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This holiday season I want you to meet Zurab and his tangerine-flavored seafood kritharoto, an elegant recipe that I think brings together all of the values we hope to nurture with Zelos - support of authentic Greek artisans, contemporary takes on Greek cuisine that go beyond the cliches, and stories of the drive that is modern Greece.
I met Zurab this past summer, when I had a wonderfully surprising culinary experience on the island of Chios, where my husband grew up and where we have been spending our summers. I wanted to host a dinner party for a large group and decided to follow a friend's advice and ask a young chef to come and prepare the meal for us.
That young chef, Zurab Kocherasvili, was a real revelation - not only was he an amazing culinary creator but he also had an interesting story about his journey to Greece from his native Georgia (the country, not the state!). Listening to Zurab's story, I realized that there is still a Greek dream, no matter how challenging the economic and business situation is these days. I asked him if we could share that story on our blog, as part of Global Greek Gastronomy series. We've often profiled Greek chefs abroad and those who've made their mark on Greece's contemporary culinary scene, but Zurab is the first chef from an immigrant background.
I hope you find his story as inspiring as I did. You'll definitely love his lobster kritharoto, a risotto-like orzo dish flavored with Chios' famous tangerine marmalade. It was fantastic and a big hit at our dinner party, and I thought it would make a wonderful holiday dish, especially on New Year's Eve.
Maria: Zurab, can you tell me a little bit about your journey from Georgia to becoming a chef on Chios, of all places?!
Zurab: I was born in Georgia in the city of Kutaisi, where I lived until I was 15 years old. I moved to Chios where I studied culinary art. I have been a chef for the last ten years here and work for the Fegoudaki group at the Golden Sand Hotel.
M: Many of us amateur & professional chefs were inspired by our mothers or grandmothers - what about you?
Z: I believe there is a germ from my grandmother who was a very good cook, and since I was little, I liked creative work, so that's how I decided to become a chef. But I can't say that my origin has influenced my way of thinking when I cook because I think that the spices that exist in Georgia are influenced by the East and are very strong - I usually avoid them so I don't cover the flavors of the raw materials I use in my cooking.
M: Having said that, though, are there foods from your childhood that have stayed in your mind?
Z: There are many foods that I remember from my childhood and they have remained indelible in my mind. One of them is fried potatoes (fresh, whole) with nerabula plum sauce. I always make sure that my ingredients are fresh and of excellent quality because I believe that the key to success is in the raw materials. For me, the right seasonality for each ingredient also plays an important role.
M: Any last things you'd like to share about your work?
Z: I have only two things to say about my work: excellent raw materials and hard work are enough to achieve everything!!!
1 pack Agrozimi orzo (can be made with either the eggs & milk or spelt versions)
2 lbs lobster
6 cups vegetable broth
1 white onion
1 clove of garlic
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes
2-3 tbsp Citrus Chian Tangerine Marmalade
1 pinch of saffron (I use Krokos Kozanis)
2-3 spoons of fresh butter to finish
salt & pepper
Mix the cherry tomatoes with 2-3 tbs of olive oil, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Place in a non-stick pan or parchment paper-lined baking dish and bake at 320 degrees for 30 minutes.
Fill a pot with water, a generous splash of vinegar, sea salt and a couple bay leaves. Boil the lobster for about 10 minutes. Submerge the cooked lobster into a large bowl of ice water and as soon as it cools off, shell and remove the meat and set aside.
Chop and sauté the onion in olive oil over medium heat. Add the orzo and garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the Kozani saffron and sauté for another minute. Add 3/4 of the roasted cherry tomatoes and stir well. Add the vegetable broth cup by cup, stirring well until each cup is absorbed, and remove from the burner when the orzo is cooked al dente (about 10-12 minutes, be careful not to overcook!). Stir in the tangerine jam, butter, fresh pepper.
Serve by placing the orzo on a plate and topping with the lobster and the rest of the roasted cherry tomatoes. Finish with a little mastic-flavored salt or fleur de sel and garnish with fresh aromatic herbs or flowers. Enjoy!
Extra tip: You can substitute the lobster with shrimp or crabmeat or any other seafood of your choice.
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