When my friend and collaborator, Pauline, told me of a chef cousin of hers working in Dubai, I knew we had to profile him on our blog. It's a great example of the Global Greek Gastronomy that I want to make people aware of and I was also curious to see just how Greek cuisine was being presented in the Gulf. After all, there are many similarities with Middle Eastern cuisine but the stereotypes and clichés often still remain.
Alexandros "Sperxos" Pavlopoulos is a rising young chef who is trying to break those stereotypes, despite having come from a fairly traditional culinary background. He grew up working in his family's hotel/restaurant (named Σπέρχος/Sperhos, hence his nickname) in the mountains of Kalavryta, where his mother's famous homestyle cooking was an inspiration to Alexandros. "I’ve always had a great passion & focus on the traditional dishes of my childhood. These flavors are engrained in me, as I remember the freshest ingredients from our farm, and they have always directed my cooking. I love presenting traditional, rustic dishes plated in an artistic and modern way."
After high school, Alexandros went to Athens to study cooking at the "Le Monde" Institute of Hotel and Tourism Studies. "Le Monde was great, they don’t only focus on Greek cuisine but the whole Mediterranean, which really expanded my palate and skill set." He then worked at various hotels and restaurants in Athens, later moving to Santorini, where his work as a Chef at Floga contributed to the restaurant earning in 2013 the title of Best Restaurant in Oia (that world-renown town famous for its gorgeous sunsets) from "Exodos Time" leisure magazine.
The next big career leap for Alexandros was an offer in 2015 to lead a Greek promotion at the One & Only Royal Mirage resort in Dubai, which turned into a full-time job in charge of three restaurants on the site. Two years later, as Head Chef, he joined the project to open Ena Restaurant, working closely with owner Lena Maniatis and inspired by her architectural ideas, the food they imported (over 120 products brought in from Greece!), and the recipes they created.
When I asked him to tell me more about his inspiration, he said, "Growing up in Kalavryta, my family was always surrounded by incredible farms and we always had such great produce! Unfortunately, Greek cuisine doesn’t get quite as much attention around the globe as many other cuisines. I’ve always wanted to show the world the experiences I’ve been so lucky to have, such as collecting fresh herbs from the mountains near my family home. I find the best way to do this is to take thousands of years of great culinary tradition and modernize them, both in terms of palate and presentation. While opening Ena, I traveled back to Greece four times and with fresh eyes, which made me, even as a Greek, appreciate even more the huge range of culture, dishes and ingredients the country has to offer.
Of course, the visual designer in me just had to ask him about the artistic side of his plating, which I enjoyed seeing on his social media feeds. "The Greeks have always been artistic people. I can’t act, draw, paint or sculpt but I’ve always loved expressing a different side of my creativity on a plate. My personal style of cooking, getting great ingredients and allowing them to speak for themselves, means that the shapes, colors and textures of ingredients I’m so lucky to have a chance to work with are great tools."
Ena was an elegant venue, a far cry from the stereotypical blue and white decor of many Greek restaurants abroad. In respect of local customs, the presence of alcohol in any dishes was called out and there was a wide selection of alcohol-free drinks, with unique blends like pear/chamomile/lemon and mandarin spoon sweet/thyme soda/lemon. But the pandemic led to Ena closing and Chef Alex moved on to a new adventure of his own, starting Ef Zin to provide private dining services on the one hand and Greek food delivery on the other - a great example of agility and adaptability!
This gorgeous Almond-Encrusted Feta is easier to make than you think - Chef Alexandros shared his recipe with our readers here - try it!
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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