Cuisine - - CONTENTS - Recipes & food styling Theo Papouis / Pho­tog­ra­phy Ni­cola Ed­monds

Thomas Heaton talks to the young Welling­ton chef shak­ing up Greek food stereo­types

TEAR A WODGE OF the homemade pita bread, take a bite, have a hearty slug of wine, laugh with fam­ily and friends, or­der that ex­tra glass and reach over for some more olives. Re­lax.

Theo Papouis en­dorses this be­hav­iour – he calls it the “Greek psy­che” – and he’s start­ing to see his cus­tomers adopt it at his newly opened Welling­ton restau­rant.

The 32-year-old chef opened Oikos (pro­nounced ee-kos) in June, and he’s al­ready earned le­gions of fans with his fresh take on Greek and Cypriot clas­sics. The food res­onates for its sim­plic­ity and au­then­tic­ity, and the Mi­ra­mar restau­rant is be­ing praised for di­vorc­ing it­self from the blue-white Greek stereo­type.

Papouis isn’t wel­com­ing plate smash­ers and doesn’t want you to feel like you’re sit­ting in a sou­venir shop. He is invit­ing peo­ple to come and re­lax, by pro­vid­ing some­thing more authen­tic.

“It’s about get­ting that cliché of bad Greek food out of the pic­ture,” he says. “I’m try­ing to get that food a lit­tle bit fresher, clean­ing it up a lit­tle bit. I don’t want to say mod­ern, but maybe a fresher ap­proach.”

The Welling­ton-born-and-bred chef is hum­ble and self-ef­fac­ing. He says the food he’s serv­ing is sim­ply his “fac­tory set­tings”, given his par­ents are Cypriot, but he’s bring­ing some­thing else to the ta­ble too. The days of sou­vlaki, gy­ros and baklava be­ing defin­ing dishes for Greek cui­sine may be lim­ited.

Papouis re­cently re­turned to Welling­ton af­ter five years’ work­ing and liv­ing in his an­ces­tral home of Cyprus, four of which he spent as chef to the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador.

“I was very lucky to get that job. It was re­ally in­ter­est­ing, I had gone from 100-, 80-hour weeks to hav­ing my own gar­den, a bed­room and a big bud­get.”

Be­fore ar­riv­ing in Cyprus, he spent al­most two years work­ing for Jamie Oliver, part of a mas­sive team of chefs at one of the first restau­rants dubbed Jamie’s Ital­ian. There are now 60 of those restau­rants world­wide.

“It was just in­sane, re­ally, smash­ing it out with 35 chefs.” Start­ing at 8am, fin­ish­ing at mid­night was a com­mon oc­cur­rence, he says. “Any­thing from 400 peo­ple on a Tues­day and 1000 cov­ers on a Satur­day. It was in­sane, but ev­ery chef should do it. I thought I would die by the end.”

That, he says, is why he went to Cyprus. But be­fore he could do any­thing there, he was con­scripted. It’s some­thing you have to do if your par­ents hail from the coun­try, so he traded his chef knife for a ri­fle. “I just got sent to a camp and did a lot of watch tower duty and ex­er­cises. They didn’t put me in the kitchen, as I ex­pected them to.”

Boot camp, sen­try duty and plenty of toi­let scrub­bing, he was “thrashed out”, do­ing me­nial grunt du­ties for three months.

“They used to call me the kan­ga­roo. The more I told them I was from New Zealand, the more they called me it.

“At the time, I wasn’t very happy, but it was def­i­nitely an awe­some thing to do,” he says.

Fol­low­ing his army du­ties and a cou­ple of odd jobs, he be­gan work­ing

“It’s about get­ting that cliché of bad Greek food out of the pic­ture. I’m try­ing to get that food a lit­tle bit fresher, clean­ing it up a lit­tle bit.”

for the am­bas­sador. One day he might have cooked Thanks­giv­ing dinner for some US Marines, the next he might be cater­ing to the tastes of var­i­ous diplo­mats, so there was plenty of vari­a­tion.

All the while, he was mak­ing the most of the lo­cal cui­sine, tast­ing ev­ery­thing he could. Now he’s back in New Zealand, he’s added plenty more ideas to his “fac­tory set­tings”.

“It’s small plates in Greece and Cyprus. In five years in Cyprus, I never or­dered from a menu. You sit down, they fill your ta­ble up. That’s what I’m try­ing to do here.”

The plates that make up Papouis’ menu are called mezedes. You’ll find slow-cooked lamb, an ar­ray of beau­ti­ful Hel­lenic sal­ads, salty-sweet and sesame-crusted feta with honey, and well-known dishes like mous­sakas and kala­maki (like sou­vlaki). Don’t for­get the unique Greek oregano ei­ther. Authen­tic in­gre­di­ents pro­vide a flour­ish to his dishes; the likes of ke­falo­graviera, a sheep and goat’s milk cheese, and a cured mul­let roe called av­go­taraho, both of which you might be hard-pressed to find any­where else.

He’s also in­tro­duc­ing a Greco taste of Tur­key through what’s known as poli­tiki kouz­ina, with Mid­dle-Eastern and North African in­flu­ences ap­pear­ing in some dishes at Oikos.

“Ba­si­cally, po­lis is the name for Con­stanti­nop­oli [Is­tan­bul]; kouz­ina is the cui­sine of the big city. Cumin, cin­na­mon, su­mac – they’re things that feel more Mid­dle Eastern.”

On his menu this in­flu­ence is ob­vi­ous: melin­zana imam, a baked egg­plant with to­mato and whipped feta; sout­soukakia, baked pork meat­balls with cumin and su­mac; and pas­tourma, a cured beef with nigella seeds.

“It’s a bit of a thing [in Greece]. It’s come back and it’s a bit of a trend.

“Peo­ple here, Greeks in­cluded, know about the stuff that’s been around for so many years, like spanako­pita, your tiro­pita and sou­vlaki, but there are so many things I want to in­tro­duce.

“There are so many is­lands, so many dif­fer­ent cuisines.”

Some of those dishes are on his menu al­ready, but there are plenty wait­ing their turn. It’s just a mat­ter of time un­til they start ap­pear­ing, but Papouis doesn’t want to over­whelm his din­ers. He just wants them to adopt the Greek psy­che and re­lax.

With the com­bi­na­tion of these small things, he hopes to make a fam­ily restau­rant. Af­ter all, that’s the mean­ing of oikos: fam­ily.

“The whole idea of din­ing out there is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. It’s about hav­ing great con­ver­sa­tions, not wor­ry­ing so much about life, and hav­ing that ex­tra drink.”

Greeks are like Ki­wis in that way, he says. “If you look at restau­rants in New Zealand... the ones that are pump­ing are mostly smart ca­sual. Ki­wis love smart ca­sual. No one wants to feel stuffy – I don’t think it’s re­ally us.”

So, it’s a rel­a­tively sim­ple for­mula: re­lax and en­joy. Chances are you just might like it.


You’ll need a pasta ma­chine to make this recipe. It’s tra­di­tion­ally made with an­tho­tyro, a tra­di­tional Greek fresh cheese, but we use ri­cotta.


150g 00 flour 6 egg yolks Put the flour in the bowl of an elec­tric mixer with a dough hook at­tach­ment, make a well in the cen­tre, add the egg yolks and mix to bring to­gether.

Re­move from the bowl and knead un­til the dough is smooth. Put in a bowl, cover with plas­tic wrap and rest in the fridge for at least 30 min­utes.


125g haloumi, grated 125g ri­cotta ½ tea­spoon dried mint 1 egg zest of ¼ lemon Put all the in­gre­di­ents in a bowl and mix (I use a food pro­ces­sor). I don’t add salt to the fill­ing be­cause the haloumi is salty enough and the ravi­oli will be boiled in salted wa­ter.

Re­frig­er­ate the fill­ing while the dough is rest­ing.


Dust your work bench with flour. Re­move the dough from the fridge and di­vide into 4 pieces. Us­ing the widest set­ting on the pasta ma­chine, roll out the dough three times on each set­ting un­til you reach the finest set­ting. Roll it through the fi­nal set­ting only once.

Once each pasta piece is rolled out flat, brush with a lit­tle beaten egg white.

Place tea­spoon­fuls of the fill­ing along the long­est edge of each pasta sheet, leav­ing a 2cm space be­tween each.

Fold the pasta sheet in over the mix­ture. Cut each ravi­oli with a knife and sep­a­rate each piece, squeez­ing out any air.


150g peas 4 ta­ble­spoons ex­tra vir­gin olive oil zest and juice of ½ lemon hand­ful fresh mint leaves or pea ten­drils Place the ravi­oli on bak­ing pa­per and re­frig­er­ate or freeze un­til ready to cook. Cook for 4 min­utes in boil­ing salted wa­ter with the peas (add an ex­tra minute if cook­ing from frozen). Strain and mix in a bowl the oil, lemon juice and zest, mint or pea ten­drils and freshly ground black pep­per.

Oikos chef Theo Papouis and his dad Theodoros in their gar­den

On the wall at Oikos is a photo of Theo Papouis’ grand­fa­ther Ge­orge Pa­pa­george, who moved to Welling­ton from Cyprus, at his shoe re­pair shop in Kil­birnie.

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