Meet A Chef: Spyridon Vrakas of Elyros
Spyridon Vrakas, a head chef at Camberwell’s only Cretan restaurant, Elyros, talks about his career in the food industry and how he carved a niche working with Greek cuisine.
How long have you been a chef for?
I started in the industry in 1997. I began with an apprenticeship in the UK before working for a range of restaurants in Greece. I was born in Athens so spent about three years of my career working there at a fine dining restaurant making modern
How did you decide to become a chef?
I used to cook at home a lot and when I was in sixth grade I decided I would become a chef at some point. My parents were supportive and so I made the decision when I was very young. I also grew up in a house where my mother cooked a lot. I remember watching her and seeing the love she had for food. She was my muse.
What have been some of your career highlights?
I’ve worked with George Calombaris both in Greece at his restaurant The Belvedere Club and in Melbourne at The Press Club and Hellenic Republic.
You work at Elyros, Camberwell’s only Cretan restaurant. How would you describe Cretan food?
It is fresh and wholesome food. There is a lot of dairy, such as cheese, in Cretan dishes. This is balanced with fresh vegetables and fruits. And there’s a focus on using local, sustainable produce. For example, our meats are free range and grass fed. There’s also lots of olive oil and honey.
Are there any differences in Cretan food, compared to food from mainland Greece?
The biggest difference is in the dairy products because there are no cows on the island of Crete. So the people there rely on free range, roaming goat and sheep. All of the restaurant’s cheeses, milks and yoghurts are from sheep or goats.
Is there anything unique to Crete that you use in dishes at Elyros?
There are some plants and herbs that only grow in Crete. We use dictamos, a Cretan aromatic mountain herb, in some of our dishes. It works well with our pork belly.
Do you use much wine when cooking Cretan food?
Not really. But we do offer a spatchcock krasato (cooked in wine) on the Elyros menu. One interesting technique we have is where we use spirits in some of our dishes – we cure salmon with some of the alcohol, salt, sugar and spices. Curing meats in this way has been really interesting because it has been a new technique that I’ve learned.
As head chef at Elyros, have you helped to create the menu or specific dishes?
Vasileios Kourtidis, the other head chef at Elyros who I work closely with, has the more creative role in the kitchen and comes up with a lot of the dishes. But we’ve actually worked closely with the restaurant owners to perfect the menu and even replicated some of their family recipes.
Which dish is a family recipe?
The Kalitsounia, Cretan cheese pies, is a recipe from the owner’s mother. We make them just as she makes them – we don’t mess with them, we have to keep them traditional.
Treat yourself to Cretean Cuisine
871 Burke Rd, Camberwell
Phone (03) 9882 8877