In many ways, Greek cuisine and French cuisine are like chalk and cheese. In Greece, expect char grilled meats, nose-wrinkling feta or fish so fresh you could have caught it yourself. In France, expect a rich bouillabaisse, crunchily sweet crème brûlée or elegantly plated garlic-buttery escargots. The uniqueness of French fine dining and rustic Greek cooking means a combination of the two is hard to come by.
Chef Asimakis Chaniotis is here to change that. Pied à Terre is a fine-dining French restaurant based in Fitzrovia, London W1. Founded in 1991, it remains one of London’s longest-standing Michelin-starred restaurants. Chaniotis came to London from his hometown in Athens in October 2011, where he started working with the renowned restaurateur and owner of Pied à Terre, David Moore. In 2012, Asimakis worked as Head Chef at the sister restaurant L’Autre Pied in Marylebone, before becoming Executive Chef at Pied à Terre in 2017.
We go back to the beginning, and Asimakis tells me that his culinary journey first began at his grandparent’s house in Kefalonia, Greece. “We very much had a Quaker mentality at home. We grew everything,” he explains from his flat in Highgate, North London. “Walnut trees to almond trees to apricot trees to fig trees. Growing up in this environment meant I always knew how to spot the best quality fruit and vegetables and how they should taste and smell. I can see from a mile-off if a tomato is great or not.” In the corner of Asimakis’s Zoom window, I can spot a little lemon tree. Athens or Highgate, clearly Asimakis has a horticultural soul that always has to be within a stone’s throw of fresh produce.
The Executive Chef tells me how he came about bringing Greek cuisine to a fine-dining restaurant like Pied à Terre. “I can’t take the memories from Greece out of my soul, and I am in love with French cuisine. I feel like connecting the two makes something unique,” he says, “Plus, you don’t see any other Greek Michelin-star chefs around.”
To create a fusion of the two cuisines, Asimakis tells me that he takes a classic French recipe, such as “steak tartare”, and adds a few Grecian ingredients, such as “seaweed crisp Taramasalata”. You can see this approach throughout Pied à Terre’s menu, which includes everything from: Isle of Mull Scallops with Yuzu to Celeriac and Winter Truffle. Asimakis’s personal favourite is Smoked Quail with Celeriac, Winter Truffles, Piedmont Hazelnuts, Olive Oil and Confit Egg Yolk.
The Greek Chef’s culinary style also revolves around the quality and provenance of his produce. When he is not slaving away over the stove, he spends his day as a hunter-gatherer, tagging along with the suppliers to forage for ingredients for Pied à Terre.
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Asimakis’ use of colour and pattern with his recipes is a testament to his diversity as a chef. His recipes are distinguished by their kaleidoscopic colour, plated so intricately, you can’t help but feel that they may be too perfect even to eat; a fork butchering such a masterpiece would feel like a culinary sin. However, Asimakis is quick to interject that his food – attractive though it is – is, always, “about taste, first and foremost”.
When Asimakis first arrived at Pied à Terre, he was astounded at the hot-headedness: “When I first arrived, the kitchen atmosphere was nuts! Everyone was shouting, almost having a heart attack getting ready for service.” Once he was made Head Chef, he introduced a swearing-ban to prevent temperaments from overboiling. “I don’t want people to swear at people, I don’t want an aggressive environment, just one as peaceful as possible.”
Asimakis tells me how lockdown has come as a rude awakening for many chefs, with many realising their ‘work-life’ balance was out of kilter. “Lockdown has made me realise I want a life,” he confesses. “A lot of chefs work 14-15 hours and sleep 3-4 hours a night. That’s what you get in a Michelin restaurant; you won’t see one that works a 9-5. This life is very pressurised; the work is non-stop.”
For his last ever supper he (admirably) starts with his drink of choice: “The one thing I cannot live without is a negroni. I can have it any time of day. Honestly, I can have a litre of it and not be drunk.” The heavyweight chef then chooses sea urchins for his starter. “I am a great fan of raw seafood. I would choose freshly opened sea urchins, drink them with the seawater inside and a little bit of lemon.” For his main course, he opts for “Les Escargots de Ma Mere au Vin Rouge et Tomate” – a dish of braised snails. “The way my mum makes it, with red wine and tomato sauce. It’s a very special dish for me.” (and one that regularly features on the menu at Pied à Terre). To round things off, Asimakis wants a mille-feuille for his pudding. “Whatever kind, strawberry, rhubarb or pear; I love it.”
For those of us who are unsure when we will next be able to enjoy a Croque monsieur near the Eiffel Tower or a Greek Salad in the shade of the Acropolis, there is a solution on your doorstep. Whether you prefer your plate smashed or finessed, Asimakis’ creativity with Grecian-French cuisine at Pied à Terre is an experience worth waiting for. Try one of his recipes below.
Pied à Terre is currently taking bookings from the 17th of May onwards. You can book a table here.
Millefeuille is one of my favourite desserts of all time. The crunch of the pastry with the smooth, rich filling – it’s pure decadence and lends itself well to any seasonal fruit. A strawberry millefeuille has always been on the menu at Pied à Terre in late spring and early summer, and with a little attention to detail, you can recreate it at home.
4 strawberries, sliced
4 strawberries, finely chopped
Small lemon verbena leaves, for garnishing
A packet of puff pastry
For the crème patisserie:
3 egg yolks
30g corn flour
½ vanilla pod, seeds scraped
5g diced cold butter
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.
Start with the pastry. Take half of it and roll it out to a thickness of 2mm, using icing sugar instead of flour, and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.
Place another layer of paper on top of the pastry and then something heavy like another baking tray. This will prevent it puffing up too much. Bake for 15-20 mins until it’s golden brown.
Remove from the oven and immediately cut 3 rectangles, 6cm wide by 12cm long. It must be hot when you cut the pastry, otherwise it will break and crumble.
Now make the crème patisserie. Add the milk and vanilla seeds into a pan and bring to the boil, then keep aside.
Whisk the eggs and sugar vigorously until pale and fluffy, and then add the corn flour and fold in with a spatula.
Slowly pour in hot milk whilst whisking and then put the mix back in the pan and cook on a very low heat till the mix is very thick, stirring every so often.
Remove from the heat and mix into the cold butter. Allow to cool on the side before putting the fridge, covered with clingfilm, for an hour to set.
When set, whip it for a minute and transfer to a piping bag.
To serve, place one piece of puff pastry on your serving plate and pipe 2 lines of crème patisserie along it before placing a layer of strawberry slices. Repeat the process in reverse.
For the ultimate presentation, place your chopped strawberries in a perfect circle around the dessert. Garnish the dish with a few tiny lemon verbena leaves.