RODDY DAMALIS takes a trip down memory lane with some of the dishes that launched his career
When I look back at my 40-year life (not career) in the restaurant industry, I am overwhelmed by a sense of enormity that I struggle to contain. When I close my eyes and allow my thoughts to flow as they will, it is the countless faces of the people I have encountered over the years that I see before me. The names might fade with the passing of time, but there are a myriad experiences that float into my thoughts. It might be a satisfied smile after a bite of dessert, a one liner from a guest that decades later we might still use as an inside joke, a drunken party after a crazy night of service, an obnoxious customer, a colleague that needed reassurance, the man that gave me my first job as a bus boy, a stolen kiss behind the kitchen door… Some of these faces and memories remain a fleeting memory, however woven into all these memories are the people that have played an integral part in my life. Many of these individuals will never know the impact that they have had.
One of them is a gentleman called Victor Strugo, one of South Africa’s top food journalists and critics. After opening my second restaurant in an area that was completely foreign to me, where we would have two or three passing guests per night, when leaving one of those guests asked me whether he could write a ‘small’ article on his dining experience. I gingerly said yes, not knowing who he was. A few days later, on a Saturday afternoon when I got to work, the strangest thing happened, the phone was literally ringing off the hook!
Eventually I asked a lady how she had found the number and heard about the restaurant. Her answer was ‘Victor Strugo’s article in the Saturday Star Newspaper!’ I of course wanted to ask, ‘Who is he??’ but I had to take the phone off the hook and get into the kitchen and start preparing for all these people that had literally fallen out the sky.
This wonderful man had single-handedly launched The Ouzeri with the stroke of his pen! He and his lovely wife Janine became regular guests and we became great friends, keeping in touch over the last 20 years that I have been in Cyprus.
But here is where the truly amazing part of this friendship has led; last night I hosted a quadruple 70th birthday and reunion for Victor and his friends who came from New Zealand, South Africa and the UK. I recreated my menu with all the favorites that he had written about with much nostalgia, love, respect, and gratitude. It was my privilege to be part of such a special, intimate affair and to meet more lovely people. Thank you, dear Victor.
I attach some of the recipes that featured.
Wholewheat Taramosalata with Red Caviar
Taramosalata is always better the next day, so make in advance.
Exact quantities are difficult to specify for a good tarama as many breads absorb different quantities of oil. So watch and taste as you go along and when it is light and has achieved a thick mayonnaise consistency, which is not too fishy, then it’s ready.
½ loaf dark wholewheat bread (preferably stale and broken into pieces)
1 small onion
1 cup lemon juice
1 basin of cold water
3 tablespoon tarama paste
¼ cup olive oil
¾ cup sunflower oil
Red caviar (for garnish)
Mix both oils together.
Place onion, tarama paste and a little oil in the food processor and purée until creamy.
Place bread into a basin of water. Soak, squeeze out excess water and place into food processor blending and repeating with remaining bread.
Slowly drizzle oil and lemon juice, alternating and blending it into a mayonnaise consistency (if your mixture separates or curdles, add iced water to it and it should be rectified).
Garnish with red caviar.
Goat with Trahana and Yoghurt
This is a great winter dish, that can also be served with grated halloumi.
2 kg goat (shoulder cut into cubes with excess fat trimmed)
Cracked black pepper (to taste, though should be quite peppery)
200g Trahana (sundried cracked wheat and yoghurt)
8 bay leaves
2 chicken stock cubes
500ml white wine
Mixture to be added to goat when cooked
2 cups yoghurt
2 teaspoons cornflour
For the sauce
Place the Trahana, water, bay leaves, chicken stock and wine into a pot and boil on medium heat for approximately 20 minutes or until the Trahana patties have loosened.
Coat goat with salt and pepper. Brown under pre-heated grill for 20 minutes at 240C.
Place the meat into a deep oven dish, pour sauce over, cover and bake at 200C for 2 hours (check if it needs more water after 1½ hours).
When the goat meat is ‘fall off the bone’ tender, remove from oven.
Mix the yoghurt, water and cornflour in a bowl. Combine and pour over the goat. Mix gently, making sure that the goat pieces do not break.
Light and Delicate Baklava
Syrup should be made well in advance. This version will give you all the taste and flavour of this classic pastry in a much lighter form.
6 sheets Phyllo pastry
400g almonds (cracked)
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
150g butter (gently melted)
For the syrup
1½ cups white sugar
1½ cups water
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
Combine all syrup ingredients in a saucepan and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes.
Set aside to cool.
On a clean work surface, place a sheet of phyllo pastry and butter liberally with a brush.
Repeat the process with another 2 sheets, then sprinkle half of the nut mixture evenly and ‘scrunch’ with both hands (it should look like curtain folds).
Start a second piece of baklava, following the same procedure as above.
Place both pieces of baklava next to each other onto a buttered baking sheet.
Sprinkle with water and bake in a pre-heated, fan-assisted oven for 45 minutes at 160C.
Cold syrup must be poured over baklava as soon as it comes out of the oven as hot syrup will give a soggy product.
Roddy Damalis is the author of two books, MY CY is a photographic journey through Cyprus, and MY LITTLE PLATES a guide to 100 adored recipes inspired by our beautiful island served over two decades at the beloved Ta Piatakia restaurant in Limassol. Roddy is a restaurateur, celebrity chef, food guru and consultant. He now operates My View, an exclusive private dining venue in his home. For more information and to purchase the books visit www.roddydamalis.com