STORY AND MAIN PHOTO BY RICHARD CORNISH RESTAURANT PHOTOS BY LEESA O'REILLY
Frank and Connie Gianiotis were Caliopi Buck’s late grandparents. Born in Greece they were an integral part her upbringing. She never forgets them. Their names are above the door of Caliopi’s Hepburn Springs restaurant, Frank and Connie’s Kitchen. She learned a lot of cooking skills at her Grandmother’s side growing up in Perth. “When Nana arrived in Australia she learned to cook from an English woman,” says Caliopi. “She would cook for three days when there was a family gathering. Not Greek Easter or a formal celebration. Just a get-together,” says Caliopi. She has a smile on her lips and her eyes are focused somewhere out the restaurant window.
Caliopi Buck is youthful looking for age, somewhere in her late 30s. Customers still ask her if they can speak to the owner. Her restaurant is bright and light with windows facing onto Hepburn Spring’s main drag. There are whimsical Mad Hatter cushions under the windows, contrasting the simple, mis-matched old wooden chairs sitting at bare wooden tables. There are herbs drying on the walls, fruit ripening in bowls and the aroma of stock coming from the open kitchen. On one wall are images of Edinburgh’s High Street and Grass Market. These are memories of her time living in Edinburgh when she did estage under acclaimed chef Martin Wishart. She also worked under George Calombaris, before he was a Masterchef, at his early Reserve restaurant at Fed Square. She was also chef at the much awarded Courthouse Hotel in North Melbourne.
“My brother bought a house in Daylesford,” says Caliopi, as she accepts a delivery of local quinces. She is the type of chef who has the skill to change her menu with the seasons, as the opportunities offered by different produce cross her threshold. “I wanted to be near my brother, my sister-in-law and my nieces. I wanted to dedicate my 30s to my family. I was a long time away from them.”
There are no printed menus at Frank and Connie’s. Just an ever-changing list of dishes chalked onto the blackboard above the open kitchen. There is a lot of Greek influence but this is not a Greek restaurant. She bakes her pita bread daily and this could be served with tzatziki and roast pumpkin dip. Yes there are spanakopita fingers and saganaki with honey but there could also be the very un-Greek slow roasted lamb ribs served with Argentina’s own chimichurri sauce. Or you could have barramundi served with beans cooked in a tomato sauce. “It’s like Nana’s lathera – this is a tomato based sauce in which seasonal vegetables are slowly cooked. It is peasant food and is so delicious.” Frank and Connie’s turns two on June 8. Caliopi only found out recently that this was her Greek naming day. “I was named after my Nana,” says Caliopi. “Connie was her Aussie name. Her real name was Caliopi.”