Greece is a proud nation. Its people are warm, welcoming and full of life; its towns are steeped in history; its borders lapped by the Ionian, Mediterranean and Aegean seas; and its simple, fresh cuisine considered among the finest in the world.
Back here in South Africa, siblings George and Helen Kutra, who are South African-born, are passionate about keeping the Hellenic spirit alive and well. This is why, in 2006, they decided to take a leap and open Mythos restaurant at the Joburgbased Design Quarter in Fourways. Fourteen years on, there are no less than 13 Mythos eateries in the country, and the brand has done wonders to promote Hellenic cuisine and culture in South Africa.
“When we first opened, there were hardly any Greek restaurants in Johannesburg,” remembers George. “Now there’s a new one opening on just about every corner, but I think the reason we have been successful is that we stick to the core of our business. We serve honest and authentic Greek food, and have never deviated from that.”
In a truly Greek anomaly, neither George nor Helen are big cooks, although they are quick to interject that they certainly know what good food tastes like! “That’s why we rely on our mom so much,” says Helen.
Irene, who is in her 80s, is the grand dame and head chef of Mythos. Not only is she responsible for all the menus, but she also trains the staff, making sure all 13 stores meet her exacting standards. “She’s an unbelievable woman,” Helen states with pride. “She’s typically Greek in that she’s very demanding and very passionate. Let’s just say you’ll often hear her in the kitchen shouting in broken English!” she laughs.
Thanks to Irene, who was born on the Ionian island of Kefalonia (west of mainland Greece), the Mythos menu is loaded with hearty, flavour-packed, authentic Greek dishes. “Just like in Greece, our menu is designed to be shared,” explains George. “We want customers to get a taste of all the different tastes, and to experience the passion of the Greek culture – the way sharing is such a big part of how we entertain.”
The menu reads like a top hits list of Greek cuisine, with meze like keftethes, souvlaki, pickled octopus, calamari, tzatziki and taramasalata, making it hard to stop eating when your hunger abates. But for Helen, what’s important is that there’s variety. “We have our meze, which can be shared, but we also have hearty meals like lamb kleftiko and pastitsio [a baked pasta dish with mincemeat and béchamel sauce], and, of course, street food like yiros for when you just want to pop in for a quick bite.”
As the gatekeeper of the restaurants’ recipes, Irene loves nothing more than whipping up a moussaka. “It reminds me of my own mother, and of when she used to cook it for us on the island of Kefalonia,” reminisces the chef. “All of my childhood memories come from the kitchen, the food that was cooked, the recipes created and the meals we shared as a family. Food has always brought us together, and I want to leave that legacy for my children at Mythos.”
No matter what dish they are preparing, Helen and George are adamant that the ingredients must be original to the greatest extent possible: “Greeks are very proud of their cuisine, and we’ve definitely taken that from them,” declares Helen. “If you talk about feta, it must be Greek feta – nothing else will be good enough.” As such, the pair ensures all the Greek products, from olive oil to oregano, and even drinking water, are imported from Greece. “It makes a big difference,” says Helen. “It just tastes different, and our customers who have been to Greece can tell that our food is authentic.”
With plant-based eating on the rise, Helen and George have had to steer away from the Greek stereotype – “Well then, I give you lamb!” – and have been admirably hell-bent on making sure their menu has a great choice for vegans and vegetarians. “Greek cuisine actually offers so much in terms of plant-based eating, but we’re really highlighting dishes like baby marrow keftethes, haloumi and so on, and making sure our staff are aware of the options.”
Staying ahead of the trends is also essential for the siblings, which is why they travel to Greece every year. “It’s such a good reminder of why we do what we do,” Helen affirms. “We love the warmth, the food, the people and the way of life.”
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