Theodore Kyriakou, founder of Livebait, the Real Greek and the Greek Larder, has made it his life’s mission to bring the rich, culinary delights from the eastern Mediterranean basin to the UK. Inspired by his hometown and his mother’s cooking, Kyriakou speaks with Celebrity Angels about everything from experimenting with Greek food to where to begin with quality Greek wine.
Q. How did you start out as a chef? Tell us about your journey in the food business.
Theodore Kyriakou: After leaving the Greek merchant navy in 1987, a friend who was a head chef at a French restaurant in London asked me to help him as a kitchen porter, which introduced me into the unexpected and adrenaline-fuelled restaurant world. I loved it and never left. After this, with no formal culinary training, I moved to My Kinda Town London restaurants as a chef de partie, then onto Break for the Border as a sous chef; Classic Dinners of America as a head chef; St Johns Restaurant as a chef de partie; Stepping Stone as a sous chef and head chef; Livebait as a head chef patron; The Real Greek as a head chef patron; More London as a head chef patron, then finally The Greek Larder as a head chef patron and founder.
Q. What ingredients are necessary to cook a quintessential Greek meal?
TK: Lamb, kid, chickpeas, fresh herbs, aubergines, sea urchins, natural Greek cracked olives, grape molasses, filo pastry, feta cheese and strained yoghurt.
Q. What is the one thing you wish people knew about Greek cuisine?
TK: I have three things: how to see beyond the usual taverna fare, the correct spelling for taramosalata (and not taramasalata!) and hummus is not Greek.
Q. What is the main source of influence and inspiration for the dishes you cook?
TK: Naturally my home and all the dishes my parents were executing for either family gatherings or when socialising with friends.
Q. What are some dishes and ingredients that you miss from Greece that just don’t taste the same in the UK?
TK: Tomatoes, sea urchins, parsley, okra, lamb and kid meat.
Q. What advice can you give to people who would like to start cooking and experimenting with Greek cuisine? Where can they start off?
TK: Visit Greece during the spring months where dishes are simple and the emphasis is on the ingredients. Follow Greek blogs and visit a good Greek grocer.
Q. How have attitudes towards Greek cuisine changed since you started out in the UK?
TK: Things have changed so drastically since my first days in London, in the mid-80s and now. At that time, you couldn’t even find a decent olive oil and taramosalata was only pink! Now—and especially in London—you get spoiled and often you find better quality Greek products here.
Q. What are some common myths, misconceptions and stereotypes about Greek food that you would like to abolish?
TK: That Greek and Cypriot cuisine is the same, taramosalata is not pink, moussaka and Greek salad is eaten throughout the year and that halloumi cheese is Greek.
Q. What are some Greek food trends that you wish would pick up momentum here in the UK?
TK: Eating whole fish over filleted fish, wider use of vegetables and herbs, more kid and goat meat instead of lamb and more use of dairy products made with ewe’s and goat’s milk.
Q. What are five ingredients you always have in your kitchen at home?
TK: They would be olive oil, caper leaves, grape molasses, sheep’s milk, strained yoghurt and chickpeas.
Q. You’re passionate about bringing Greek wines to the UK. What are the key things to know about Greek wine?
TK: There are lots of indigenous vine grapes, not all Greek wines taste better with age, beautiful wine is made on the islands, Assyrtiko is not the only star and Acacia barrels are sometimes used instead of oak.
Q. In your opinion, why has Greek wine not broken into the mainstream consumer market like wine from Italy and France?
TK: The frustrating realisation that Greek wines were virtually non-existent in the mainstream London market was probably part of the reason. Luckily, this is not the case anymore. If you want to identify a high-end wine drinker outside Greece, look for the person drinking a bottle of Assyrtiko!
Q. What makes Greek wine unique?
TK: Greece has so many of its own distinctive indigenous vine grapes—more than many of our eastern Mediterranean neighbours—and our producers have continued to raise the bar of expectations from these almost forgotten varieties found across all of Greece’s intriguing and picturesque landscape. Tasting Greek wines is like a never-ending story. Just when you think you understand it all, you taste a wine that comes from nowhere and knocks you off your feet.
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