Move it on over, “apple pie”!
Perk up, “pizza pie”!
Argiro Barbarigou is changing the whole definition of “pie” in the US capital.
Alfa Piehouse is a fast casual café for savory and sweet pastries — and rest assured that it is also a foothold in the American market for one of Greece’s most enterprising and gifted chefs.
Recently, Super Chef sat down and shared a meal with the vivacious, hospitable Chef Barbarigou during the soft opening of Alfa Piehouse.
She explained that she started to learned to cook from her mother who opened a restaurant on the Cycladic island of Paros when she was four years old.
Super Chef: What are your early food memories?
Argiro Barbarigou: I remember smells. If I smell cinnamon, I remember a stew my mother made. If I smell mint, I remember a dish of tomatoes. I was always asking “why?” Why do we add eggs before the flour? Why do we add salt?
Super Chef: Is it unusual for a woman to run a restaurant?
Argiro Barbarigou: No, it isn’t. Women run restaurants, since most of the men were away for long periods of time at sea. The women are the bosses.
When I got married to a sailor, I also ended up cooking and entertaining for large crowds when he returned to the island. He wasn’t from Paros, so he liked to have big groups of people around him. Everyone said that I should open a restaurant. Eventually, he stopped going to sea and we opened a restaurant, Papadakis, on Paros. We later moved it to Athens. He manages the front-of-the-house and I am in the kitchen. Papadakis is a fine dining seafood restaurant. We also have a more casual place for meat cuisine called Homey. It’s for young people.
Super Chef: Has the Greek debt crisis made a big impact on your restaurants?
Argiro Barbarigou: No, because my clientele is international. The same tourists, who used to come to Papadakis on Paros, come to the restaurant in Athens. Mayor Giuliani, Carla Bruni, and Billy Zane, and many others. Billy had a house on Paros a bit far from the restaurant. So, he used to pick up huge trays of food, enough for a few days.
Super Chef: What is your relationship with Alfa?
Argiro Barbarigou: Alfa is the best food producer in Greece. I am a partner in Alfa Piehouse. I have consulted with them.
Super Chef: You are on TV in Greece?
Argiro Barbarigou: Yes, I am on a morning show everyday and I also have a weekend show about pies.
Super Chef: What other media are you in?
Argiro Barbarigou: I have a magazine, Everyday with Argiro. Because of the downturn in the economy, advertising is down, so we are publishing every two months. It is very popular magazine.
Super Chef: I understand that you also went to culinary school?
Argiro Barbarigou: Yes, I attended the Cordon Bleu in London for a short course. I wanted to learn techniques. After the Olympic Games in Athens, we moved the restaurant to Athens.
While it was being built, I had a couple of months, so a friend who worked at the BBC invited me to stay with her while I attended the Cordon Bleu. I was really worried I wouldn’t understand what the instructors. But I just watched carefully and I asked questions all the time. I adapted the techniques to my taste.
Argiro uses Greek yogurt in many of her recipes, favoring Fage brand. It lightens the filling of many of her pies. For breakfast with an excellent Greek coffee, Bougatsa with its crunch filo exterior and creamy cinnamon and vanilla flavored custard was ever so sweet and light. For lunch, the Kihi Olive spiral pie was filled with olive paste, feta and olive oil. Argiro is proud of her Paros pie from her native island, stuffed with potatoes and spring onions. But don’t miss Mediterranean Salad, with grilled vegetables flavored with parsley and mint and topped with crumbled feta. It’s like a Greek version of ratatouille. Super Chef also found the Spinach Feta pie in a light and crisp filo crust equally delicious. The desserts are impressive as well, from double Pumpkin Roll to Apple Roll and Baklava, nothing was too sweet or too rich to enjoy eating the whole thing. A standout was the Tsoureki, Greek Easter Bread, a kind of brioche-like eggy cake that went especially well with coffee.
Super Chef predicts that Argiro will take the US market by storm – magazines, TV, fine dining restaurants and plenty of Alfa Piehouses across the country. She can help change the gloomy story of the Greek economy to a much more optimistic one of healthy eating, delicious treats, and a way of changing what “pie” means.
Picture this: President and Mrs. Obama, chowing down on Greek pies…