A casual family gathering at Fotini and Sotiri Giamarelos's Medindie home is an event that would have most people planning for weeks.
Guess who’s coming to dinner: Fotini Giamarelos
Fotini Giamarelos doesn’t do things by halves. Tonight’s dinner party is elaborate, stylish and laden with delectable dishes — but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for this host.
When Fotini and her husband Sotiri moved from a townhouse to their breathtaking Medindie property six years ago, they knew they wanted the additional space for entertaining and for children to be able to run around.
The classic extension of their home provides the perfect backdrop for the couple to entertain their family, but also their friends, who are family in every way except blood.
There was really no doubt the home was going to be anything but stunning with the couple’s pedigree and skillset. Both have families in the building industry; Sotiri was hands-on during the building process and Fotini has styled the home to perfection.
Fotini potters about in the kitchen; there’s not a whole lot to do because she’s impressively organised. This certainly isn’t her first time hosting an event at her house.
“When we make plans with friends to catch up, we’ll often nominate our house as the venue,” Fotini says. “We have the yard and we love seeing the kids run around in their element. They can hang out and make a mess, do whatever they want while we sit and kick back and relax. There’s no worrying about getting in each other’s way and what we all love as parents is seeing the children interact and play, and being able to include them in things we all do together.”
Fotini’s lunches and dinners are a sight to behold. She makes an effort at Easter — a big date on the Greek calendar — to create a festive atmosphere. It’s the same at Halloween and last Christmas, wanting to feast outside but also shade her guests from the piercing midday sun, Fotini strung white sheets along the generous driveway to create a breezy bohemian setting.
Her father, Genworth Homes founder Chris Diamantis, says it’s no wonder, given Fotini comes from a long line of party-throwers. “We would entertain at the drop of a hat,” Chris says. “My mum, God rest her soul, said that our house was what they call a kafenio in Greek.” These were places for friends to meet for coffee and food. “We’ve carried on the traditions here through the generations and Fotini will not waste a moment to entertain.”
Tonight, a long table dressed with a cheery lemon print tablecloth stretches out between the modern outdoor kitchen and expansive lawn. There’s a smaller table for the children, complete with crayons and platters of toddler-friendly food.
The children, such an important part of the gatherings, run around the swing set, duck into the teepee and colour in the pictures Fotini has thoughtfully left on their table. Seven children that are five years old and under create the gentle background noise of laughter and squeals of delight.
Fotini and Sotiri’s children have become helpers in the kitchen. Five-year-old Evangelia and two-year-old Peter love sitting on the kitchen bench and being part of the action while Fotini prepares dinner.
The days in the lead up to tonight were spent getting as many components of her Greek feast ready as possible.
She’s made the kind of comfort food that feels like home; baking dishes overflow with pastitsio, moussaka and gemista (Greek-style stuffed capsicum and tomatoes) and are set along the breakfast bar that was created with their entertaining in mind.
There’s a traditional Greek salad with Sotiri’s touch. The Kalamata native is adamant the olive oil from his hometown is the best going around, so the pour is generous.
Food is the cornerstone of the family’s gatherings. “We eat a vast array of food, but for some reason, Greek food always just feels like home. It’s what we’ve been raised on, it’s our safety food, our comfort food and even our friends who aren’t Greek love it.”
Tonight’s guests are the people Fotini says she’d take with her to a desert island, although it wouldn’t be quite so deserted once everyone arrived. Wandering around the expansive and perfectly manicured backyard, sangria in hand, are the couple’s parents, siblings and some of their closest friends.
Although there are a lot of mouths to feed, a large guest list often means the load is lightened. “The host will do most of the cooking, but it’s European tradition that, most of the time, everyone will bring something along with them. It takes the pressure off a little bit.”
Fotini has been able to cook so many of her friends’ special dishes herself with a gift from her mum, Mary. At Fotini’s kitchen tea before she was married, everyone who was invited shared a recipe and Mary compiled them in a cookbook that is still used today.
The dedication inside reads, “Happiness is best found in the simple things in life — sharing a meal and a glass of wine (in your case, Champagne) with loved ones is the recipe for contentment.”
The gift was perfect for Fotini, who says she was so spoilt with great cooking at home that she’d never developed her own culinary skills. “That was a good starting point for me. There was a lot of trial and error, just watching and learning.”
These days, Fotini loves to put her spin on dishes she’s enjoyed while eating out — Ruby Red Flamingo and Hispanic Mechanic are a couple of favourites. But she also loves being able to put everything into a crock pot and let it bubble away.
As part of the family’s weekly routine, they have dinner at Fotini’s parents’ home one night and Sotiri’s parents’ home another. They make sure at least one night is spent at their own dinner table, just the four of them. “The nights we’re home together, without guests, I just love having all of us together talking about our day.”
Fotini comes from a long line of food-lovers, including Mary. “My mum was just the most amazing cook, and so was my dad,’ Mary says. “I lost them both really young so for me, cooking was about bringing back those beautiful memories.”
Mary says her mother-in-law wasn’t the most adventurous cook, but had five dishes she’d perfected. “When I cook those dishes for my husband, it’s like his family is sitting there with us.”
Mary says she stays in the comfort zone of Greek food most often, but has occasionally tried something new. “I tried cooking Asian once and my husband said ‘We go out for Asian, darling’,” Mary laughs.
When Fotini calls out to let the guests know the food is ready, there’s a rush to the kitchen and in minutes, everyone is seated — they’ve clearly done this before. With the sign of the cross, the guests and their generous hosts feast.
This story first appeared in the April 2020 issue of SALIFE magazine.
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