An air of Cyprus has swept across Brussels during the past months. Not only in the meeting rooms of the enormous Council building Justus Lipsius, or through the customary Presidency decorations of the building, but also in the formal dining rooms and lunch rooms of the Council. The rich tastes of the Cypriot cuisine, blended with a French eye for the details, have met European leaders during their lunches at some of the Council meetings, as well as the Council civil servants in the Justus Lipsius-canteen during the six month Cyprus Presidency. The mind behind the delicacies served is well renowned Cypriot chef Andreas Mavrommatis.
To serve European leaders as well as the civil servants of the Council was a humbling task even for a master chef like Mavrommatis, and when he got a phone call from the Deputy EU Minister Andreas Mavroyiannis he couldn’t resist the challenge.
“I see it as a duty for which I’m very proud to be able to present Cypriot cuisine to all the European people,” he says.
Preparations in Brussels
Andreas Mavrommatis gladly went to Brussels on his own expense, to work together for a week with the Council chief chefs, providing instructions on how to prepare the various Cypriot flavoured delicacies. Ministers participating in the ECOFIN Council, the Foreign Affairs Council, the General Affairs Council, COREPER Ambassadors, as well as officials and civil servants who work in the Council or had meetings there, got the chance to try some of the dishes. But to set up menus for people coming from 27 different Member States, not to mention all representatives participating from non-EU countries, wasn’t simple.
“The biggest challenge was to construct a creative gastronomic experience that well represents the Cypriot cuisine and present it to all these different people coming from all these different cultures,” Mr. Mavrommatis says.
Successful in his mission, the varied dishes served received positive reviews from participants, especially the lamb with halloumi and the barbouni, the red mullet, a popular fish in Cypriot cuisine.
“I was told by participants they were overwhelmed by the diversification and the originality of the menu,” he says.
Cypriot food with a French twist
Andreas Mavrommatis has more than 30 years of experience from working as a chef in Paris, with acclaimed gourmet restaurants, its flagship "The Mavrommatis" , “Les Délices d'Aphrodite” and other restaurants and gastronomic take away outlets in Paris, Nice and Marseille. When he prepared the dishes for the Presidency, he therefore based them on popular traditional food from Cyprus, but gave them a twist, using the methods of the French cuisine. But it’s a cross-over that requires careful planning.
“It was the result of hard-work and research,” Mr. Mavrommatis explains. ”The French method puts focus on the detail. It’s the detail and professionalism that makes the difference. It’s a matter of the process and how you approach the food. The French method is delicate, where you treat the food with a lot of respect, where each product is prepared according to its character. Nothing is done by accident.”
Stifado, Pastitsio and Spanakopitta on the menu
During the first week in October, civil servants visiting the canteen of the Council building, the Justus Lipsius, made the acquaintance of a number of traditional Cypriot dishes. , Well-known Cypriot dishes like stifado (beef stew), pastitsio (a lasagna-like dish) and spanakopitta (a spinach pie) had made it into the weekly menu. And to prepare food for the large number of daily visitors in the Council canteen posed a different set of challenges.
“First and foremost it was a challenge in terms of quantities. Therefore it was important not to make the dishes too complicated,” he says. “The dishes we served were simpler but also had a clearer stamp of the Cypriot cuisine compared to the menus set up for the meetings.”
Despite the hard work required, Andreas Mavrommatis says he kept his enthusiasm throughout the project, hoping that the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the EU would be equally successful in gastronomy as in politics and extending the notion of Filoxenia into the dining rooms of Justus Lipsius as well.
“I believe a country’s cuisine is a sign of civilization, a sign of culture. My goal was to promote Cypriot gastronomy at the very highest level and to make it known to more people in Europe,” Andreas Mavrommatis concludes.