Chef George Papanikolaou talks culinary techniques, offers Greek cooking class

Published in encore magazine on June 19, 2018

Authentic Greek cuisine means taking no shortcuts in the recipe-building process, and fresh spices and herbs grown in the side lawn at Mayfaire’s Symposium Restaurant and Bar. “If you are going to do something, you must do it right because the opportunity may not pass by again,” owner and chef George Papanikolaou says. His daughter, Nina Papanikolaou, translates Greek to English during my visit last week. However, it is only one obstacle he has had to overcome since he arrived in America in 1997.

In February Papanikolaou expanded his culinary empire by opening Symposium—the name based on an ancient Greek term that means “to gather together” or “to drink together.” While Papanikolaou uses all locally sourced meats and products (aside from a spice or two), he still maintains the integrity of his family recipes. For example, some dishes require Kasseri cheese, a pale-yellow unpasteurized cheese made from sheep’s milk that has a tart, earthy flavor. Some chefs may use feta or Parmesan in its place, but such modifications are what Papanikolaou avoids.

Diners will find on the menu branzino—a whole baked fish, served with dandelion greens and sautéed vegetables—and kokkinisto, which is whole domestic lamb shank, slow-cooked in a tomato sauce with herbs, and served with pappardelle pasta and Parmesan cheese. Papanikolaou’s recipes are six generations old.  “In Greece, some grandmothers and mothers tell little boys stories, but when I was a boy, mine told me recipes,” Papanikolaou tells. The same way a Greek chef could not fully master Chinese food, others cannot master Papanikolaou’s specific methods.