Magic happens when people share. It doesn’t matter how big or small, popular or lesser-known, established or beginner, what matters is bringing to the table that special something that each of us holds dear to our heart.
That’s exactly what happened last week on the tiny Greek island of Donoussa, where Italian pizza expert Lello (Ravagnan) and his dedicated team met with Dimos and Giorgos Doumouras for the “Avli Meets Grigoris” event aiming to showcase Cyclades cuisine and products on what else? Italian pizza. But the show didn’t stop there, island cheeses, cured meats, vegetables and fish featured on everything from sourdough bread to ciabatta made exclusively from stone-ground flour.
For two days ahead of the event held last Wednesday, the team from Grigoris, an artisan pizzeria in Mestre, outside Venice, led by Lello and Spiros Dimopoulos tried and tested every single dish before the big day.
Together, brothers Giorgos and Dimos, owners of the Avli overlooking Donoussa harbour, picked veggies from their own vegetable garden, tested a number of Cyclades-inspired dishes and products, checked the wine and beer list – all Greek – and took care of every last detail.
“Besides the quality of the flour, it’s very important to ‘listen’ to the dough,” Spiros tells GTP Headlines, stressing that much like human nature dough too changes.
Part Italian, part German, part Greek, Spiros, a dough consultant who is also responsible for the pizza department at the 5-star Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel on the Athenian Riviera, has spent much of his life making bread and related products. Forced to sell his own shop in Piraeus because of the crisis, Spiros went to Italy, where he spent time learning more about bread beside Lello.
“The idea is to preserve resources, use seasonal products and learn to enjoy not the food alone but also the process of making it,” explains Lello, who is a supporter of the slow food concept, founded in 1986 by Italian Carlo Petrini aiming to preserve traditional and regional cuisine while encouraging the farming of indigenous plants, seeds, and livestock adapted to the local ecosystem.
Lello had been holidaying in Donoussa ever since he can remember. He’s seen it grow from a remote island with one ferry a week to an up-and-coming destination offering the finest cuisine and great beaches.
“It could be anywhere else,” he says. “I practically grew up here.” ‘Avli Meets Grigoris’ is his brainchild. “We wanted to introduce the concept of slow food which involves patience and loving preparation as well as respect to the land and its products and at the same time bring together tastes and exchange ideas,” he says. To do so, he chose Avli Donoussa, a restaurant which was opened two years ago by the Doumouras brothers.
Good Side of the Greek Crisis
Giorgos and Dimos grew up in Athens but spent all their summers on the island.
“I clearly remember the tastes,” says Dimos. “I loved food and began finishing off the cooking my mother had started when she’d leave for chores. I loved it.”
Dimos is the man in charge of the kitchen and the menu. The taverna opened in 2017 with a few main dishes and has since evolved into one of the finest fish and seafood restaurants on the island. Always restless, Dimos loves to try out new things. “We use our traditional cuisine as the foundation. The Cyclades have such excellent products and such great variety, it would be a shame,” he says.
The all-Greek menu of Avli includes cheeses from Patmos, Naxos, Sifnos, Syros, and Ios, fava beans from Schinoussa, olives from Thassos, caper leaves from Syros, potatoes from Naxos, cured louza from Tinos, sun-dried tomatoes from Santorini, fennel and sea salt from Donoussa, and extra virgin olive oil from Crete.
“And these are just some of the products Greece produces,” explains Dimos, adding that his hope is to establish the event, hold it annually and introduce Cyclades cuisine through the promotion of locally made products to tourists and locals.
‘Travelers are Open to Learning’
“Our guests are eager to learn. The ‘Avli Meets Grigoris’ event proved this. Visitors to Donoussa are open to new things, new tastes, new products but someone has to show them the way,” Dimos tells GTP Headlines.
On his part, the other Doumouras brother, Giorgos, who has worked in New York, later at Athens popular six d.o.g.s bar, and for several years in a liquor shop, lost his job and decided to make Donoussa his permanent home.
“After setting up Avli with my brother and seeing Donoussa grow as a tourist destination, I saw that visitors rarely knew about Greek wines; about the fact that Greece actually produces fine wines. I decided then based on my experience in the industry to reach out to small producers and create an all-Greek wine list,” Giorgos tells GTP Headlines.
And indeed, the wine list at Avli is impressively Greek, including not only wines from Kefalonia, Santorini, Limnos, Lesvos, Samos, Patmos and Serifos as well as from the mainland Nemea, Monemvasia, Spata-Markopoulo, Achaia and Atalanti – but also Greek beers made on Folegandros, Paros and Chios, among others – not to mention soft drinks from the island of Ikaria.
“I love what I do and I want to pass that feeling on to our customers. When they come to eat, I ask them what kind of wine they usually drink, what dishes they’ve ordered, and then I suggest something that will provide balance, show up the food, and at the same time, offer value for money,” explains Giorgos.
“Visitors are open to learning about Greek wines. Many are surprised by the wide choice and taste. Some of our guests are very knowledgeable when it comes to ordering. And we’ve often been praised for our list which includes a wide range of prices and varieties,” says Giorgos.
“Our job is to make sure customers, visitors to our island enjoy themselves – for us that’s the top priority,” says Giorgos, greeting one of the many return visitors to Donoussa who just came in on the ferry.
In the meantime, his brother Dimos is going from one table to another making sure his guests are happy and satisfied.
The highlight of last week’s event was none other than Margarita-style pizza made from stone-milled flour topped with Naxos cheese, cherry tomatoes and basil from Donoussa. “Eccellente”, as they say in Italy, “exeretiko” as we say in Greece.
“Avli” in Greek means courtyard, it is where traditionally on the Greek islands guests would be welcomed and served. Exactly what Dimos and Giorgos do with the support of a devoted team and their mother on Donoussa island in the Cyclades, Greece.