Dining out in Greece takes new direction

HEATHER TYLER, AAP

Greek food has pretty much stuck to tradition for centuries but a new wave of chefs are taking the hearty Mediterranean cuisine to a new level.

Skewered meats, salads, pies made with hand-rolled filo pastry and fresh greens and cheeses, and grilled fish and vegetables drizzled with olive oil all served with crusty bread have long been the mainstay of Greek cooking.

In Australia, Masterchef judge George Calombaris is revising the way we look at Greek food with his modern influences.

In Greece on the southern Aegean island of Rhodes another Greek-Australian is seducing the tastebuds of tourists and Greeks alike.

At the restaurant Ammoyiali, Georgia Gerardis creates art on a plate - another departure for Greek food not normally associated with elegant presentation.

A menu sample: spinach roll with blueberries and fetta cheese sauce, spaghetti al mare with prawns, mussels, tomato and basil sauce, chicken and vegetable filo rolls.

Desserts include kataifi chocolate cake with custard cream and caramelised hazelnuts, baklava icecream which is an icy take on the crunchy filo and honey-drenched nut pastry favoured throughout Greece and the Middle East, and mastic scented panna cotta with caramel and roasted almonds.

Gerardis calls it Greek fusion, and draws upon regional influences, but she almost always shops for the freshest local produce - a Greek tradition unchanged over time.

"My dishes are inspired by seasonal ingredients produced in our region but I always overdo it with one specific spice - Love!

"I get inspired by anything, a visit to the open market, a glance at a stall full of glossy green peppers or a basket of freshly picked tomatoes, a peek at a loaf of bread, my own cravings and mainly by the expressions on the faces of pleased customers," Gerardis said.

"I love Greek cuisine. I always put a twist to traditional dishes and find it fascinating making uninspiring ones, like a fava bean puree, via gourmet alchemy into a desirable dish.

"I get flooded by many ideas. Sometimes I wish to have many lives to create all the dishes I have in mind. One life is simply not enough."

Gerardis grew up in Adelaide.

Her family returned to Greece when she was 11 years old. She hasn't visited Australia since then, but has fond memories of her Aussie childhood.

Ammoyiali is a labour of love for the Greek-Australian. She opened the restaurant in 2005 with three friends.

"We found the perfect spot and worked very hard, day and night to build it up. I was pregnant but that didn't prevent me from working with passion to make this happen. I put up kitchen tiles, painted, designed and cleaned all day long," says Gerardis.

Husband Anthony, a Greek-Canadian, cooks alongside his wife in the kitchen.

Gerardis says Greeks are updating their food tastes.

"No matter how surprisingly it might sound, Greeks do like experimenting with new dishes.

"The average Greek mother cooks wonderfully and homemade food is our eating habit. So when Greeks go out for dinner, they want to taste something new, something that will tickle their taste buds and become the discussion of the table."

Also surprising - it's the tourists that want traditional Greek dishes while Greeks want to venture into new territory.

"Foreign customers, understandably, prefer traditional Greek dishes while Greeks would appear more daring with fusion cuisine," she says.

Rhodes, which is actually closer to Turkey than the Greek mainland, is an island steeped in history with fascinating ancient sites.

Like other islands, it suffered a downturn in tourism during the nothern summer.

Riots in Athens over Greece's financial crisis turned the tourists off, although islanders hoped they would be too far away to be affected.

With austerity measures biting hard, Gerardis and her husband are adapting to the winter of discontent with new menu options and discount incentives.

"The whole of Greece is affected. We can't go through another summer tourist season like this past one - we need to adapt to survive," Gerardis says.

IF YOU GO


Ammoyiali is 2km from the centre of Rhodes Town, on the foot of the Monte Smith hill near the Temple Of Apollo. It is easily accessible by all means of transport.

The address is 17 Voreiou Ipeirou Street. Call for reservations: 224-1023-980, 224-102-3939.

The restaurant is open all year round.