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Dimitris Mavrakis: cooking in DNA

Half-farmer and half-chef, he walks between roots and modernity of Cretan cuisine. Without compromise for products, often from one’s own garden

When you enter the small courtyard of the Kritamon restaurant in Arhanes, the tone is set. Hardly closed behind the small wooden door, there is a shaded courtyard where hangs to the branches of an olive, the thyme florets set to dry. On the small wall, well aligned, the gourd plant and squash take the weak February sun. Nature is omnipresent in the chef’s universe. It’s actually sitting on the little wall of the herb garden that the chef is waiting for us. A big smile, a little hand gesture and then a look at the little oregano bush that he was busy cleaning up before we arrived.

Native of Arhanes, where he lived all his childhood before going to work in the city, Dimitri Mavrakis keeps the memory of the walks in the mountains with his father, who taught him very young ‘Horta’, a mixture of Cretan plants essential to the island’s grandmothers’ cuisine. “I don’t believe in luck. Everything happens to us for a reason,” the chef said. If I decided to stay in Arhanes, it is for the nature, the traditions, the energy of my ancestors that this village gives. But also for the proximity of Mount Juchtas which is for me a true haven of peace. Only those who do yoga or relaxation can probably understand the energy it brings us . I often feel the need to go for a walk, as a lack. I feel much closer to the mountain than to the sea. For me it is a ιερο βουνο» NDLR (sacred mountain).

‘When I was a kid, I loved cuttlefish and the black color they gave the dish. I had to be one of the few children …”

And when it comes to his second passion, cooking, Dimitri is also inexhaustible. “In the family, we have Cretan cuisine in our DNA. As a child, I sat for hours listening to grandmothers sharing their recipes and hand-wrinkles over coffee.” His first culinary emotions, he still remembers. “My mother used to make ‘soupies’, little cuttlefish. Most of the children don’t like this dish, probably because of its blackish color, but I loved it.” The passion for cooking has been in the family for generations. My grandfather was a cook. Two uncles are chefs in the USA and a cousin also runs a restaurant in the village». It is therefore quite natural that Dimitri moves towards this profession of chef and enrols in the kitchen school of Rhodes. After two years of study, he perfected his apprenticeship as a chef intern on the island of Kos, Rhodes but also in Crete. After working for the hotel group Aldemar for seven years, he opens his restaurant. A choice is necessary: the village of Arhanes. As for the name, it comes quite naturally from the plants: Kritamon. Little wink to ancient Greece, which he likes. Kritamon is this Cretan green plant, a kind of seaweed that grows on the rocks. A plant that needs only a little sand. One of the few plants with the benefits of the land and the sea. It is for example very rich in omega 3. And it was known in the Ancient Greece for being an aphrodisiac plant» says Dimitri with a malicious wink. Of course, this emblematic plant of ancient Crete is on the menu of the restaurant that owes it its name. “We cook it raw, in salad. I also make Horta (boiled plants with oil olive and lemon) but also a Pickle. We can also serve it with the Fava, this Purée of yellow beans, on a Dakos,…”

Leitmotiv of the chef, linking modernity and cretan roots in every plate

I studied a lot of cuisines at school ,but my favorite, the one who makes the most of fish, snails and with vegetables, it’s the Cretan cuisine of my ancestors..

The menu features local products, traditions, but with a touch of modernity. I studied a lot of cuisines at school: French, Italian, Mediterranean, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, … But my favorite, the one who makes the most of fish, snails and with vegetables, it’s the Cretan cuisine of my ancestors. “And this cuisine is a health benefit. We must continue to promote the Cretan diet. throughout the world. My vision of cooking is tradition, but I want Cretan cuisine in the air of time: old recipes with a modern touch, my own vision of these recipes of the past passed on to us by our grandmothers”. And of course, the Cretan olive oil, real green gold of island cuisine. At Kritamon Restaurant, Chef Dimitri uses four types of Cretan olive oils. From a simple cold pressure to an extra virgin first cold pressure without forgetting a more aged olive oil, stronger taste. “This allows me to vary the aromas according to needs, from fresh oil, herbal, for a salad, a carpaccio, a more typical oil for a particular cooking».

Decoration simply mix modernity and cretan roots for a very cosy restaurant

If I had to take only one product with me on a deserted island, it would be olive oil.

It must be said that the chef has a real passion for olive oil. If I had to take only one product with me on a deserted island, it would be olive oil”. The chef also produces his own olive oil. He readily admits to having a foot in the kitchen and a foot in the garden. We produce our own olive oil, our fruits, our vegetables, our aromatic plants, our vinegar, …” “We’ll even pick wild plants from nearby mountains.” Once not so far away, his father even owned a vineyard and produced white, rosé and red wine “house wine”. Reading the restaurant wine list reveals this taste for wine. A fair selection of local grape varieties from the best houses. “I think that ten years ago, the Cretan wines began to be the best in Greece. It is a vineyard that counts. Our map is small. We can’t offer many, but we have careful to select a good panel of the know-how of our winegrowers and the potential of our indigenous grape varieties». A wine list that highlights the true and fair taste of terroir «revisited» by this chef passionate about his island. .s

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