Greek-American chef, Michael Psilakis has cooked for President Obama and now he is coming to Melbourne to show us how it is done.
In his first ever Melbourne appearance the award winning chef will reveal his revolutionary techniques and flavours at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
In addition to his Masterclass sessions on Saturday, March 20 and Sunday, March 21, Psilakis will join forces with George Calombaris on Monday, March 22 to present a contemporary Hellenic feast at The Press Club.
His adventurous blend of modern American influences with traditional Greek family cooking sees him prepare dishes such as a duck gyro, spicy Greek paella, poached monkfish with truffle trahana and baklava mousse.
“The thing I came into the city to do was to expose people to Greek food and show them that Greek food could really be viewed at the haute level like the Italians and Spanish and French,” said Psilakis.
“I certainly rely on certain elements of taste and flavour profiles that define Greek cuisine; however, I have allowed myself – as have the French, Spaniards and Italians before me – the freedom to remove myself from the conformity of previously defined parameters.
“By doing so, I have developed a different way of perceiving Greek food.
This is very exciting because it allows for exploration and synthesis of multicultural methods and techniques to generate foods under the Greek culinary umbrella that have never before existed.”
With three successful restaurants currently under his belt, it is hard to imagine that the now, 41-year-old Psilakis fell into the culinary industry almost by accident.
Following his studies in accounting and finance, he found work as a waiter for T.G.I Fridays, then later bought out an Italian restaurant on Long Island called Ecco.
“One night, my chef did not show up for service….so I did what any insane person would do,” said Psilakis.
“ I put on a chef coat and an apron and stepped behind the stoves myself, doing what I had to do to get through that one crazy night. I have never looked back from the kitchen since then.”
Psilakis went on to open his first haute-Greek establishment Onera, before partnering with Donatella Arpaia to open restaurants, Dona, Mia Dona, Kefi, and Anthos-a sleek dining space renowned for its artfully authentic yet elegant Greek dishes.
Although last week announcing his departure from Anthos, Psilakis will continue with Kefi and recent establishments, Eos, and his gastro-pub, Gus&Gabriel.
The self-taught chef attributes his primary culinary influences to that of his family.
“My food really does reflect the idea of first generation: the American-born children of immigrant parents who have a tremendous amount of pride in the old country and passionately shared that with their children,” he said.
“The duality has allowed me to take ingredients that we know in the U.S and play with them in ways that allow me to incorporate the ideas of Greek food that my mother had presented to us over the years in family dinners and turn into something new.”
The American gastro-pub inspired cuisine at his recent venture, Gus&Gabriel may steer itself further away from the Greek culinary roots but it to is inspired by the people close to his heart.
Gus&Gabriel was opened in 2009 to honour the most influence men in his life, Gus, Psilakis’ late father, and Gabriel, his four-year-old son.
Following the release of his book, How to Roast a Lamb, Psilakis is now gearing up to open a restaurant in Greece.
“It would be the pinnacle for me because it’s difficult with Greek food here,” he explained.
“I spent a lot of time trying to educate people about what Greek food is. When you take Greek food and revisit it and evolve it and intellectualise it and then serve it to people who don’t understand the foundation of where your inspiration is from, you kind of lose that cerebral aspect of the food. And that’s something that defines art; you need that in order to be able to call it art. “
Psilakis has won him a bagful of awards, including best new Chef from Food&Wine Magazine 2008 as well as Chef of the Year by Esquire Magazine, and his former upscale Greek restaurant, Anthos, is one of a handful of Greek restaurants in the world to be awarded a Michelin star.