Australians owe a lot to the Greek immigrants who made Australia home post war. They gave us milk bars and moussaka, taramasalata and ouzo, dolmades and baklava. Doing a masterclass with Greek chef and flavour master David Tsirekas is like time travelling through Greek history. Nostimo Chef- In Residence- David combines his culinary expertise with his love of history and Greece. He likes to take diners through, “an historical, cultural and spiritual trip through the ages”.
SheSociety were lucky to be invited to an intimate Masterclass at Nostimo Restaurant, located in the iconic Greek Club. Seated in the kitchen, a genial crowd shared generous servings of amazing Greek food, learned about Greek culture, heard tales of the hidden gems of Greece and enjoyed watching the master at his work. Chef even shared some of his recipes and a sneaky slab of Lamb Moussaka for my family to try. Come along as I share a slice of Greece with you!
Chef David Tsirekas
Chef started out as a Water Polo and Swimming Coach before people told him to get a real job. He learned his craft in the kitchen of his sister’s restaurant Perama in Petersham and realised that by combining his love of history and cooking he could keep some of the traditional recipes of Greece alive.
Chef explains, “ I began my journey of understanding Greek culture by going back through history and reading ancient literary texts to help me better understand where Greek cuisine had come from, what path it travelled and how it had evolved to where it is today. In essence, my signature dishes reflect Greece through the ages, portraying elements of each period.”
Chef favours slow food, with the freshest and most sustainable ingredients. He uses elements of the ancient recipes whilst still being inventive with local produce. As we moved through each course, Chef explained the countries and time periods which had inspired many of the Greek recipes. He then detailed the regions from which the recipes originated, giving us a culinary tour of Greece.
To start we enjoyed plump olives and champagne whilst Chef prepared a Salmon Mousse Dip. The inspiration was the traditional taramasalata from areas like Santorini. Chef had jazzed up the traditional recipe with the addition of fresh salmon. Served with warm slices of flatbread and salmon roe, this zesty and creamy combination delighted us all. We had to remember that many more courses were to come! I’ll share this recipe with you later so you can delight your guests over the Christmas season.
Next came the Politiki Salad and what a flavour sensation it was! I could eat this salad every day. It combined Savoy purple Chinese cabbage, carrot, green apple, graviera, dried currants, spicy roasted corn, toasted almonds, mustard mayonnaise and mixed fresh herbs from Nostimo’s spectacular garden. The perfect combination of crunchy, sweet and zesty made this a winner for me.
A pretty dish of Greek Drunken Prawns came next and this will now be on the menu at Nostimo for you to try. Chef marinated the prawns in Metaxa Brandy, lime and coconut milk before it was deep fried with a light rice flour batter. It was served with a mango, mint, golden pepper relish and tarama.
My very favourite dish of the night was surprisingly the Peinerli. I say surprisingly, because I am not a fan of pizza, even though it’s my husband’s very favourite. This Greek boat-shaped pizza has changed my mind. The dough was a cross between pizza dough and shortcrust pastry. Filled with Greek deli favourites- kasseri, pastourma and smoked mestosovone the flavours were sublime.The whole tasting table groaned in delight upon tasting these flavoursome morsels.
The piece de resistance was Chef’s Lamb Moussaka. This recipe was derived from the work of acclaimed Greek Chef- Nikolaos Tselementes. Considered one of the most influential cookery writers of modern Greece Tselementes was influenced by French cuisine and his time studying in France and Vienna. Tselementes name is synonymous with Greek cooking and at one time most Greek families had one of his cookbooks in his house.
Chef says, “This recipe comes from around 1910. Tselementes introduced generations of Greeks to concepts like the Bechamel Sauce. The original Moussaka has Arab and Ottoman Empire influences and this version originated in the Constantinople region. It’s enhanced by the potatoes on the bottom layer and the slow cooked braised lamb which forms the meaty part of the dish.”
We all loved this incredibly cheesy, full flavoured dish which was served simply with tasty string beans.
For dessert Chef had my vote with the hero ingredient – pear. I love pear desserts and Chef’s Samos Pears with Chocolate Tahini Mousse and toasted tsoureki bread was simply delicious. The sweet Samos wine perfectly infused the pears and the mousse and tsoureki bread (more like a tasty biscuit) worked very well together. The best part for some diners is that this is a vegan dessert, hence the use of tahini in the mousse.
Chef’s knowledge of food and Greece is fascinating and although I’ve never travelled to Greece it is now on my bucket list. He regaled us with tales of hidden gems like the village of Nymfaio in Amyntaio. This gold mining town, which dates back to 1200 AD, was almost in ruins by the 1980’s, yet a huge restoration project where the village was rebuilt with materials from the area has returned it to its former glory.
Chef David said, “People now park their cars about a kilometre away and have to walk up to visit the pretty town. Wild horses walk through freely and locals have created a Bear Sanctuary, where the bears native to the area but taken away for zoos and circuses, can now roam free. Below the town are three or four restaurants which are widely regarded as some of the best in Greece.”
In Athens, Chef David recommends the food of inventive and energetic Dimitris Karampampas and for one of the best bars in Europe visit The Clumsies, Athens.
Armed with a cache of recipes, an extremely full belly and a much better knowledge of Greece I headed into the night past the inviting deck of Nostimo restaurant and the lovely herb garden. I marvelled at my little taste of Greek flavours and the history and travel lessons I had gleaned throughout the evening. All guests left vowing to recreate their own Greek feasts at home. For a little taste of Greece and some of Chef David Tsirekas’ signature dishes like Pork Belly Baklava, Greek Drunken Prawns or the delicious Samos and Saffron Poached Pears just head to Nostimo, South Brisbane. OPA!