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OMG Week hosts feast fit for the ancients

Chefs Maria Loi, Yiannis Baxevanis and Travis McAuley demonstrate why they are some of the most celebrated chefs in Greek cuisine

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24/11/16

Hump Day? What Hump Day? Wednesday, for anyone who attended Oh My Greek (OMG) Week’s Ancient Greek Feast last night, became their favourite day of the week.

Hosted on the grounds of the stunning Hellenic Museum, guests were welcomed with a glass of champagne or bottle of Fix beer and allowed to take in rare ancient artefacts on loan from Athens Benaki Museum. This was the ideal lead up to the impending ancient feast, put together by celebrated chefs Maria Loi, Yiannis Baxevanis and Travis McAuley.

The MPavilion was set up with long tables adorned with olive branches and lit candles, creating a relaxed atmosphere, while a traditional Greek band played tunes throughout the night. 

Host for the evening was Kyriakos Gold, who as always entertained guests with his wit and charisma. To kick the feast off, Loi, Baxevanis and McAuley each spoke about their culinary journeys and experiences cooking Greek food.

First off the bat were the mezethes, starting with Loi’s take on the traditional Greek salad - the Horiatiki Boukia. Fresh cucumber slices were served in bite size rings, containing soft fetta cheese, grated tomato and olive seasoned to perfection, with a yoghurt feta sauce to share.

The Global Ambassador of Greek Gastronomy, Loi is a household name in Greece as a popular TV chef and now too in the US. Passionate about nutrition, she has penned more than 36 cookbooks, including 'Ancient Dining', which made her an ideal contributor to the antiquity-inspired feast.

Guests were treated to a choice of wine by Mitravelas Estate, the crisp Mitravelas Lefkes 2015, which was my choice for the night, and the Mitravelas Red on Black 2015.

Keeping with the spirit of sharing, McAuley served up wood roasted chickpeas with smoked yoghurt - a personal favourite. The smoked yoghurt took what is a simple dish to the next level, leaving guests wanting more.

Next in line was seafood, each patron receiving a glass containing delicious pickled octopus, calamari, prawns and mussels, served with a gelatinous tomato tea and black taramosalata.

While the smoked eel tart had some on my table feeling squeamish, the flavour was subtle, pleasant and well-executed. Not surprising given McAuley’s experience as general manager of Hellenic Republic, having worked as George Calombaris’ sous chef since 2005. On the night he expressed his gratitude for being welcomed and embraced by some of the best Greek chefs, having travelled to Greece six times now, and revealed that it is their passion that he admires most.

The star dish of the night however, was Baxevanis’ perfectly cooked emperor snapper served on green leaves with a tangy avgolemono. Later in the night while being interviewed by Gold, the chef revealed that the greens, known in Greek as horta, are a Greek chef’s secret weapon and I’m inclined to agree, given his success both in Greece and abroad, soon to open a venue in Canberra.

“When I travel I always take a suitcase of horta with me,” he joked.

“As Greek chefs we need to stop importing flavours and instead export the flavours of our cuisine,” adding that aside from flavour, that there are many health benefits.

Baxevanis finished the night of savoury in true homage to the ancients, with a leg of beef cooked with orange and carob, served with mushroom puree and ‘smyrneika’ onions stuffed with liver and cinnamon, proving once again that he is the 'magician of aromatic herbs'.

The MPavilion was abuzz throughout the evening, everyone in high spirits having experienced some of the tastiest Greek food and wine on offer. Loi made sure those with a sweet tooth were satisfied with her baklava bites made with mastiha infused walnuts wrapped in crispy phyllo layers and drizzled with spiced honey finished off with an espresso ... Need I say more?

Tonight OMG week continues with a gala dinner taking place at the Peninsula, Docklands. Guests will have the chance to mingle with all participating special guest chefs and mixologists, while enjoying what is set to be a feast of epic proportions, along with an exclusive and intimate performance by Cypriot musician Michalis Hatzigiannis.

To view the OMG Week program and purchase tickets, visit omgweek.com.au/

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