Chef Paata Georgian Grazing Boxes

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Chef Paata Georgian Grazing Boxes

Chef Paata Khutsishvili says, "My grandfather Lado wasn’t a chef but was a person who loved food and loved to cook it for the whole family. Despite “The dark 90th” as it was called in Georgia when whole country was living with shortages of all basic supplies such as gas, water and electricity, my grandfather was managing to put on table the best dishes. He used to take me with him everywhere, from local shops to grand “bazar” where we smelled and touched all local seasonal products until we would find the best. My childhood is mostly associated with hard times and smell of fresh tomatoes and purple basil. Tomatoes still warm from the sun and local home-made sunflower oil has a magic aroma," says Paata.

Chef Paata Georgian Grazing Boxes

Paata first arrived in Australia in 2013. "Looking back, I realize how lucky I was getting a job offer to organize Georgian pop-up restaurant at “Urban Cat Café” in Erskineville. I took this opportunity and for a year and half was doing Georgian food over there. Unfortunately, due to visa procedures I was forced to close this project and relocate to Winton, Queensland for a year," says Paata. In 2016 he came back to Sydney and started working at Giro Osteria where he worked for more than 5 years. Paata started the Chef Paata Grazing Boxes in August 2021 during lockdown.

Chef Paata Georgian Grazing Boxes

So how big is the market for Georgian food here in Australia? Paata says, "The population of Georgians in Australia is less than 1,000 people, so knowledge about Georgian culture and food is minimal. Georgia is located on a crossroad between Europe, Asia and Middle East. Our food definitely has influences of those cultures, but we also have unique things which you can find nowhere else."

We try the Georgian Grazing Box which is $120 for up to 6 people as an antipasti or picnic selection. There are three sections of sliced house made focaccia with Svanetian salt and a range of Georgian spread and dips, pickles as well as Georgian cheeses and fruit. It smells incredible and it takes all my will to wait til later that day to eat it. While it's not strictly vegetarian, the offerings are mostly vegetarian with the exception of one chicken dish so it's great for sharing. You can also add on some Italian cured meats or cheeses. They make the deliveries themselves and the daily delivery area is the Sutherland Shire and St George although if an address isn’t within these areas there is an option to send Paata an email and depending on his availability he can organise delivery to other suburbs.

Chef Paata Georgian Grazing Boxes

Badrijani eggplant rolls

I start with the eggplant rolls or Badrijani filled with walnut paste and pomegranate seeds. These are wonderfully creamy inside with the walnut paste and the pomegranate seeds give it a refreshing sweetness. Pomegranate is a fruit used across Georgian cuisine as it is grown all over the country. I segue into the dark pink beetroot spread called Pkhali made from roast beetroot, walnuts, coriander, red wine vinegar and Georgian spices. This has a lovely sweetness to it. Chef Paata explains some of the spices used, "Most popular spice used in Georgia is “Khmeli suneli” which translates as “Dry herbs”. It is a mix of ground coriander seed, celery seed, dried basil, dill, parsley, blue fenugreek, summer savoury, bay leaf, mint and marigold."

Chef Paata Georgian Grazing Boxes

From left: Lobio (beans), Adjepsandali (eggplant and capsicum), Phkali (beetroot), Chicken Satsivi (and pickles above)

The red bean spread is called Lobio with kidney beans finished with tomatoes, shallots, fresh herbs and Georgian spices and is full of flavour. “Lobio is normally served as soup in Georgia or as a thickened filling for bean bread “lobiani”. In my version it is red kidney bean spread with fresh herbs and spices," explains Paata. Another delicious vegetarian dish is the Adjepsandali aka Georgian ratatouille or caponata with roast eggplant, capsicum, chillies, Spanish onion, coriander, basil, Georgian spices and pomegranate.

Chef Paata Georgian Grazing Boxes

One of my favourites in the grazing box is the Chicken Satsivi or chicken breast in a creamy walnut sauce. "This dish is traditionally made with turkey for Christmas, however nowadays most people are making it from chicken," says Paata. The chicken breast is cooked in a creamy walnut sauce with saffron and Georgian spices and served cold (“Tsivi” means cold in Georgian). Walnuts are used historically in Georgian dishes and Paata explains, "Georgians were using them for generations, because as well as pomegranate they grow everywhere in country. We use them cold, hot, chopped and whole, in sweet and sour dishes. It’s very nutritious, you can just eat a bit and feel quite full. The use of walnuts also comes from old times when Georgians had to go to wars a lot, so walnuts were perfect food for them to stay full but at the same energetic."

Chef Paata Georgian Grazing Boxes

The soft, spongey foccaccia bread is seasoned with Svenetian (a mountainous region of northwestern Georgia) salt along with aromatic herbs. What I really like is that the food smells and tastes unlike other food I've eaten and yet is accessible and delicious. There is also a pot of Hot Adjiba or Ajika a sweet spicy intense capsicum dip that is great with the chicken satsivi or to spice up any of the other items. There's also a pot of purple cauliflower pickles that are garlicky and sweet. Slices of pear and rockmelon, cherry tomatoes and basil add colour and flavour.

Chef Paata Georgian Grazing Boxes

Top left: Suluguni cheese (regular and smoked) and Hot Adjiba

There are also two varieties of the Georgian cheese Suluguni, a regular and a smoked version. These are mildly flavoured but delicious cow's milk cheese. "I have been asked a lot by my clients if it is a real suluguni I am using. So, the answer is simple: authentic suluguni can be found only in Georgia and each region in Georgia has unique tastes of the same well-known suluguni. I am using imported suluguni which I found here in Australia and to my taste it is quite similar to authentic one. Suluguni cheese has a sour, moderately salty flavour, a dimpled texture and an elastic consistency. It is produced only of natural ingredients: normalised cow milk by clotting by rennet with pure cultures of lactic bacteria. When cheese ages and becomes hard it can be also smoked," says Paata.

Chef Paata Georgian Grazing Boxes

I ask Paata which boxes are more popular, the Italian or Georgian ones. "Surprisingly to me “Georgian box” has become our top seller. So, Aussies want to try something completely new. This fact motivates me even more to move forward. This project is sort of a start towards my dream to have Georgian Style food restaurant with Italian accent," says Paata.

So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever tried Georgian food? Do you like to try food that you haven't eaten before?

Chef Paata Grazing Boxes

https://www.chefpaata.com/