Brussels, Belgium holds a special place in my heart. The capital of Europe was the first city I lived in after leaving my home town, Thessaloniki; it is where I met my husband, and where my three children were born. When the time came to leave, we said goodbye to all our friends with a big dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Strofiliá, which was started by a close friend, Stefanos Svanias. I had watched Stefanos embark on his own culinary journey, first opening a casual restaurant, Ouzerie, and then starting Strofiliá, now an institution in the very competitive Brussels dining scene. So when I wanted to start showcasing Global Greek Gastronomy, that fusion of traditional and contemporary Greek cuisine that has spread across the world, I knew I had to talk to Stefanos. He’s allowed me to share his story, from his childhood summers in Kalymnos to his vision of where Greek cuisine is heading. Read on and do visit Strofiliá if you’re ever in Brussels - you can choose to eat in the brick-walled, vaulted-ceiling main room or in the contemporary, pop art- inspired front. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy a real treat for your palate!
M: Stefanos, remind me how you ended up in Brussels in the first place!
S: I always wanted to travel and discover the world and I spent a year with an aunt who was living in Brussels, learning French and occasionally working in my cousin’s auto-repair garage. I always had a soft spot for the hospitality sector, a personal affinity with good food and wine, and I decided to go to school, enrolling in the CERIA school of hotel management.
M: Why open a Greek restaurant?
S: I loved the multicultural side of Brussels but realized that the city was missing a notable example of Greek cuisine and culture. I missed the typical “ouzerie”, where food is shared among friends around a glass of wine or ouzo. So I decided to open just that, my first restaurant, “Ouzerie”, where people could experience the art of Greek cuisine, which is not only about sharing the food, but also precious moments with your friends and a means of communication, where people exchange opinions and philosophies.
M: You know you’re preaching to the converted - we say at Zelos that food is the best way to share experiences and nurture strong ties with family & friends!
S: Definitely! Food is also such a big part of our Greek concept of “philoxenia”, which goes beyond its official translation of “hospitality”. Sharing food is so much of who we are and I’ve kept that concept when I opened Strofiliá. It seemed like the natural evolution of Ouzerie, where the concept of shared dishes remains, but where the food has become more refined and gastronomical and where good ingredients are truly appreciated.
M: Tell me about those good ingredients - do you remember the first time you ate something that moved you?
S: Food is not only about the taste, all the senses are involved when it comes to fully experiencing. My fondest memory of food is the smell of the sun-dried octopus being grilled, on the small fishing island of Kalymnos, where I used to spend my summers as a child. I’m not a chef by training but by passion and I love discovering new products, trying new flavors. I travel throughout Greece and get inspired by the places I go to and the people I meet. Sources of inspiration can vary from traditional ‘family’ kitchen, to small village restaurants or fancy upscale ones. When I stumble upon a new ingredient that I really like, I experiment with it and see how we can work it in the menu.
M: The farm-to-table movement has become quite popular in the States - is it relevant for you at all?
S: Yes, it is in the sense that most of the products and all of the wines that we serve at Strofilia come straight from Greece. It is very important for me to meet with the producer behind any label in order to understand their story, their passion, what made them go into this field and where they got the inspiration from. This is particularly important with the wines, where visiting the wineries and discovering the stories behind each wine maker suggesting a wine more like sharing an experience rather than just a selling pitch. That is important for me because we are known for our selection of wines (NB: Strofiliá is featured in the 100 Best Wine Restaurants in Belgium thanks to their over 130 labels!).
M: In the last years we see an increased interest in creative Greek cuisine. How do you see the future of Greek cuisine being shaped, especially in light of our rapidly evolving and increasingly digital global world?
S: Greek cuisine has a lot to offer, and it seems indeed that its future will be prosperous. More young people are interested in the subject and enroll in culinary schools in Greece, which is very promising. It’s undeniable that today’s digital evolution clearly impacts our industry as well. With all the social sharing, working on visual creativity has become an essential part when defining a new dish. Peer influence is more important than ever, and we are proud to say that the vast majority of our online reviews are very positive. While some might see this as a setback, we see it as an opportunity to improve our reputation.
M: A last question - what dish would you recommend for a first-time visitor to Strofiliá?
S: Our dishes cover a great variety of products for all tastes: fish, seafood, meat but also salads. The style ranges from ‘traditional with a twist’ to ‘unique and innovative’. For someone trying our cuisine for the first time, we would advise starting with the white tarama (egg roe) and fava, a yellow split pea purée, followed by grilled octopus. The rack of Black Pork from Mount Olympus, served with celeriac purée, and our lamb shank made in the traditional “fricassée” way with lemon sauce are my favorites.
Zelos is passionate about Greek food and Global Greek Gastronomy, that fusion of traditional and contemporary Greek cuisine that has spread across the world. In this special section of our blog, we want to promote the people and places that we believe are pioneering this trend. Full disclosure: we DO NOT gain anything from these posts, we are not paid to advertise them; rather, we are honestly sharing our personal favorites for you to enjoy!
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In this blog, we want to share with you stories of people and places and things that reflect zēlos, that Greek energy and enthusiasm that characterizes all we do. We hope you enjoy finding out more about this small, resilient, fascinating country and all it offers and inspires.
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