A highly reputed Greek Chef, Constantin Erinkoglou holds the title of the Ambassador of Greek cuisine in Brussels. Despite his numerous accolades, acclaims, and skills — Chef Erinkoglou boasts humble beginnings having started his culinary journey is his grandmothers’ kitchens in Greece.
Constantin Erinkoglou prides himself for serving the most authentic Greek food prepared using quality Greek ingredients in Brussels at his highly acclaimed restaurant Notos.
He recently sat down with Fly Me to the Moon for this Gastronomical Tales interview to tell us about how he started his culinary journey, his childhood growing up in Greece and the Greek culinary scene of Brussels.
You are an Ambassador of Greek cuisine in Brussels. What inspired you to start this culinary journey?
It is the nutritional and dietary balance (with lots of fruits, vegetables and beans, fish and a smaller consumption of meat) of Greek cuisine that made me want to share it, to introduce its tastes in Brussels.
However my real journey began with the monks of Mount Athos in 1993 when I discovered their extraordinary, full of energy products such as olive oil, magnificent olives, honey and wine. Also their simple methods of cooking based on vegetables/beans and a little consumption of fish on specific dates.
Tell us a little bit about your childhood, growing up in Greece and how you began your career as a chef?
During my childhood I lived in the countryside and I had the opportunity to grow up between the sea and the mountains, to live and to experience the beauty of nature gradually unfolding into different seasons. It was a fascinating experience to watch the villagers cultivate their land. I was also extremely privileged to grow up around two amazing grandmothers for whom cooking was a real ritual, which I could slightly absorb.
How did you come up with the name Notos?
There is no better name than Notos, which translates as the wind of the south. It is this southern wind that inspires me, it renews and connects our Mediterranean countries.
How is Greek cuisine perceived on the Brussels’ culinary scene? Do people know more about it other than the famous Moussaka and Greek salad? (Although you have only recently introduced Moussaka to your menu)
The truth is I never introduced Moussaka into my menu, although it is a tasty dish that I appreciate when it is prepared according to the rules of art — the proof is that we did chose to celebrate the 20 years of Notos by serving exceptional Moussaka. Its simplicity, the friendliness of this dish was a symbol.
Since the opening of Notos in Brussels (22 years ago), the guests had the opportunity to taste many dishes which they did not know existed in the Greek cuisine. A cuisine free from any trace of being labeled as tourist, an imprint of the rich Greek flavours with Mediterranean, Oriental and Balkan influences. Greek in its most original form, as it appears on the map of NOTOS. A menu that combines simplicity and culinary originality with revised Greek dishes.
Following the rhythm — and respecting the seasons, our preparations rhyme with truth and creativity, combined with a distinct way of blending the aromas, the herbs and the spices — resulting in a subtle marriage of all the ingredients. Beautiful products, sometimes forgotten or unknown — such as the Greek egg pasta called hylopites — always freshly made, with a strong inclination towards organic, a transparent cuisine, finely refined, light sauces, nuanced flavors … at Notos, refinement is born from simplicity.
Stews, seasonal vegetables, meat and fish of the highest quality, starchy foods all provide the best of their flavors, which is a result of the abundant time granted to the preparation of a home-cooked meal, like in a den of family kitchens. It takes time to achieve the unique result, the perfect alchemy between flavors and taste that makes a good dish, a deliciously good dish.
Your goal is to promote the authentic, refined Greek culinary experience. Tell us how you find the perfect balance of blending creativeness with the traditional Greek recipes?
The right balance between creativity and traditional cuisine cannot be described, it is a quest which then results in tasting the dish.
Define your perfect Greek meal experience. What should a table spread include when someone comes to experience an authentic Greek meal at Notos?
Again, the answer to this question can only be subjective. First, let’s cultivate a little bit of humility: in this world there is no such thing as perfect, having said that, the visitor of Notos will find himself in a sober and tasteful environment where he will enjoy dishes of multiple flavors.
You serve a complete Greek wine list at Notos. The Greek wines have come along way and can easily compete with the renowned international producers. Do you agree? Could you name a few of your favourite Greek wine producers?
The Greek producers whose wines are included on my lists are all my favorite, selected based on the quality of their work, their commitment to defend and promote the Greek vineyards through their remarkable wines. Therefore I cannot compare one to another.
Greece is a beautiful country with many wonderful destinations. Which one is the closest to your heart?
The whole country is a real destination in itself. But I am satisfied with sharing a simple anecdote which I have recently encountered. I had to go to Athens from Thessaloniki which is in the north of Greece.
I completed this trip with a car, it had been a long time since I’ve last taken such a trip and so it finally happened and … what a joy! From one surprise to another, I discovered this multifaceted nature, stopping along the way, visiting villages and towns and rediscovering good products, local cuisine and especially the gentleness and kindness of people. So while driving, I came to this conclusion that from now on whenever I will have the opportunity to talk about Greece, I will say to anyone who wants to hear my advice: as soon as you arrive in Greece, rent a car and lose yourself in the country no matter which direction you are going to take.
As you can see Constantin Erinkoglou has a great passion for his roots and for promoting the authentic Greek cuisine internationally. If you do find yourselves in Brussels, make sure to visit his renowned restaurant Notos.
You can check his website at www.notos.be
All images copyright: Eric Danhier