The celebrated chef will be working at Santorini’s Cavo Tagoo for the next few months, and he’s exploring the island’s unique energy by lighting a fire in a custom made three-metre-wide fireplace, creating a menu that consists of both meat and fish dishes.
The view of the Caldera from Imerovigli is so commanding that you get the desire to stay here and forever try to understand it. Right across from you, the volcano, a constant reminder of a boiling ground, and above you the sun, unsparing and scorching hot from early in the morning until late in the afternoon. It’s still June and Aris Vezenes is still learning the ropes in the new place, where he arrived a few weeks ago with his brand new project inside Santorini’s Cavo Tagoo, named “Vezené Santorini”. What else?
The established chef, who this year is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Athenian “Vezené”, travelled to Santorini in order to implement an idea he has been pondering over for years: mixed cooking over an impressive custom made three-metre-wide open fire chargrill where prawns, crawfish, matured côte de boeuf and onglets, lobsters, John Dories, red mullets, ribs, goat and lamb picanha all seasoned with the beloved and familiar to the Greeks hot coal flavour. It’s a versatile construction (he designed it with a friend in London, as he told us) with multiple grill places at different heights so that fish, meat, and vegetables are grilled with accuracy.
“Santorini is a lot more than just the sunset at Oia,” Vezenes said during a short meeting we had just before he welcomed the first visitors of the day from the impressive Cavo Tagoo. “I keep discovering elements of the island that I hadn’t considered, and I find that they suit me very much; that I’ve got things to say here. The volcano, the rocks, the sun, the fire and of course the wine terroir, are all elements relevant to me. And I think we are at the best spot on the island. You have the Caldera here, right in front of you all the time. This place has amazing energy and this particular spot even more so,” he adds.
And we can’t but agree with the release that mentions that in the new restaurant, “Vezené Santorini”, the fine comfort version of the Greek open fire grill is offered at a space that resembles a cruise ship. From one side you see the sea from very high up “without necessarily wanting to dive in,” as Vezenes says, and at the other you can enjoy the relaxed vibe of a summer group, where dinner and cocktails are accompanied by the music from the analogue decks of the “Birdman” team, but as the summer progresses also by guest DJs from abroad.
At “Vezené Santorini” they start serving drinks and Greek crudo, at six in the afternoon, by the pool, and they keep on till late at night. Sleek and friendly service using handmade ceramic dishes, with waiters adding the finishing touches to the plates next to the table, and an interesting carefully curated selection of wines, focused more on Greek labels, as well as with a few choices of bold natural wines. A detail we should mention is that since all the food offered at Cavo Tagoo, from breakfast to lunch to room service, is signed by Vezenes the hotel’s menu includes some very interesting comfort choices and, we’d dare say, the best burger on the island.
“If I’m asked what I’m trying to express and show through my new project, the answer is to create the first open fire of the new generation which will however be based on hundred-year-old thoughts and techniques,” Vezenes continues, explaining that olive wood and vine, so widely used and tightly associated with Greece, are going to be the main fuel he will be using for his grill, with the addition of other fragrant wood.
About the rest of his creations on the soil of Santorini, he notes that the classic olive oil-lemon dressing gets its intensity from the grilled lemons and the other citrus fruit like bergamot and kumquat, and that he also uses brine, agourida (sour grapes) and oxymeli (vinegar honey), homemade vinegar from local grape varieties, parsley and hot pepper flavoured olive oil and many many more ingredients that are spread on the fish and meats using thyme and rosemary “brushes”.
Vezenes’ unique way of grilling is enhanced by special tools like smoking mesh tubes that replace the cooking torch, while at the same time various other dishes are being slow cooked in pots; trahanotos (the Greek version of a risotto, made with tarhana, a wheat based dried food ingredient) soften; spaghettis and giouvetsis (Greek dish with meat and orzo pasta) are being prepared in pans; all of them placed in different heights over the fire. Flat breads, aubergines, eels, octopuses, and beef are baked in the wood-fired oven and broths are smoked, while Greek crudo seasoned with lemon, olive oil, mint, fennel instead of soya, mirin, ginger, as well as some of the “Vezenes” popular dishes like sea-urchin pasta, beef pasticcio tartar and steamed clams in assyrtiko wine all complete the menu. “Everything is prepared on the fire, and if we get a power outage, we can still cook everything here,” he clarifies with pride.
A few other details to mention (that are not exactly details) Vezenes insists in his nose-to-tail management of the meat – lamb, goat, poultry, and rare beef cuts of rare breeds – that are aged in a special dry aging chamber and acquire a complicated taste. The cuisine he represents, however, despite his Ionian Island influences, is perfectly suited to Santorini, as he notes, and includes the co-existence of the land and the sea; that’s why the menu is half seafood options and half meat dishes, “in a brutal version of cooking, in terms of honesty, cleanliness and simplicity” he adds to conclude that in this kitchen everything can co-exist. We are, after all, on an island with overflowing energy; “the volcano underneath us, then the sea, and at 300 metres altitude, us. And cooking is somewhere in between.”
Hotel Cavo Tagoo
Imerovigli 847 00 Santorini, Greece
Phone: +30 2286028900