For Thanos Tripi, opening an 85-seat taverna in Toronto’s trendy Ossington neighbourhood nearly a year ago was an homage to his beloved Greek mama.
By Jane Auster
He chose the name “Mamakas” to honour her and his grandmother, the food they lovingly prepared, and the way of life he remembered from his youth.
An important part of those memories was food and drink infused with tea. “When I was growing up, tea was a very important part of our family culture,” says Tripi, who was involved in Toronto’s entertainment scene for many years before turning his hand to the restaurant business. “It’s mainly because of my mother and grandmother and their use of chamomile, peppermint, and Greek mountain tea. In the winter, they made their own ginger, orange and clove teas — their own tea brands, which are part of our cuisine.”
Tripi’s timing in offering dishes and drinks featuring tea could not be better. Tea’s popularity is definitely on the upswing as more consumers look for a different type of beverage experience. Technomic Inc. identified “Tea Culture,” with menus steeped in specialty, premium tea blends, as one of the top five 2015 food trends.
To create a luxury tea experience as well as source the finest teas for Mamakas’s recipes, Tripi turned to Toronto luxury tea purveyor teALCHEMY.
“We use their tea in cocktails and also in our brine for our meats,” says Tripi. “Our chicken and our pork chop (my favourite, Oktapodi), for instance, are brined in a special mixture of Greek mountain tea and peppermint for 48 hours. That elevates the profile of the brine quite a bit and adds another layer of flavour. In our cocktails, our mixologists use teas in syrups as well as for garnish. Tea to us is like an herb, and when it is used in different elements of the kitchen, you can really infuse some fantastic flavours from a tea brine and a tea rub. It is a really interesting concept.”
And unlike the bolder notes of curries, for instance, tea adds a subtle flavour, Tripi adds, that’s mild with a soothing and inviting aroma.
The teALCHEMY tea-infused dishes and cocktails are so successful that Mamakas’s chefs are considering the addition of more tea-based recipes. “I think we are going to experiment with more tea rubs and try more desserts with tea and tea syrups using Rooibas, which is a very interesting tea,” he says. “Tea has become this alternative to coffee; it’s a really available tool.”
Thanos Tripi’s top tips to tea up your menu
• Have fun with it. “Tea is a beautiful ingredient and so easy to use.”
• Think outside the cup. “Think of tea as a spice or herb and play with it the way you’d play with other spices, herbs and ingredients.”
• Make it an experience. “Bring to market things that people haven’t thought of that they wouldn’t get at home.”