July 5, 2019
People & Places

Guess who’s coming to dinner… Vicki Papazaharias

Vicki Papazaharias has the kind of dinner party dreams are made of: cake for dinner and hot chocolate to finish.

Vicki Papazaharias has revolutionised the dinner party. She’s eliminated that feeling we get when we’ve filled up on hors d’oeuvres, entree and main, only to regret every unnecessary mouthful once the delectable dessert hits the table.

Vicki’s philosophy is that dessert doesn’t have to be confined to a footnote on the menu — it can be the main event. Why should savoury dishes hold a monopoly at the table?

It might seem unusual to present an olive oil chocolate cake as the star of the show, but Vicki’s family and friends aren’t surprised when they spy the menu, although they are delighted.

Tempting treats and their delectable presentation have fascinated Vicki since she was young. She and her family would visit Port Lincoln each year, and once, there was a wheat cargo shipped docked in the town. “They invited us onto the boat and I was only little, but I remember the captain handing me this box of biscuits,” Vicki says. “I was enthralled with the way they were so beautifully packaged. I love anything small and sweet.”

That feeling never really went away, and over the years it’s morphed into luxury chocolate business, Adixions, which Vicki runs alongside her full-time job in the pharmaceutical industry.

So as tonight’s guests make their way into the Kensington home, they find Vicki putting the final touches on a chocolate board, in the place of the traditional cheese board. A block of 38 per cent French chocolate is the star of the board, sitting alongside dehydrated organic apple chips, shiraz truffles and coffee bonbons.

There are clues everywhere of what’s to come. The menu isn’t entirely chocolate-based, an aroma of risotto fills the kitchen with ingredients strewn all over the kitchen bench as Vicki is still busily working away. She’s in her own culinary world, but her friends are happy to snack on the hors d’oeuvres with a glass of gin in hand, even helping to put the drinks together.

Spiro and Aspasia — Vicki’s parents — arrive, bags filled with fresh ingredients from their Renmark farm. Spiro is retired, but he spends his days tending to the quarter of an acre out the back of their home, plentiful with all the fruits and vegetables you can imagine.

The apple chips on the chocolate board came from Spiro’s trees, and he’s also brought figs for the cake. Aspasia’s contribution is her own helping hand.

Before long, mother and daughter are standing together over the risotto, in complete concentration mode. Aspasia is dishing out her tips.

Vicki’s mother passed on her love of entertaining. Greek name days were a huge affair to be celebrated in their Riverland community, and Aspasia would host elaborate feasts when the occasion called, covering trestle tables with her specialities. Cake decorating was a talent and hobby, and her daughter took that on and has made countless wedding cakes. “Vicki’s obviously taken it a step further,” Aspasia says.

Tonight’s table setting is inspired by Vicki’s aunt, who would always make sure the linen and matching crockery came out for even casual family lunches.

The dinner looks beautiful, with each course carefully plated, and the night has managed to achieve that perfect balance between casual and elegant.

As Vicki’s attention turns away from last minute preparations to getting the entree ready to serve, her guests make their way inside from the courtyard, where they’ve been enjoying a drink and a nibble in the last of the afternoon sun.

Vicki has been going strong for a good four hours, slicing, dicing, seasoning and stirring. But eventually, preparation gives way to plating. “There’s only so much you can prepare ahead, then all of a sudden, it’s all happening and it’s manic.”

The introduction to the meal is hearty, but not overly filling. The trio of dishes is the perfect taste of Vicki’s modern Greek style. Everything ties in perfectly as you work your way through the dishes. The fried cheese topped with the classic flavours of olive and fennel is a delicate way to start. The lamb is simple and delicious, and the taramasalata leaves guests with something so quintessentially Greek.

By the end of entree, guests have almost had all the savoury on offer for the night. There’s a watermelon salad to cleanse the palate, but it’s unashamedly into the sweet stuff from there.

Vicki’s background in science lends itself to a bit of experimenting in the kitchen. “I like a bit of chemistry. I start with something basic and adapt with flavours I love.”

The basis for tonight’s main came from Nigella Lawson’s olive oil chocolate cake, with some extra cocoa and a couple of pinches of cinnamon. Each guest has their own mini-version of the cake, which in itself is not excessively sweet, but accompaniments push it into delectable dessert territory.

The flourless cake isn’t overbearing or heavy, but even so, there are remnants left on plates. There’s no point overindulging just yet, there’s even more to come. If their sweet tooths aren’t yet satiated, guests have the chocolate board to devour. The party continues on, guests have gin or red wine in hand, chipping away at the chocolates and truffles.

Vicki’s hosting style is very relaxed. Typically, she says she’s a blend of chaos and organisation. Usually, she starts out with the best of intentions, but also has a penchant for spontaneity. “I love the rush, I love being put under pressure.”

Tonight’s menu, for example, rolled around in Vicki’s imagination until it became exactly what she wanted, not far out from the night of the party. She isn’t one for rigidly standing by previous decisions if more inspiration strikes.

Cooking, for Vicki, is a therapeutic task to be enjoyed. “I love slow-roasting and cooking moreish recipes. There’s nothing better than nice, flavoursome home cooking.” 

This story first appeared in the May 2019 issue of SALIFE.

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