OUR Artists and Researchers

Dominic Sylvia Lauren

Evolving Cuisine: Mazi and Suzi Tros are Paving a New Greek Gastronomic Identity in London

Essay on Contemporary Greek Cuisine in London, 2022

Dominic Sylvia Lauren (b. 1995, Utah, USA) is a Greek-American writer living in London, UK. She was raised in the desert landscape of Utah and moved to Greece at the age of 11 where she lived in Athens and spent long summers on the sleepy island of Andros. Dominic writes about food, arts and culture through art reviews, cultural critiques, interviews and in-depth features. She is interested in exploring the discourses that influence our relationship to taste and the people who shape the food landscape of today. Her work has been published in Super-Effective, EYESORE Magazine, HuffPost UK, Candid Magazine among others.

Dominic Sylvia Lauren examines how gastronomic identity can be expanded and repositioned and what that can mean for diasporic communities and native populations.

It takes creativity, ambition and an innovative spirit to modernise a cuisine; to take a recipe steeped in I grew up with, propelling me to follow the seasons and learn to recognise the ripeness of fruits, the tradition or a modest ingredient and turn it on its head. Greek cuisine is centred around simple recipes that showcase seasonal ingredients and fine local produce. Use whatever is readily available to you was a motto crispness of vegetables, the most favourable cuts of meats and what constitutes a fresh fish. Greeks have developed a deep connection to their cuisine and a strong appreciation for slow living and good food. Tireless farmers and small producers have kept the country’s agricultural legacy alive. Their dedication to cultivating the land has contributed to the expansive source of grains, dairy, meats, fish, spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits that grow from season to season in the favourable climate and fertile soil of this sunny nation.

Greek cuisine is not only indebted to its small producers, locavore mentality and fine produce but also to its vast culinary influences. Having undergone periods of rule and waves of immigration, each invasion and settlement has injected new flavours and cooking methods into the country’s regional cuisines. From the Venetians to the Ottomans, and from our exchanges with the Balkan and Jewish communities who settled in Northern towns to the most recent influx of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, Greek cuisine is an ever-evolving and expanding melting pot of taste. On the flipside to this, Greek immigration across the world has also had an impact on local cuisine and has been enriched by the cultures, trends and heritage of each place where Greek communities have settled and grown roots. Having lived in the UK for 8 years, I have found myself amongst the 300,000 Greeks who migrated to London to continue their studies or search for more promising job opportunities. And during my time here, I have stumbled upon and frequented the many souvlaki chains, small delis, market stalls, cafes, kebab shops, and tavernas that are peppered across London in search of home.

A metropolis like London also happens to attract experimental and cutting edge restaurants featuring some of the most ambitious and internationally-recognised chefs. How does the humble Greek cuisine stand out and separate itself amidst a sea of Michelin star restaurants, social dining experiences, bustling food markets, and unique cross-cultural collaborations? London has been a springboard for rising chefs and restaurateurs with the guts and zeal to open innovative businesses. Boozy hang-outs with sharing plates, contemporary pubs with kitchen residencies, crammed u-shaped bars with open kitchens, and new collaborative cooking models are constantly reshaping and remapping London’s vast and varied food scene. Amidst this crowd are Greek chefs and entrepreneurs who for the past decade have flocked to London to kickstart new ventures and shift the narrative around Greek cuisine. Opso, INO Gastrobar, Ergon, Catalyst, Mazi and Suzi Tros are only a handful of these movers and shakers who are evolving and propelling Greek cuisine forward. But how are they modernising it and what does the future hold for Greek cuisine? To answer these questions, I sat down with Christina Mouratoglou, Co-Founder and Owner of Mazi and Suzi Tros, to discuss the philosophies behind the two restaurants, the evolution and ‘modernisation’ of Greek cuisine, the influence of Northern Greece and Thessaloniki, and how a new wave of young chefs are shaking up the Greek food scene.

With many Greek restaurants seeming outdated and resistant to change, Christina and several others after her – set out to change the narrative around Greek cuisine by showing Londoners that Greek food can be creative, modern and high-end with a focus on quality ingredients and simple recipes. By breaking down the stereotypes associated with Greek cuisine, Mazi and Suzi Tros have set a new precedent for Greek restaurants in London and have paved a new Greek gastronomic identity in London. Situated in the heart of Notting Hill, Mazi and Suzi Tros are innovative Greek restaurants that tell stories of tradition and renewal. Opening its doors to the London public nearly 10 years ago, Mazi aimed to redefine what Greek cuisine is today by reinforcing the culinary tradition of sharing and by reinventing classic recipes through a modern lens. Mazi’s sister restaurant Suzi Tros came on to the London food scene two years ago and is a bistro and cocktail bar that focuses on Northern Greek recipes and the eateries of Thessaloniki. The restaurant’s name “Suzi Tros” is borrowed from an iconic scene from a 1960s film (translating to ‘Suzi, you’re eating’) and has become a catchphrase synonymous with people who enjoy life and good food.

Taking inspiration from nostalgic flavours, these two restaurants reinterpret traditional recipes by experimenting with cooking methods, ingredients, textures and presentation. In an effort to celebrate the culinary specialities of the entire country, Mazi’s menu showcases popular recipes stretching from the Peloponnese and Aegean Islands to Northern Greece. Small sharing plates make up its menu and range from the ever popular Spicy Tiropita and Pork Belly Gyro Tacos to signature dishes such as Grilled Octopus with Fava Puree and Black Truffle Chicken with Hünkar Beğendi. The most notable dish from Mazi’s menu is their Spiced Lamb Rump served with a miso aubergine Imam Bayildi. Translating to “the Imam fainted,” Imam Bayildi is a classic 17th century Ottoman dish that has made its way into Greek cuisine as Greek refugees brought the recipe with them when they fled Turkey after the Asia Minor Expedition and Catastrophe in 1922. In the Greek variation, onion, garlic and tomato are stuffed into halved aubergines, sometimes topped with cheese and roasted until the bitterness of the aubergine has melded with the sweetness of the onions and tomatoes. This dish can be found in almost every home table across the country, and the chefs at Mazi have pushed the boundaries of this home cooked recipe by fusing it with miso, a seasoning made of fermented soybeans that is commonly glazed over aubergine in a classic Japanese dish called Nasu Dengaku. Just as Greek refugees evolved Imam Bayildi and incorporated new elements into this classic dish, Mazi blends Greek and Japanese culinary worlds to create a hybrid dish with new flavour profiles.

After 10 years of operation, Mazi has established itself as one of the most influential Greek restaurants in London. With Mazi moulding this new Greek gastronomic identity, Suzi Tros has catapulted itself off its back and brought us an evolved Greek cuisine with international influences. Showcasing new Greek talent, with John Skotidas as Executive Chef, Suzi Tros delicately blends local and international flavours across its menu. Like Skotidas, who was raised in both Panama and Athens and grew up with South American flavours, more chefs of this generation are drawing from their travels, research and increased exposure to other cuisines, to create bold new combinations that expand culinary possibilities. This new wave of Greek chefs “have taken everything they have learned from their time abroad and blended it with their heritage and memories to create a new cuisine,” Christina remarks. Modelled after the small eateries that sprawl across cities in Greece like Athens and Thessaloniki, Suzi Tros is a celebration of cross-cultural exchange and looks to the future of Greek cuisine as its innovative dishes create a bridge between regional and international influences. Sweet, spicy, creamy, and fresh elements can be found in the various Raw, Fish Market, Butcher and Garden sections of the restaurant’s menu. Classic Greek spreads and starters like tarama, Halkidiki olives and roasted red peppers feature on the menu alongside South American and East Asian ingredients, while the Raw section offers a selection of UK-sourced seafood, including Morecambe Bay oysters and Scottish langoustines. Other standout dishes include a grilled calamari that swims in a jalapeño and yuzu broth, an Athenian salad adorned with red snapper and kaffir lime oil, tuna tartare served with lagana bread toast, and Grandmama’s meatballs that lay neatly on a bed of tzatziki and pickled cucumber.

The Asia Minor roots of Christina’s family along with her upbringing in Thessaloniki and growing up with Northern Greek flavours have also influenced the restaurant’s menus. With one side of her family being from Constantinople and the other from Cappadocia, Christina’s childhood and the food her family ate when she was growing up were shaped by the rich culinary history of these regions. “Northern Greece, and especially Thessaloniki, has historically been a melting pot of Greeks, Ottomans, Jewish people and Armenians, and the local cuisine has been impacted by all of these cultures,” Christina remarks. She grew up with certain dishes that she thought were Greek only to realise many years later that they are actually Armenian or Turkish. “That’s how Suzi Tros came to be,” she says. “We have taken inspiration from these small eateries in Thessaloniki and this idea of blending flavours and ingredients.” This same philosophy of blending flavours and fusing cuisines is highlighted in Mazi’s and Suzi Tros’s approach and is a phenomenon in restaurants across London today.

Whether it’s through documenting the country’s rich and dense culinary history, replating a popular dish, or exploring the hidden potentials of a single ingredient, modernising a cuisine circles around two core ideas: marrying the past with the present and creating something new by borrowing, exchanging and melding cuisines. The inventiveness and inquisitive nature of the creative young chefs who steer these kitchens are a testament to the evolution of this modest cuisine and are turning tides across the global culinary landscape. Now more than ever, and despite the challenges that the pandemic has posed, we are witnessing a surge in alternative cooking models, pop-ups, chef’s tables, supper clubs and food services that are transforming the hospitality industry and broadening its horizons. These ventures along with the brave risk-takers who dare to be different are creating solid ground for new ideas to take shape in London. And while Greece is a small country, it has a long culinary history, enriched by the cultural influences, traditions and communities that have passed through, shaping a style of cooking that echoes far beyond its borders. After speaking with Christina, I recognised the defining traits of this humble cuisine and am eager to see how the innovators of today become the chefs of tomorrow to continue to broaden its gastronomic identity.