Friday, July 23, 2010

Tastes of Greece - Interview with Chef G. Papadopoulos from Excelsior Bistrot

During my two-week stay in Thessaloniki, Greece, I had the chance to experience high standard cuisine in local restaurants. I was one of the food bloggers/guests at the presentation of the summer menu offered at the Excelsior Bistrot and under the magic hands of Chef G. Papadopoulos. Find the detailed menu copied below.

1. Chilled soup with yogurt, with mint jelly, goat cheese and roe powder

2. Fava with truffle oil, scallops slightly grilled in spicy eggplant

3. Grey weakfish with lemongrass sauce and small zucchinis

4. Fois Gras fried with polenta, leaves of salad and sesame sauce

5. Crawfish bowl and basil

6. Glazed duck with truffled honey, potato tart and asparagus

7. Tomato confit with lemon and basil

8. Lime parfait and strawberries with white balsamico

Here is what the chef told me after the dinner.

FB: What did you cook tonight?

GP: It was a summer menu with seasonal ingredients. But we also tried new cooking techniques.

FB: What’s the favorite from all those eight courses?

GP: I like scallops as a product. And today we cooked it in a special new way, just with fire. We burned them only on one side and added olive oil and fleur de sel.

FB: Will you serve this eight course menu at the Hotel?

GP: We have a new, eight course menu each season as we change it.

FB: Any plans for the future, for the winter months?

GP: For the winter, we continue as we are now. We are steady, nothing has changed despite the economic crisis. We insist on good quality and we do a little more. That’s self-evident. But our main goal is to maintain the quality.

FB: What’s your favorite dish? Which flavor do you prefer? Any flavor you don’t like at all?

GP: I eat everything. There are things I distinguish a little more but there isn’t anything I don’t like.

FB: What’s your favorite?

GP: Sea food.

FB: Do you have any personal plans for the future? Would you like to start your own restaurant, write a book or be on a TV show?

GP: I want that everybody who comes to dine here to be excited. You can’t be perfect but you can improve. At some point in the future, I would like to have my own restaurant which will be very personal, like going to have dinner at your mom’s. That’s how I like it. It will have a small number of tables but you will need to reserve your seat. I will shop every day and cook. If you do something with love, it has nothing to do with money.

FB: From restaurants you visited around the world, which one you still remember? Which one you would like to visit?

GP: It is the Raymond Blanc’s restaurant outside Oxford. Simple cooking, new techniques, good food quality.

FB: Other chefs you like?

GP: There is not a better chef than another, they all have their own personal style and cooking techniques.

FB: You are in Greece, you have chosen Thessaloniki for good or maybe an island one day?

GP: have traveled a lot, I have been to places but now I am based inThessaloniki on a permanent basis. We all need to have a stable base in everything we do and I am trying to apply this now. It’s good to travel around but at some point you need to return.

FB: What do you have to say for the Gourmet award you won by Elefterotypia?

GP: It was something we didn’t expect, they came the very first day I started working here.

FB: Is this something that you are stressed about? You want to be at the top all the time? If someone gets an award so soon, the expectations are much higher afterwards…

GP: You always need to be read and alerted. Each day, each dish we prepare and send out, needs to be checked and filtered before it goes out. We make mistakes but the fewer the mistakes, the better we become.

FB: In the kitchen, are you strict with your colleagues?

GP: I am even if I don’t want to be. I am strict with myself. Many times, when I do things and they don’t work out the way I want them to, I am mad at myself. And because I am difficult and highly demanding with myself, I do the same with others. I don’t intend to be like this. Cooking is a group work. Before serving, we have briefings and we get together for meetings twice a week. Certain things need to be taken care of, everything needs to be studied. We try the menu before it goes “live”, we talk with the service staff all the time. We ask what clients like, why someone finished the entire plate but left half of the food in the other one

FB: Is it a tiring job?

GP: We work 12 to 14 hours a day. There is a lot of stress, often exhaustion. We can only serve ten tables but at the end of the day you are really exhausted not only physically but also intellectually.

FB: And also on creativity level...

GP: Yes, on all levels. Cooking is a joint activity. We are all in the kitchen. We have fun but we try a lot to do our best.

FB: So far, you have succeeded.

GP: Yes, but we can become even better.

FB: Always, all of us

GP: I am here since February. We now built it and from now on, we can grow even higher. And the most amazing is that the hotel owners help us in our effort. I haven’t seen this. Whatever we need, we get it. They never say no to anything related to quality and they do an excellent job with staff. It’s great.

FB: Thank you very much.