The Power of Frugal Greek Cookery

For this year’s Oxford Food Symposium I undertook the huge responsibility to cook the final, Saturday dinner for the 280 participants. Among them were some of the most well-known British and American authors, journalists, historians, scientists, and chefs.

Santorini fava (yellow split peas) topped with capers and herbs.
 David Tanis and Claudia Roden enjoyed the braised snails, which had previously created quite a sensation in St Catz’ kitchen as chef Michael Costa was washing them, trying to prevent them from escaping…

Greek frugal cooking –the simply braised snails in onion-tomato sauce, or the slow-cooked lamb with lemon and oregano– can show its real power in an intimate, family environment. Only when chef Michael Costa, my talented, tireless friend, accepted to leave his very busy kitchen in Washington DC and come to cook at St Catherine’s college did I decide to undertake the difficult exercise of presenting in volume, for 280 people, dishes meant for a small circle of friends and family.

The menu card, a collector’s item, was designed by the brilliant Jake Tilson

Passed from mother to daughter, such deliciously simple traditional dishes are devised by home-cooks who had to feed their families combining a few garden vegetables, greens and herbs, some cheese, and scraps of meat, fish or snails. This ingredient-based, seasonal and humble cuisine has no special broths or sauces, basically depending on olive oil, onions, and lemons; it can be challenging for some, but not for chef Costa.

Tsiros, smoked mackerel from Ypsilon Fine Foods in a white wine and dill vinaigrette, served on To Manna olive oil Kythera rusks, and (below) extremely aromatic island oregano from Cyclades Organics.

“Dear Michael, please accept on behalf of the Board of Trustees and myself as Chair, our gratitude – and that of all our Symposiasts –  for the magnificent feast you and Aglaia prepared for us at the Oxford Symposium the weekend before last, ” wrote Elisabeth Luard.

“Not only were the dishes utterly delicious from beginning to end – my own particular favourites being the snails (so soft and tender in that fresh tomato sauce – why would anyone want to drown them in butter and garlic?); the loza (of course); and the Santorini fava was a revelation with the salty little capers and bitter radiccio – fabulous! But above all the lamb – so simple and perfect – why would anyone ever want to cook it any other way?

All in all, a meal that will linger long in the memory, as we hope the enthusiasm and admiration of all our Symposiasts will linger in yours.  Renewed thanks for an inspirational and educational experience (most important of all, delicious!),” concluded Elisabeth Luard.

Chef Michael and I with St Catz’ chef Tim Kelsey (second from the right) and some of his wonderful team who made this dinner possible for such a crowd.
We are truly grateful to Papagiannakos and all the other Greek wineries who provided exquisite wines for the dinner.    





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