds us. “Greeks are a good proof of this. The traditional Mediterranean diet has often been studied in universities by physicians, scientists and nutritionists, and it is believed that such a diet could protect Greek people’s hearts and give them greater longevity.”
Greek wines also won our duo over. “The wines are worthy of mention too,” enthused Martin, who is also the owner of the restaurant Pastaga where Greek wines are on the menu. “Especially in the small wineries, which follow current trends such as biodynamics or natural winemaking (without added sulfites). The Greeks are avant-gardist!”