The art of fine dining

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 March, 1995, 12:00am

LEW Kathreptis is outrageous. Never mind the profiles in glossy food magazines or national newspapers. Or the photo of him bear-hugging a dinner plate.

The burly 36-year-old food-lover from Adelaide isn't shy about calling pasta spaghetti. His hands would never be conscripted to shave chocolate curlicues or arrange a sliver of this, a sprig of that. They belong on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

He detests fussy food and precious portions and loves anyone who lives and eats with passion. Among them are mentor food writers, Claudia Roden, Paula Wolfert and Stephanie Alexander.

What comes closest to his idea of heaven is a no-holds-barred picnic under olive trees in Tuscany, a hand-to-mouth stroll through the markets in Marrakesh, a jug of wine and a bowl of ripe tomatoes with basil on any seacoast in Turkey.

'Street food. That's the best food,' he insists. 'It's where the real flavours are.' Hong Kong gets a taste of Kathreptis' food combinations when beginning today the second-generation Greek presides over a six-day promotion at Bacchus in Wan Chai, then participates as guest chef next weekend in the Wines of the Pacific Rim Festival at the Hotel Furama.

Disillusionment in the visual arts world sent him on a wanderjahre. Travelling cleared his head and Greece, Morocco, Turkey, Italy and Spain reset his professional compass.

'When you look at artists, they live in isolation, their concepts are ambiguous. Food is more direct. It's immediate. It's about generosity, giving, hospitality.' He learned the discipline of the kitchen at Mezes, his mother's Greek cafe, now defunct, in Adelaide. His eclectic style of Mediterranean cooking eventually usurped the Greek classics that nourished him.

When asked to describe his food in three words, he squirmed, but couldn't slip out of the noose: 'Honest. Soulful. Mediterranean.' Dishes from his promotion menu include salad of pigeon ravioli and capers, beetroot with char-grilled tuna, lamb with roasted tomato and caramelised onion, crab-cake with harissa, Florentine ice cream and pistachio halva with apples, date and kumquat.

The Lew Kathreptis promotion is at Bacchus through to April 4. On April 3 and 4, he will do a special wine tasting menu in conjunction with Domaine Chandon. For more information, contact: 2529-9032. THE annual rite of tippling, talking and dining, Wines of the Pacific Rim (WINPAC), casts off on Wednesday, April 5 through to Saturday at the Furama.

Open to the public, events include the California Challenge (April 6 at 5.30 pm), a blind tasting by experts on California wine; the exhibitors' gala dinner (April 7 at 8 pm), and the Wine Fair (from 11.30 am on Saturday), where 26 exhibitors from US, New Zealand, Chile, Australia, China will show more than 300 wines.

Participants will be able to purchase wine at discount prices. There is a vineyard buffet and master classes by authorities Eric Wente, John Avery and James Halliday. Reservations are suggested, especially for the gala dinner and master classes. Tickets are available from the Hotel Furama ticket office (telephone: 2525-511). For more information contact Joanna Moore at 2849-7070. WHEN Mary Evely was forced to make a career decision, she didn't listen to her heart. But her palate.

She closed Grape Nuts, her fashion boutique in Los Angeles, and reached for the apron and a corkscrew.

'After 12 years I got bored with fashion,' says the chef from Simi Winery in California. 'Not the design side, but the 'what's new for spring' attitude.' Fashion's loss is a gain for food-lovers. Ms Evely's designs on the special menu at Napa restaurant convinced six of us that her food and wine style is as lively and tastes and textures are refreshing.

She fortifies a spinach salad with orzo (tiny pellet-shaped pasta) and very acidic olives. With it, she suggests a hearty sauvignon blanc.

Crispness predominates in one appetiser, a mound of garden-fresh sprouts and cilantro atop finger-sized goat cheese tortillas. Lavender, a cousin in the herb family to rosemary, complements a stunning pepper-encrusted tuna. A jambalaya risotto finds a heady match in a cabernet rose.

Don't skip desserts. Among the sweets buffet ($58) is a pairing of pears and figs with nuggets of walnut shortbread.

The secret ingredient in what tastes like a crunchy chocolate-hazelnut mousse turns out to be crushed French wafers.

Her version of France's infamous Queen of Sheba chocolate cake uses walnuts and apricots.

The Simi California promotion runs until April 4 at Napa at the Kowloon Shangri-la. Tel: 721-2111.