ERASMIA BALASKA: “ANXIETY IS A CREATIVE IMPULSE THAT INSPIRES ME”

Blaska will present a dish inspired by his childhood, in which pure ingredients predominate, the authenticity of the cuisine and the tradition of the Hellenic places where he grew up. “I hope that when they taste my plate, they are transported to the place where my heart belongs, Mesolongi,” he says.

Greek cuisine is cooked all over the world. What is this kitchen based on?

The Greek philosopher and writer, Arquéstrato, said that chefs do not differ from poets. This is just an example that shows that Greek cuisine has a deep and fascinating history. Most people would answer your question by saying that Greek cuisine is based on Mediterranean flavors and that mousaka, souvlaki, and ouzo are amazing. And they really are. But for me, Greek cuisine is based on its beautiful landscapes, on the salty waters of the blue seas with fresh and naturally tasty fish , on the pure vegetables that can be found in almost every home in small towns across the country , in the smells and in the flavors of the beautiful Greek islands and in all the natural treasures that you can find in my country.

Could you tell us what the typical dishes are?

They are not one, two, or three. Typical dishes differ from one city to another and from one town to another, and each place has its own essence. For example, it can be cheesecake with dough and homemade cheese, which you can find in Ioannina, or a salad with biscuits, tomatoes, caps, olives, olive oil, and feta cheese, from the island of Crete and which we call ‘dakos.’ Or a whole pig cooked for hours with crispy skin and soft meat only with salt and dried oregano that can be found in Messinia. In Greece, we have many different flavors and a wide variety of traditional recipes that remain unchanged over the centuries.

Interior of Funky Gourmet Restaurant, Athens. Photo: Katerina Avgerinou

It is the first time you introduce yourself to S.Pellegrino Young Chef, nervous?

I am thrilled and very excited to compete in S.Pellegrino Young Chef for the first time. It is a crucial and recognized contest, which offers the opportunity to young chefs like me to show everyone their culinary personality. Every time I face a new experience, I am nervous. The good thing is that anxiety becomes an advantage for me and a creative impulse that inspires me.

What will your plate be like?

My dish ‘Lent’eels From My Lake’ is an inspiration from my childhood memories. All the ingredients that I am going to use are pure, homemade, and each one has a history behind and a cause of use in my recipe. Among them, the homemade bottarga, raw eggs that come from a fish called Bafa. He lives on Lake Messolonghi, a place in Greece famous worldwide for its bottarga, which is only 15 kilometers from my town, Ellinika. We proudly believe that bottarga is the caviar of Greece.

I also use lentils from the Egklouvi area, a small town on the island of Lefkada, where I used to go with my family on summer vacations. The eel is very traditional in my hometown, and we enjoy it in our daily routine and even at weddings. We eat them on skewers, and we cook them on the grill or smoked. Another product is local vegetables, hand-picked from the mountain in Ellinika, and home-grown pork, which comes directly from my family’s farms. All these elements will be cooked and processed in different ways and with different techniques.

I hope that when you taste my plate, you will be instantly transported to my favorite place on earth, the place to which my heart belongs, Mesolongi, and specifically to my people.

What do you intend to represent with your elaboration?

I come from a tiny town of a few hundred inhabitants, near Mesolongi, called Ellinika. I was born and lived there all my life until I was 18 when I decided to study gastronomy and moved to Athens. I take pride in my country and my region. I think it has a lot of unusual ingredients and they are unique in the world. Growing up in such a small town, I had the opportunity to experiment with the best raw material. My mother made the best homemade cheese and butter with our goat milk. My father provided us daily with eggs from our chickens and, from time to time, we enjoyed traditional recipes cooked with our own pigs. So this is me, and this is what I will represent in the contest. The luxury of pure ingredients, the authenticity of the cuisine, and the tradition of each place.

How will you try to surprise the demanding jury formed by Fina Puigdevall, Lucía Freitas or Henrique Sa Pessoa, Ettore Botrini or Orel Kimchi?

With my participation in S.Pellegrino Young Chef, my goal is not to surprise the jury, but to present my cooking philosophy and the way I interpret gastronomy through pure ingredients and unique traditional flavors.

And if you win, what will you do?

I still haven’t thought about it, but I’m sure that I’m going to celebrate it very much that night and celebrate it all night.

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