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Comfort Fine Dining and Wine.
Greece and Grapes and Yiannis Karakasis meet Aleria's chef, Gikas Xenakis, and talk in loose tones about gastronomy and wine.
Yiannis: How did you become a wine afficionado?
Gikas: Basically, with my involvement with gastronomy, and especially with the high gastronomy I serve, I was introduced to the concept of “good living” and acquired a culture. As you understand, I wasn’t coming from a very affluent family to frequent in expensive restaurants. Through my love for gastronomy I started going out, going to restaurants and getting into the meaning of wine. I think gastronomy and wine go hand in hand
Yiannis: Is there a moment when you consider it to be your wine initiation?
Gikas: I have to say that sommelier Socrates Ioannidis helped me a lot when I was working with him for six years at the historic “Boschetto restaurant”. When there was some good wine from a customer, Socrates came as we worked and we were tasting it. So I made my first steps in wine. We may go back 15 years with these memories...
Yiannis: Does a Greek cuisine exist and if so, what are its elements?
Gikas: This is a question that tortures many cooks, journalists and those involved in gastronomy. Personally, I do not like labels, why limit something to a box, I do not see the point. What are the boundaries of Greek cuisine when we have been affected by Venetians, Turks, when we have so much influence from Pontos? We are in fact a clutter, and if we want to define the Greek cuisine I ould say that it is its terroir and its products.
Let's have a look at a classic example to understand the tangle. Pastitsio, which is also a famous dish in Aleria, is an Italian dish that took its name from the Italian “pasta” and an idea that came through the Ionian Islands in Athens. We loved it so much that we consider it ours, a Greek cuisine synonymous. So there is indeed Greek cuisine, but I would say under conditions, in the light of the products of its land.
Yiannis: How important is wine for Aleria?
Gikas: It is a very big part because we offer a whole experience and wine is one of the main ingredients. Of course this did not come easily, the owner Nikiforos Kehagiadakis had a passion for wine and through many discussions and a very good cooperation, our wine list, of about 200 labels for all the balances, was printed. It's part of the experience. I see foreign customers especially who feel charmed and happy having tasted Greek cuisine and wines.
Yiannis: Which are your favourite spots for food and wine? In any order you prefer.
Gikas: I have several favourite places like Kritikos, which I distinguish it for its top meat and Kavos, in Isthmia for its amazing fresh fish. I like Nolan very much for both lunch and dinner nad, of course, Spondi and Funky Gourmet. For every day of the week and every hour I have another place to go. As far as wine is concerned, I have fun in Lithinon in Saronida and Oinoscent. I think both of them have many and interesting choices in wine.
Yiannis: Which are your favourite culinary destinations?
Gikas: Definitely Paris, I ate very well in Sydney, in New York you can find everything you seek for, London is on another planet. All the metropolises I would say are a million miles ahead.
Υiannis: Which is your ultimate pairing of wine and food?
Gikas: Difficult to choose but I would rather say a fine piece of meat with Cabernet Sauvignon. Rather classic I’d say, but it is a rocking combination.
Yiannis: How difficult is it for a restaurant to evolve the wine pairings?
Gikas: It's definitely not easy. It takes effort and expense, several bottles to be opened to present to the world your own version of tasting perfection. Especially when you do it at attractive prices like ours, close to 30-35 euros. In other cities you pay for another meal for the wine.
Yiannis: And what do you drink with them?
Gikas: Santorini and Assyrtiko in general, Meursault from Burgundy and Lugana from neighboring Italy. Of white varieties I like Malagousia and Robola too.
Yiannis: Some other wines that hold a special spot in your heart?
Gikas: Both T-oinos Clos Stegasta are unique, Sigalas, Hatzidakis also, Boutari and the Muses Estate with the particular Mouhtaro! I like this wine a lot!
Yiannis: How important is the role of sommelier in a good restaurant?
Gikas: I think it is of prime importance in choosing wines as well as in speaking the language of wine and being able to communicate with customers. We have three people, Stathis who is the head sommelier, Eftychia and Michael, but almost everyone in the team knows the basics of wine.
Yiannis: What do you think about having music in a restaurant?
Gikas: Basically it should not be annoying and allow customers to talk. Light jazz is ideal I think. On the other hand, I do not quite agree with its complete absence, as they say about the star restaurants. My personal view supports a comfort dining with enough freedom. You do not have to go somewhere well and be dressed as a groom, sterilized does not do good. What we must strive for is careful and not bulk.
Yiannis: What do you think about the street food bloom in the Athenian gastronomic scene?
Gikas: I think it still needs a lot of work, I keep an eye on it on all my travels. There is a time lag in our country, there is a trend running globally and it comes in Greece after several years. Bao, for example, was finishing its way to New York in 2013, there are other trends now. We have at least three years of delay. On the other hand, I am very pleased with the guys from Owl who started Hoocut and dare to do something different in absolute street food such as souvlaki.
Yannis: What is your view of the Michelin star?
Gikas: It is a serious institution of world gastronomy. It is a great reward but also recognition for the “trouble” in a restaurant team, because the standards it sets are too high. I would like Aleria to win its first star soon. This should not be an end in itself. Our primary concern is to leave every customer happy.