Play music and experiment: a chef from Greece on how to have fun in the kitchen and the best recipe for summer panna kota
During self-isolation, it was not books, board games and TV series that came to the fore. Food has taken over our thoughts and social media. And, of course, there is an explanation for this. The aroma of baked goods and routine activities like rolling dough displace any disturbing thoughts. As long as there are cheese cakes according to my mother’s recipe or an apple pie with a crust like my grandmother’s on the table, nothing bad will definitely happen. This culinary anti-stress therapy even got its name – “procrastinating”. And now lawyers, engineers, bloggers, gardeners, models – all, as one, experiment in the kitchen.
We talked to a Greek chef about whether cooking actually helps relieve stress. Ardit Kakorrand studied with internationally renowned experts, trained in Michelin restaurants. And for the last 9 years he has been working in Santorini in establishments with stunning views and cuisine. And who, if not him, should know whether to approach the stove in a bad mood and what dishes have become popular during the quarantine.
A masterpiece can be made from the simplest products
– How did your love of food begin? Not everyday – just a tasty snack, but as an attitude towards art, a desire to do everything in your own way.
– Judging by the stories of my mother, I was destined to become a chef. I grew up in the north of Greece, in a city located at the foot of Mount Olympus. And delicious food has always been given a huge amount of attention. I’ve never been picky about food like most kids. In a good way. I loved savoring product combinations, exploring their aromas. When someone was cooking at home, I was always the first to taste the food. I will never forget the magical taste of my aunt’s caramel cream. Like the flavor, the texture of cinnamon rice pudding or eggs fried with peppers, tomatoes and cheese. This is a popular Greek breakfast that was my mother’s signature.
Over the years, it became more and more obvious what profession I want to get. And this even despite the fact that my father did not support me. In those days, gastronomy was not as revered and valuable as it is today. So, with the best of intentions, he dreamed that I would make a career in medicine. However, I was adamant. Once jokingly replied that both professions are similar in their snow-white uniforms.
While my high school friends were studying hard to pursue higher education at universities, I watched endless TV shows and cooking shows dedicated to international cuisine and famous chefs. I dreamed that one day I would work alongside them. And so it happened. I entered the Pythagoras Culinary Institute in Thessaloniki. This allowed me to take my first professional steps. A little later, I gained invaluable experience working with world renowned chefs both in Greece and abroad. Some of the hotels and restaurants where I trained now have Michelin stars. Now I work in Santorini not only as a chef, but also as a consultant for luxury hotels and cafes.
– Given the international experience in this area and your love of travel, do you have any favorite cuisine?
– As a passionate food enthusiast, I respect the food of any country. But to be honest, Mediterranean cuisine is the only one with which I find an emotional and cultural connection. Olive oil – it can be used almost everywhere, thyme, oregano, basil and other herbs that make familiar dishes sound new, fresh, only from the sea, fish or shrimp – it’s all incredibly delicious! I love coming up with seasonal products. A masterpiece can be made from the simplest vegetables and fruits available to everyone. For example, tomatoes are, in my opinion, greatly undervalued. But with their help you can revive the simplest pasta, pizza, fish, make soups, sauces and salads.
Treat cooking like a journey: add a little spontaneity
– How do you think, during the quarantine, the attitude towards food changed? Did people start looking for some rare recipes or, on the contrary, did they leave the newfangled ones for those that they knew in childhood?
– Surprisingly, it turned out that many, especially the older generation, wanted to return to the origins, traditional dishes. They are interested in watching TV shows, videos on YouTube about how chefs prepare peppers stuffed with rice at home or how they bake a lamb shank with potatoes. Such simple things have recently been superseded by other, more unusual recipes. We wanted to learn about foreign cultures and diets, to experiment in our own kitchen. And now it’s time to remember something family, simple. This is also a challenge for me. I would like to prove that even out of ordinary homemade food you can make a beautiful restaurant dish, discover some new facets in the usual potatoes or meat.
– For most, cooking is often a routine, boring household chores. Is it important with what mood you approach the stove? Or the main thing is to do everything according to the recipe, and then everything will turn out delicious anyway?
– It’s enough to imagine how your soup or salad is admired, how the mood is already changing, right? Praise will never become a routine. Approach this process like a journey. Even though you have thought about the route, you can always add a little spontaneity: a new ingredient or a spice. Having an emotional connection with what you are doing makes the result of your work magical. Turn on your favorite music, remember when you first cooked this dish, learned the recipe. And now the process captures you, it is saturated with pleasant moments. You will see, the food will become hundreds of times more appetizing.
Of course, 3-4 assistants in the kitchen allow you to solve problems faster, delegate some tasks, and be more open to new things. But even one person at the stove is capable of feats. In general, the cuisine in a restaurant is like an ideal orchestra, the most perfect opera. It’s like watching a Tchaikovsky performance at the Bolshoi Theater, where in every dancer and in every musician emotions are stretched to the limit, where everything is synchronized. This ensures that everything is perfect: from the opening of the show to the last clapping of enthusiastic viewers.
So it is here. Be a critic and a grateful taster for yourself, serve a familiar dish in a new way, photograph it from the best angle. And next time you yourself will want to experiment and master new recipes. Now, during quarantine, and even after it, when new stresses are inevitably awaiting us, it is especially important to pamper ourselves, to please, to introduce an element of the game into the usual routine. If we spend so much time in the kitchen, why not make it enjoyable? Beautiful dishes are important. Convenient gadgets that save time and effort, too. Surround yourself with what you like. Turn on your favorite movie, add aromatic spices to your food, call your loved one, friend, colleague while kneading dough or cutting vegetables. And now this is not just a salad, but a whole story saturated with the joy of life. Enjoy it to the last crumb.
Panna Kota in Greek with summer berry salad
- 1 glass of Greek yogurt
- 448 g (2 cups) heavy cream;
- 224 g (1 glass) sugar;
- 5 sheets of gelatin (or 10 g of powdered gelatin, as indicated on the package).
For the salad:
- 1 part berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries);
- 1 lemon;
- 56 g. (2 tbsp. L.) Syrup;
- 5 fresh mint leaves.
Soak the gelatin in ice water until softened, then squeeze out excess water and set aside. Bring the cream and sugar to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add gelatin and stir until dissolved. Stir the mixture into the yogurt. Strain into serving bowls, cover and refrigerate until solid, about 8 hours.
When the panna kota has hardened, use a blender to whisk one part of the berries into the puree and mix with the rest of the whole berries. Add squeezed lemon juice, chopped mint leaves, and some syrup for sweetness. Leave to soak for a while.
Then put the panna cat on a plate, add berry salad on top and garnish with berries and mint leaves. You can add one small spoonful of vanilla ice cream on top before serving.