Sani Gourmet Festival, the internationally recognised gastronomic event of Sani Resort in Halkidiki, returns in 2022 for its 15th anniversary.
And this year, the fine-dining institution is celebrating the “Contemporary Greek Culinary Scene”, with nine of Greece’s leading chefs combining international influences and their own personal flair into well-known, authentic dishes that will be served to guests for what is set to be a memorable experience.
The Sani Gourmet Festival, which has been a successful event year in and year out, entices visitors from all over the world. This year it will take place from May 20 to 24, with five days of gourmet-related workshops, including; wine tastings, presentations and cooking demonstrations.
“Now in its fifteenth year, we’re proud to be celebrating the Greek culinary scene and welcoming Greece’s distinguished chefs from the 20th until the 24th of May at our acclaimed haute cuisine celebration, Sani Gourmet. Globally recognised for bringing together exciting, new chefs and already established culinary heavyweights, each chef will create a unique degustation menu paired with exceptional wines,” announced Sani Resort.
The A-list contemporary Greek chefs who will create degustation menus – inspired by their signature dishes and perfectly paired with Greek and International wine labels are- Sotiris Evaggelou, executive chef at Salonica; Liza Kermanidou, talented pastry chef from Pantechnicon / Café Kitsuné; Adam Kontovas, head chef at Kobra; Gikas Xenakis, head chef at Aleria ; Vasilis Mouratidis, executive chef of Squirrel & Andromeda; Dimitris Pamporis, executive chef at Treehouse / Bubo; Giorgos Papazacharias & Thanos Feskos, head chefs at Delta Restaurant; Manolis Papoutsakis, founder and chef at Haroupi / Ten Tables; and Alexandros Tsiotinis, executive chef and owner of CTC.
Understanding Greek cuisine is fairly easy with most culinary experts agreeing that Greek cooking is mainly about simplicity; simple recipes, fresh produce, and passion.
Most Greek dishes are based on a few key ingredients and there is not much which is bottled or packaged, however, there are some products that we always keep in our fridge and pantry. This is by no means a complete list but it will definitely get you started!
Extra virgin olive oil makes the top of the list of must have Greek food ingredients. It is a staple to Greek cooking and the most popular type of oil used across the country- from starters and salads to bbq’s and mains, you always need olive oil to create Greek dishes.
The main herb in a Greek pantry is Greek oregano. From adding it to your lemon potatoes, to seasoning your octopus and salads- it’s Greece’s most loved herb. You want oregano, preferably freshly picked and dried, however if you can’t grow it yourself, you can find Greek oregano in specialty stores and delis around the world.
Feta cheese is a staple in the Greek kitchen; almost all meals are served with a side of Feta and it is used in traditional pites (handmade pies) including Tiropita (cheese pie) and Spanakopita (spinach pie) ,as well as in popular dishes such as Prawn Saganaki.
Many traditional Greek meals have legumes as their key ingredient and Greeks do prefer using dried legumes. The most popular are lentils, gigantes, white beans, black-eyed peas and chickpeas, which are used in stews, soups and salads.
Lemons really are a must in the Greek kitchen. They add acidity to many dishes, from roast potatoes to grilled fish. Ladolemono (olive oil and lemon juice) is used as a marinade and a dressing on seafood and salads. Lemon juice is also added to mostly everything from meats to fried cheese and is also included in many Greek desserts, especially in the syrup based sweets. And lets not forget Avgolemono, which is Greece’s famous egg and lemon sauce.
Greek sea salt is naturally rich in minerals, which makes it so delicious. Learn to season food, especially with sea salt. This is one of the most important techniques in Greek cooking. However, the seasoning should not be overpowering.
Honey is used in many popular Greek pastries and it is one of Greece’s most popular sweeteners. Honey is always on the Greek breakfast table- great to spread on toast and add to your tea!
Traditional Greek yogurt is a must in our pantry. It can be used a base for dips, as well as marinades. It also makes for an ideal sweet treat on its own with walnuts and honey.
Tomatoes are another staple in the Greek household and are used in the Greek kitchen from breakfast through to dinner. From simple dishes such as a traditional Greek salad to red based sauces, and the famous Strapatsada breakfast dish, tomatoes are a key ingredient to many Greek recipes.
You will find most Greek households have pastry in their freezer, as this allows you to quickly create a sweet or savoury pie. From cheese and spinach to custard pies and the famous baklava- filo is a key component.
Greek gastronomy focuses on authentic ingredients of high quality, and there is no denying the passion Greeks have for their cuisine. With so much tempting Greek food to choose from, we’ve rounded up the Top 10 traditional dishes we recommend you try when visiting!
Healthy and bursting with fresh and vibrant flavours and colours, Gemista are stuffed tomatoes- and other vegetables- including capsicums, eggplant, and zucchinis, that are baked, until soft and nicely browned. The vegetarian version is filled with rice, chopped vegetables, and baked in a tomato-based sauce and the meat version is rice with minced beef or pork.
Often referred to as the Greek version of lasagne, this dish consists of three layers: pasta; meat sauce; and a topping of creamy smooth béchamel. Pastitsio is the ultimate Greek comfort food and the trick is the pasta being mixed with egg white and cheese to bind it together before being topped with the rich meat sauce.
Similar to Pastitsio as there is both mince and béchamel, Moussaka is one of Greece’s most popular and well-known dishes. Packed with layers and layers of eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, and mincemeat, it is topped with a creamy béchamel sauce. Many taverns will use lamb however some recipes include beef mince.
Greek Fava is different from fava bean dip- it’s not even made from fava beans- it’s made using yellow split peas. This delicious traditional vegan dish originated from the island of Santorini. Creamy and super tasty, the split peas are cooked with garlic and onion, then blended into a smooth and creamy puree that is served with a drizzle of olive oil, diced onion, and cappers.
These fried and crispy Greek zucchini fritters are a perfect pairing of zucchinis, Feta, and an array of fresh herbs, including parsley, dill, and mint. Over the summer, this is a very popular vegetarian dish that’s served with a dollop of refreshing yoghurt.
Greek cuisine has several bean dishes as sides and mains. One of them is Gigantes Plaki. Gigantes are a type of large white bean, ‘Plaki’ refers to the method of cooking, which means baking in the oven with a homemade sauce consisting of tomato, onion, garlic, and parsley. Packed with plenty of fresh flavours as well as protein and fibre, it’s a healthy and delicious vegan dish.
GIGANTES PLAKI @bonppetrip
This is one of Greece’s most popular pies! The savory pastry is made of perfectly crispy layers of homemade phyllo dough and a comforting filling of spinach and Feta. This classic pie makes a perfect light lunch or dinner and has such a fabulous combination of flavours. You will find it in every Greek bakery you come across.
A simple dish of fresh prawns that are cooked in a beautiful tomato sauce, Feta, and a dash of Ouzo! You will find it on the menu at most Psarotavernas (fish taverns) and it’s likely to be served with chunks of freshly made bread so you can dip it into that irresistible sauce!
PRAWN SAGANAKI @mulberry_pomegranate
Stuffed grape leaves, is one of the most well-known Greek recipes. They are traditionally stuffed with rice as a vegetarian option or more commonly served ground meat, rice, and herbs. Some places include an egg and lemon sauce (avgolemono), while others prefer to pair them with a dollop of Greek yogurt. They can be eaten as a side dish, meze, or as a main.
This delicious recipe features fresh fish baked in the oven with vegetables, olive oil, and fresh tomatoes, as well as onions, garlic, leeks, and celery- to round out the flavours.
Australian born with Greek heritage, Kelly Michelakis, founder of The Hellenic Odyssey, is a passionate home cook and travel enthusiast.
Accompanied by her photographer husband, Xenophon, they make the perfect team- sharing discoveries of authentic Greek food and travel on their social media pages and popular blog, which is reached by thousands of followers.
Having to put their 2020 culinary and travel tours on hold due to the pandemic, Kelly has turned her focus to online cooking classes, which launched a few weeks ago and has already become a worldwide hit.
Kelly is currently hosting weekly classes and sharing her beautiful and traditional Greek recipes with people from all around the globe who are keen to discover how to make authentic Greek dishes from scratch. This includes entrees such as Greek pita and dips, a variety of mains like Gemista and Pastitsio, as well as Greek sweets such as Bougatsa and Ekmek Kataifi.
With the aim of inspiring people all over the world to try Greek food and to visit Greece, Kelly recently spoke with us about living in Greece, her passion for Greek cuisine and culture, plus her love of sharing her knowledge about the origins and philosophy of Greek gastronomy.
Tellus which part of Greece are you from and when did you first visit?
I’m from the island of Crete, the largest of all the Greek islands. My family originates from Chania, the prefecture on the western side of Crete. My grandparents grew up in the region known as Keramia in the village of Kontopoula. I first visited Greece when I was eight, but I didn’t just visit. I lived there for two years in the prefecture of Heraklion, the capital city of Crete. Since then, I have been back to Greece five times.
What part of Greek culture do you connect with most?
I connect mostly with the food of Greece and the traditions and customs surrounding that- music, dance, celebrations, festivals, the land, cultivation and harvesting. Learning about how our elders lived provides great insight into our history and ensures their stories are not lost among the generations. It enables their recipes, their food and their ways to be remembered and passed on.
When did you launch The Hellenic Odyssey and what was the vision behind it?
We started The Hellenic Odyssey as a project created from the heart, driven by a passion for food and inspired by a love for travel. We launched in 2018 with the intention of providing culinary travel tours to Crete and hosting cooking classes here in Melbourne. Our vision was to continue to learn about our own culture while sharing what we love with others; Greek food and travel.
When did your passion for cooking begin and what do you love making?
It began at an early age. I remember in primary school being told that we could go to the library to borrow a book and I would find myself in the childrens’ cooking section browsing cookbooks. I love cooking sweets the most, and this too has been with me from a young age. I recently found a cookbook from 1995 that was all about classic cakes and upon browsing through the pages, I recall having baked the majority of the recipes from it (and I would have only been about 13 years old).
What are some of your favourite Greek dishes and as a ‘foodie’ what regions in Greece do you enjoy visiting?
My favourite would have to be Cretan and they include Dakos, Boureki, and Kaltsounia. I think Crete is a foodie haven but so too are many other islands and regions such as Naxos, Santorini, the Peloponesse (Kalamata), Athens and Thessaloniki of course! There is such a diverse range of foods and the flavours vary on what that region is known for. The island of Chios for example has its mastiha while Corfu features a lot of Kumquat liqueur.
How would you describe the Greek gastronomy scene in 2020 and what do you think people would be most surprised about?
There is so much more on offer in Greece than travellers could ever expect when it comes to gastronomy. Local boutique suppliers of products such as cheese and yogurt, baked goods, wine, olives, jams, preserves and honey, herbs and botanicals, olive oil, nut based products, distilled spirits such as raki, and even beer are earning a reputation. Travellers would be surprised at the variety of unique food experiences to be had and the exceptionally high quality of the product.
What has been your most memorable A) Breakfast in Greece? B) Lunch in Greece? C) Dinner in Greece?
The most enjoyable breakfast for me are those that you have in a small boutique family owned hotel. There is not a huge selection on offer but what is served is always 10/10. Fresh seasonal fruit, homemade jams, cheese and paximadia, freshly baked bread, local yogurt and honey, and a moist delicate sponge cake.
Lunch! Being served a Greek salad with vine ripened tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, mountainous oregano that seems to smell so different in Greece, topped with a local soft white cheese, plus a plate of hand cut olive oil fried patates and a glass of homemade wine (as most restaurants have their own supply) while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with old Greek music softly heard in the background at a local taverna on the lesser-visited island of Skiathos. It is the simplicity of the place, the meal and the atmosphere that makes such an experience memorable.
As for dinner, it would be in Santorini on the cliff face of Andronis Luxury Hotel at Lycabettus restaurant, overlooking the caldera with nothing to obstruct your view. Santorini’s best delicacies are served with matching wine during sunset with soothing music in the background on a balmy night. There is a sense at that moment, that nothing else matters, time is non-existent, thoughts do not enter your mind, you are purely there in the present moment without a single thing bothering you.
Tell us about the one and a half years you spent in Greece. What was it like, and how much travelling did you do during that time?
We spent the majority of our time in Greece living in Corfu and in Crete. We intended on living there more permanently but due to the economic crisis Greece was experiencing at the time, we had to return earlier than expected. Living in Greece is completely different from life here in Australia. There is no real order, it is exactly as they say ‘organised chaos’ and you have the choice to either join in and become one of them or be left out with your Australian ways. You have to act and live the way they do in order to get anything done. You must drive like them, speak like them, act like them, eat like them, party like them, and live like them. It is then that you are truly a local.
It was one of the most memorable times of my life. There is a sense of freedom and free spiritedness I feel there that I just can’t get here. We travelled extensively towards the end of our time in Greece, by island hopping during the quieter season. We departed Crete in May and travelled until August. We chose to do this without pre-booking any destinations or hotels. We would board a ferry, arrive at our destination and choose how long to stay there once we got a feel for the place.
What is your advice for anyone planning on travelling through Greece for a long period?
I would recommend buying a cheap car in Athens as it gives you so much freedom to travel. I also recommend you try to travel outside of the peak season, either May/June or September are great months.
You were meant to start travel tours this year, however, that didn’t go ahead due to Covid. Tell us more about those?
The culinary and cultural travel tours in Crete are based in the region of Chania for the whole time. The reason for this is that we want our travellers to become immersed in one destination. We don’t want to rush from one place to the next simply to tick it off a list. We instead want people to have a slow travel journey, to really get to know the locals, to settle in, to experience Cretan life the way locals do. Our tours have an immersive live like a local feel.
What do you want visitors to experience with your tours when they commence?
Tours are aimed at those who are seeking an off the beaten track experience based on a slow travel style. We want to showcase our ancestral history through culinary and cultural travel experiences. We want to share the love we have for Crete and show others what makes it so special. Our tours are unique because they provide the freedom to venture off the beaten track. They are not driven by set times, they operate on Greek time. For example, if our group finds itself having an amazing time with the locals at a winery visit, we would not want to interrupt that because its time to go, or if we stumble across a local festival, we would actually stop so the group could experience that. Our tours are about taking travellers to places that they would not be able to find on their own in the short time they would be there. We take them to the best of the best hidden local gems.
You are inviting people to your home in Melbourne, where you will host cooking classes. What can people expect to learn?
Our cooking classes in Melbourne are in themselves a trip to Greece. I welcome guests into my own home which is surrounded with fruit trees, olive trees, a veggie patch and fresh herbs with an indoor and outdoor dining area so guests can feel like there are in an authentic Greek kitchen, home and garden. Classes are hands on so guests can learn by doing it themselves, we prepare and cook as a group followed by sharing our cooking creations together. Cooking classes in Melbourne will commence once restrictions are lifted.
In the meantime, you’ve launched your popular online cooking classes.
Yes, this is ideal for anyone interested in taking part in an online Greek cooking class as now you can do so from anywhere in the world. I can also conduct one on one sessions, or group Zooms for your special event, family get togethers or work team meetings. You can learn to make Galaktoboureko, Pastitsio, Gemista, Cretan Bougatsa, as well as vegan and vegetarian dishes.