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A Soul Searching Trek Through Greece’s Cuisine

A Soul Searching Trek Through Greece’s Cuisine

Connecticut Chef Rediscovers His Roots

By Constantine “Dino” Kolitsas

For many travelers, Greece’s soul is found in the ancient rocks that tell stories of its past glory. For others it is found in its sun-drenched islands, where the glorious light bounces from whitewashed buildings carved into mountain sides to its sea-splashed beaches. For me, the soul of Greece sings from its kitchens; traditionally from the hands of the grandmothers and more recently from the hands of talented chefs that have been taking the country’s cuisine to new, unexpected heights. On a recent visit to Greece (the first in over two decades; don’t ask, it’s a sore subject), I spent most of my time reconnecting to that part of Greece’s essence; dining in restaurants from Athens to Andros, and from Kaisariani to Kavalla. What I found along the way is a cuisine that knows its rich history while simultaneously carving out new epicurean frontiers.

What struck me most about the new gastro-Greek cuisine whose origins are in pre-2004 Athens and has spread throughout the country (thanks to a talented cadre of telegenic celebrity chefs in the vein of the Food Network), is that even the most trend-forward dishes utilize ingredients that are time-honored and sacred. Traditional cheeses from the four corners of the country’s map are finding their ways out from their provincial homes and onto plates for which they are as foreign as Pad Thai and Plokkfiskur. Metsovone from Epirus (semi-hard smoked cheese) as well as Volaki from Andros (semi-soft salted cow’s milk cheese) can be found anywhere; while Sepia with Spanaki (cuttlefish and spinach stew), a staple of the city of Trikala, is reinvented on menus in Athens and beyond. 

With Greca Mediterranean Kitchen + Bar in New Milford receiving multiple statewide and countywide awards, my own claim-to-fame in the gastro Greek movement is not insignificant (our crabcake kataifi wrapped in crispy shredded phyllo and topped with feta mousse and a drizzle of truffle honey is a hint to that pedigree). Throughout my stay, I was wonderfully surprised with several revelatory gastronomic experiences. First among them, is kritamo, a wild plant that grows along the coastlines of the Mediterranean. Blanched, lightly pickled and salted, kritamo has a wonderful sea-washed flavor that brightens salads and, in one case, pasta. Another surprise was the appearance of beef cheeks on menus throughout the Greek capital. As with Michelin-star restaurants, this wonderfully tasty cut has gained popularity and is slow-braised and served up in a number of ways, most prominently over a bed of eggplant mousse, or, in one memorable case, with pureed celeriac (the bulb root of the celery plant).

And while gastro Greek is a trend that is being embraced throughout the country, it has not displaced what most people have come to associate with Greek cuisine: simple elegance. Witness: gorgeously grilled presentations of local fish such as koutsomoura (relative to red mullet) and lavraki (bronzino). Borrowing from the old, and braving the new, it’s an exciting time for Greek cuisine.

Constantine “Dino” Kolitsas is the chef/owner of Greca Mediterranean Kitchen + Bar in New Milford, Connecticut.

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