The 10th Gastronomos Quality Awards 2016 was held at the imposing Zappeion in Athens recently. This is an event organised by the Gastronomos Food magazine (part of the Kathmerini newspaper group) that celebrates Greek food and local producers. Even after living in Athens for a year, I still managed to learn so much more about the breadth and quality of Greek cuisine, their local products and also modern Greek restaurant cuisine.
The Gastronomos Quality Awards have been running for 9 years. In that time, more than 100 producers and merchants, as well as scientists or institutions have been awarded for contributing towards the Greek food production and gastronomy. It is a real celebration of Greek Gastronomy.
This years theme is based on the Olive Tree, represented by this piece of art. At the entrance of the venue, guests had the opportunity to admire the work of painter Christos Th. Bokoros, entitiled “Ascension”.
The list of award winners ranged from a Greek Gruyere cheese maker from the Island of Crete, some scientists and a beef farmer pioneering a product high in Omega 3 (my favourite topic) to a pair of young brothers who have revolutionised Olive Oil marketing.
Included in the list were a list of Greek restaurants who have excelled in what they do. I had a chance to meet all the restauraters at the reception and got a chance to taste their food too. The restaurants that won were:
RESTAURANT AWARD – Notos, Brussels
Notos is a Greek restaurant in Brussels, the “Notos” (South), and the man who created it, Constantinos Erinkoglou, bear on their shoulders the reputation of Greek cuisine in Belgium. And they have been conquering hearts and titles of nobility.
Constantinos Erinkoglou was born in Moustheni, an idyllic village with plenty of water and trees at the foot of Mt Pangaio. A northern Greek with a refugee background from Constantinople and of Thracian descent, Constantinos left home at age 18 to study sociology and public relations in Strasbourg. He then went on a scholarship to the Collège de l’Europe, Belgium. After he concluded his studies, he worked with an EU service for 8-9 years.
He returned to Greece to do his military service and realised that his path in life was elsewhere. His love for Greek products prompted him to start an export enterprise of Greek products to France (mainly olive oil, wine and honey from Mount Athos). He happened to travel to Brussels for a tasting of his products, which turned out really well and so he decided to stay there. He found a small space to use as a shop and warehouse, but after a while he felt like making and offering his friends and customers “a little something,”, as he put it, “some cheese pie, some walnut cake, some wine.” Did he cook? “I did cook, but only for friends, not professionally. So, I started gradually, tasting and learning.”
Notos restaurant opened its doors in 1996, allowing Belgians to experience – apart from souvlaki and greasy moussaka – the real Greek products and haute cuisine, a gastronomy that takes traditional recipes and brings them to a different level altogether. Constantinos was recently awarded by the King of Belgium with the medal of the Order of Leopold II and is now officially a “Knight of Greek gastronomy.”
Notos: 154, rue de Livourne, Bruxelles 1000, Tel.: 0032 (0) 2513 2959
RESTAURANT AWARD – Thalassaki, Tinos Island
This is a small family seafood taverna on Tinos Island run by Antonia Zarpa and her husband Aris Tatsis and sometimes assisted by her daughters. It is just the kind of local food that I look for when I travel. Unpretentious, good local cuisine executed with passion and pride.
Here she is with her mini-me daughter. They served up a couple of their delicious dishes made with local products. I love the slow food ethos of using the freshest local ingredients and their obvious love of Greek cuisine.
A seafood tavern on Tinos island, the “Thalassaki,” highlights what Greek cuisine is all about. It is traditional but not stubbornly, and modern without pretension. Dishes are based on local products, prepared with imagination and creativity.
Located at the Ysternia bay, in Exo Meria, Thalassaki tavern has been welcoming locals and foreigners for the past 16 summers. The couple owing the establishment, cook Antonia Zarpa and her husband Aris Tatsis, present a strong and structured view of eating, based on fine raw materials, respecting tradition and engrafted with imagination and creativity. The products they use are mostly local: artichokes and other vegetables, greens, deli meats, wines and beer. Even chickpeas and beans are supplied by local producers.
Fish and seafood come from the island’s rich seas. Antonia’s cooking has strong taste, clarity, and finesse; it oscillates between the classic and modern Greek cuisine, and also borrows from the simple Cycladic tradition and the specificity that stems from her talent. She is a woman who cooks with her mind and soul. Antonia, when not in the kitchen, she cultivates a vegetable garden, making incredible cheese with herbs, vegetables and nuts; she also keeps herself busy photographing or writing or even painting the tavern’s tables herself, while at the same time raising her two daughters. Aris, standing by her, takes care of everything else to make sure the tavern is run smoothly. And Ysternia has become a gastronomic destination thanks to Thalassaki.
Thalassaki, Ysternia Bay, Tinos Island, The Cyclades.
CHEESE PRODUCTS AWARD – Gasparakis” cheese production company
A Greek Gruyere? This was a bit of a surprise, made by Cheesemaker Nik Gasparakis from the non-mountainous Crete. It was nutty, buttery cheese, not a flavour that I expected from a Greek Cheese. There are many other examples of good local Greek cheeses that unfortunately never get exported. They are mostly made by small cheese dairies and are well known among the locals.
Nik was literary raised in cheese-dairies. He founded his own one 40 years ago at the Koummoi village, Rethymno, Crete.
Gasparakis’ cheese-dairy is situated in an ideal location, in a green valley with its own microclimate. Mild winters and cool summers allow animals to graze in nature and produce top quality milk. This milk, supplied by associated farmers, is used by Gasparakis to make his unrivalled Gruyère: a balanced, spicy and buttery cheese, resulting from 40 years of experience and the work of a tenacious man who does not compromise on quality. The Greek yeast, slow ripening and dry salting make this Gruyère stand out among so many other quality Cretan gruyeres.
Winner of the Olive Oil Production Award – Governor
When I met these 2 young brothers, I was really impressed by their enthusiasm and ambition when it came to producing and promoting their olive oil. They are the first oil to be abe to state that their oil has health benefit according to EU standards, a definite marketing advantage, that’;’s in addition to their distinctive bottle shape too.
Corfu’s olive groves are widely known for the beauty they lend to the island’s landscape. But who knew of Corfiot olive oil? No one, because even producers themselves did not think that it was good enough. Yet, two young people managed to put it on the map of quality Greek olive oil.
Spiros and George Dafnis decided to “do everything differently,” i.e., to abandon centuries of tradition and do away with selling their olive oil in bulk to overseas buyers, as most of their fellow islanders do. They travelled and studied, attended seminars and consulted quality producers. They altered all the procedures with regard to cultivation and harvesting. They showed perseverance after their first, not very satisfactory attempts, and eventually succeeded. They produced an olive oil not only of high quality but also evidently beneficial. And that’s because “Governor” olive oil has the “health claim” as it fully meets the standards set by the European Union for an olive oil to be considered beneficial for health.
HONEY PRODUCTION AWARD – Amorgiano
The Greeks produce some stunning honey, some of it raw and I especially like those wildflower flavoured ones from around the Mount Athos area in Northern Greece. This was not exception, the honey was flavoured by the local flora and was fragrantly delightful.
The winning honey is produced on Amorgos Island by Panagiotis Maroulis, who was a filmaker in a previous life.
Opting for a different life, he moved to Amorgos. For two years, he attended beekeeping seminars and launched a small business, “Amorgiano.” His bee-hives are located in four places: Lagada, for its sage and flowers; Halara (a cliff), where a local bee (with different genetic material) lives, for its asphodels, thyme and savory; the islet of Nikouria, off Geiali, for its thyme; and, a little further away, on the small island of Donousa, for its heather.
The honey produced is certified organic and analyzed in the laboratories of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The analyses show high pollen concentration, which is the first indicator of honey quality. Although a small business, Amorgiano has already won several international awards, such as two times the Great Taste Awards, where the competition includes several honeys from around the world.
Dairy Products Production Award: “KriKri” company
A home grown success story. Not only do they produce dariy products and Greek Yoghurt under their own brand name, they white label their products of UK high street supermarkets like Waitrose, Tesco, Aldi and Marks & Spencer. At the awards, they were serving up their very popular ice creams for tasting.
Since 1954 and starting from a small confectionery in Serres, Northern Greece, dairy factory Kri Kri in 2016 enjoys 3rd place in the Greek yogurt market. The company is located in the center of the fertile plain of Serres and daily receives fresh milk from carefully selected farms within a radius of 40 km from its premises. In recent months, the firm joined forces with the Veterinary Department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, to carry out a research on ways to improve milk quality, as well as to achieve a more efficient and economical management of livestock farming. The milk is turned into yogurt within about 24 hours from the time of milking.
The quality of Kri Kri yogurt prompted the company to launch export activities as of the late 1990s. As a result, Kri Kri yogurt is now exported to countries from Denmark and Germany to Iraq and South Korea, with exports accounting for nearly 50 per cent of the company’s total production. In spite of its rapid growth and a large increase in production, the company’s facilities remain in Serres. They may be far away from the country’s largest market, Athens, but the firm believes this way it can safeguard milk quality and instant processing.
AGRICULTURAL CROP AWARD – Burlat cherries from Agios Loukas Agricultural Cooperative of Rachi, Pieria
Cherries from Mt Olympus, this is a success story which could serve as a fine example: a cooperative in Rachi, a small village at the foot of Mt Olympus, produces top quality cherries and exports 90 per cent of its production. Their cherries, of the Burlat variety, are very sweet and taste very similar to the famed black cherries of Vodena.
The impressive story is to some extent common to many rural areas. Subsidies are given to stop farmers from cultivating tobacco and then the farmers lounge in the cafes while the fields remain fallow. It took just one person, priest papa-Giorgis, to make the difference. When he announced his plan to bring in water from Mt Olympus, his fellow villagers just laughed: “If you bring water from Mt Olympus, let us hang in the square.” God willing and with funding from the ministry and the NSRF, they actually managed to carry water from Mt Olympus.
Papa-Giorgis had studied in collaboration with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki what would be the best crop and concluded that this would be cherries, as the altitude was suitable, with dry climate and enough air. So, the “Agios Loukas” Agricultural Cooperative of Rachi was established in 1991 and since then production has doubled, taking advantage of NSRF funding to build an ultramodern sorting and cooling facility. The Cooperative has already paid off their debt. They survived some tough times, when the Yugoslav war prevented them from exporting their product. Today, they have a partnership with a major international chain which absorbs up to 90 per cent of their production for its stores in Greece and Europe.
MEAT PRODUCTION AWARD – Koutsioftis Farms – “Aroma”
This beef producer got my attention as they were talking about my favourite subject, high Omega 3 beef. These farmers worked with scientists to re-engineer the meat that they are producing, increasing the Omega 3 content. This is the main reason why a lot of Paleo and Low Carb dieters recommend eating grass fed beef. Their research can change the way beef is being produced. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any on hand to taste. If it tastes as good as the content promises, this will be a global winner.
Stergios and Dimitris Koutsioftis’ Omega farm in Veria could be considered a model, not only for its installations and ideal animal living conditions, but primarily for its investment in research, which once again paid off.
As third generation ranchers, Stergios and Dimitris did not merely quadruple the number of animals in the original farm they inherited from their father George, from 250 to about 960 today, but they also pulled off a European first: the first calves grown in Greece, fed with special fodder, patented and recognized throughout Europe, enriched with omega-3 fats. It consists predominantly of aromatic Greek herbs: mint, basil, oregano, coriander and some others that are kept secret, hence the “Aroma” name for the specific meat.
The animals receive omega-3 fats from flaxseed, which is one of the ingredients of the particular food. This patent is the intellectual property of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Veterinary School, which carried out the research. Exclusive use for the next 20 years has been granted to Omega farms, which funded the research and already prepares for exports.
OLIVE PRODUCTION AWARD – Testicles Olives Michalis Ainatzoglou’s “Damaskinoelies”
Yes, it really is called Testicle Olives because of how it looks. I believe they have a more polite name for it now for marketing purposes. They are much bigger than regular olives, crunchy in texture and by the way it was processed, it is not over salty.
This is an ancient variety of olives cultivated around the region of Argos, Peloponnese which is famous for producing giant olives “damaskinoelies”, or plum olives. And a man who was not planning to be an olive grower, managed to process them in the best way and offer us a very special product.
For twenty years now, oral surgeon Michalis Ainatzoglou produces olives from his ancestral estate trees in Kiveri, Argolida, Peloponnese. As he explains, the plum olive is a local variety called “orchas” in antiquity and later on gaidouroelia (donkey olive). He has a rare knowledge on the product and has experimented on the optimal processing and packaging methods. But until a few years ago he had not gone ahead with packaging, as he opted for supplying the olives in bulk to large companies.
As of 2008, he started to package the olives himself. He processes them in a special way, leaving the olives to mature in salt in the traditional method. Olives are then washed off the excess salt and pasteurized. This process lengthens their lifespan without need for preservatives. The product’s high quality is ensured by handmade sorting and stringent controls.
WINE PRODUCTION AWARD – An unusual Retsina by Kechris Winery
Greece’s so-called “national” drink, the retsina wine, has been abused for years in barrels, when selling in bulk was the only option, and was considered as second grade wine. However, in the hands of winemaker Stelios Kechris, retsina changed category and eventually won international recognition. On the first taste, it was obvious that this was nothing like the cheap plonk tht is the Retsinea of old. It doesn’t ahve that intensse pine flavour and it very smooth.
In 1911, Evangelos Kechris became the first importer of glass bottles from the US to bottle wine. His sons opened the tavern “Kokoras” (Cock) in Thessaloniki in 1939, which also operated as a small winery. Since then, the Kechris family has recorded impressive growth. Stelios Kechris took over the business in 1984, and along with his wife Konstantia and their daughter Eleni, modernized and improved retsina to a great extent. Even though the “national” wine at the time was considered “degraded and low quality,” they managed in just four years to win four gold awards at major wine competitions worldwide: Decanter World Wine Awards, International Wine Challenge (2009), Mundus Vini (2013) and Vinalies Internationales (2014).
Their “Tear of the pine” retsina, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary, now ranks as «crème de la crème» in the world wine map. For the Kechris family, wine is not just a product. It is a multidimensional drink interwoven with the culture, people and life itself. It is associated with culture, as its production is directly related to the history and traditions of each place. It is connected with man, because it is made by him and is intended for him, in a two-way relationship, a relationship of interaction.
STAPLE PRODUCT AWARD – Organic flour by Loulis Group
With a legacy of more than 200 years of continuous operation under the same family, Loulis Mills is a very special company enjoying first place in the Greek market, making continuous investments in technology and showing respect for the environment.
Even before the French Revolution had occurred, in 1782, Zois Loulis settled in Aetorrachi, Ioannina and built a small mill. In its two-and-a-half century long history, Loulis Mills has gone through a lot of hardships. Every so often, wars and fires destroyed the firm’s facilities. But every disaster was cause for new growth.
Today, having acquired Agios Georgios Mills, a company with similar history, Loulis Mills is the Greek market leader. Their products, including the organic flour produced in Sourpi, and all types of flour covering all needs of cooking, enjoy the top place in consumer preference. We asked Nikos Loulis, the fifth generation at the company’s helm, how can consumers tell good flour? “Flour quality depends on the quality of wheat, which in turn depends on the weather, the soil and the grower. It then has to do with the use. The first thing to do is to ensure that you have the appropriate flour for the desired use. There are certainly other things, too, that make the difference. A very important aspect of flour is to always behave the same way: absorb the same quantity of water, rise in the same manner, take the same time to bake. The miller’s skill is to make the mix that will always result in the same stable product.”
WINE PRODUCTION AWARD – Forgotten variety wines from Gavalas Winery, Santorini
Santorini island is famous for its wines. And we all know of the popular Assyrtiko, Mandilaria and Vinsanto varieties. What is little known is that in the old days some indigenous grape varieties flourished on the island and produced very fine wines.
George Gavalas is a fourth generation winemaker. From the late 19th century, his family cultivated vineyards and produced wine in Megalohori, near Fira. At first, domestic consumption was mainly on the island and some exports were made to the Greek community in Alexandria, Egypt. In the 1930s, Gavalas supplied wine in bulk to taverns in Athens and Piraeus, as well as to distilleries, such as Koniordos’ to make cognac; the sweet Vinsanto wine was supplied to churches and was used to make holy communion.
In 1998 George Gavalas took over the family winery, modernized it and put an end to supplying wine in bulk. “Asyrtiko is the main variety in Santorini’s vineyards,” he says. “We love it because it has traveled all over the world. But the place also has some other remarkable varieties, such as Katsano and Gaidouria.” He worked passionately to revive these varieties, and today Katsano is exported even to the US, a forgotten variety that was faced with the risk of extinction. Gavalas winery’s Nychteri, Santorini and of course the Vinsanto (a trademark of the island), have been awarded internationally and gained the preference of both connoisseurs and the public.
SHOP AWARD – snack tavern-grocery “Agora” in Thessaloniki
The city of Thessaloniki takes the lead again in food. The “Agora,” a new snack tavern-grocery (mezedopantopoleio) on Pavlou Mela St., is unlike any other of the kind in Greece and has really nothing to envy the famous Eataly in Milan.
Agora is the creation of Thomas and Giorgos Douzis, who also own the “Ergon” company and restaurants, and invested half a million euros in their new establishment, measuring a floor space of one thousand square meters. It offers fine packaged “Ergon” products, as well as by other quality producers: from wine and bread, to the entire range of a fine grocery. It also features a butcher’s shop with fresh meats and a fish shop with fresh fish (which can also cook fish to take away), as well as eating tables and benches.
On the new menu, the production region is indicated for all products used. Daily specials include dishes made with fresh products arriving at the store. The rest of the dishes are exclusively Greek cuisine with classic dishes and snacks, all well cooked and simply delicious. And the best: the same cuisine offered to guests in seven tourist towns in Greece is exported to two European capitals, London and Brussels, as well as to Miami, US.
AGORA: 42 Pavlou Mela St., Thessaloniki
HONORARY AWARD – Prokopis Magiatis
A young university professor awarded for his research work on olive oil, stands by producers and helps them make more and improved quality olive oil.
A professor at the University of Athens School of Pharmacy, Prokopis Magiatis is a scientist who offered his knowledge to the service of olive oil producers. A study he published in 2012 showed a new way of measuring oleocanthal, and was internationally regarded as innovative and revealing new data. The study established an additional indicator (the oleocanthal content) in measuring olive oil’s health protective qualities. Together with his wife, Eleni Melliou, they patented the new method and named it “Aristelaion.” The method won the first prize for Applied Research at a Eurobank and Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) contest in February 2016.
The couple also collaborate with the University of California, Davis, a higher education institution that predominantly deals with agricultural production. Under the auspices of the UoC and the US Department of Health, the first clinical study was carried out on the benefits of olive oil to human health – up to now there were only laboratory studies. The Greek olive oil that took part in the clinical study came first among four other good quality olive oils. Prokopis Magiatis’ work focuses on registering the health protective qualities of olive oil; he also works with producers and, most importantly, disseminates his knowledge and passion to his
On your next trip to Greece, make sure you seek out some of these products or even try the restaurant mentioned. These awards have shown that there are many food heroes in Greece and we can help their eceonomy along a bt by indulging in their fabulous products.
EatCookExplore was a guest of Kathmerini at the Gastronomos Awards