[Crete food tour video below]
As our company continues to shape itself, one thing is for sure, it is entirely stemmed from heritage.
In September 2017, I, Baklava Couture founder, Katerina "Katina", immersed myself in my Cretan heritage along with long-time friend and collaboration partner, Melissa of FoodTalksDC, who documented the tour by shedding light on the food, culture and people we encountered in our travel.
The experience included family, friends and customers - both long time and new. Together we travelled, tasted, learned and explored Cretan villages, family recipes and old-world techniques in both culinary and lifestyle. We learned about the importance of wild herbs, sea salt and honey. We spent time in the kitchen of local cooks and bakers. We met people with simple ways of living, slow-living, and witnessed how they thrive with so much passion for the land and history that goes into their way of life and the food on their plates.
Like many Greek-Americans, I know first hand how we hold so much pride in our food and culture and it's importance to us. We, the next generation, don't want to lose what has shaped us and we tend to hold such a strong passion for our Greek heritage.
Being in the food industry, I meet people all the time between our farmers markets and shop who find us to experience what they remember growing up. The gratitude of these customers makes my day, and I'm always amazed how they always share something fascinating about their Greek heritage, even if they are 3rd or 4th generation born in the US.
Even I am third generation born in America on my mother's side, yet we still have managed to preserve as much as we can. The foundation of our recipes stem from family recipes handed down from my great-grandparents who immigrated here from Chios, Greece. They moved to the Pittsburgh area and opened a Greek bakery there. My great aunt Sylvia managed to preserve family recipes and my mom loves to tell stories of how her aunts house was filled with the aroma of fresh baked goods during various holidays or special occasions; fresh phyllo drying on the table, cookies hiding in the attic space so they wouldn't be eaten before Easter, the fresh rose preserves made from the garden.
So, for me, when it comes to Greek food, it's more than just the signature dishes the general folk have come to know -- your gyros and so on. It's about where the food comes from and how it's cultivated, prepared and preserved. It's the old-world way of seasonal eating and truly appreciating quality, crafted food made from scratch.
In today's locavore society, we spend a lot of energy using words like "local" and "know your farmer", especially us who vend at several producer-only farmers markets. But, what happens when we disconnect from our ancestral heritage farmers? The farmers who, for many generations, have nurtured olive trees and learned to extract the fruit into oil, a staple in our kitchen, my kitchen. The farmer who harvests the most wild, untouched culinary herbs that do not compare to conventionally grown or backyard herbs we use. The farmer who has only ever seen a rich, amber yolk when cracking into a soft boiled egg -- not like the eggs we crack into daily. How do we get to know these farmers that will help piece together the puzzle of where our food comes from and the why behind my passion and desire to create a food business based on my heritage?
My father and his parents were born and raised in mainland Greece and he had never actually visited Crete himself, the island from where his roots originally hail. While many of our bakery recipes come from my mother's side, my father, too, holds recipes that he remembers his mother making during his childhood. Fresh yogurt and cheeses, vegetables and meats stewed a certain way with certain flavors. I can always recognize a dish on the table that was made by my father, as it has a certain style and flavor profile to it -- perhaps a Cretan flair, which he picked up from his mother's way of cooking.
Connecting with my Cretan heritage has really exposed me to a better understanding of my ancestry and food story, but it was only the beginning. Visiting Crete and familiarizing my self with the dishes of this unique island have opened my eyes to a whole new repertoire of Greek food and as Baklava Couture continues to grow, we plan to incorporate more villages and towns in Greece to experience more with Greek food and the people behind it -- For us, it's not about adding another item to our menu, it's about sharing the experience with you.
This tour is one of more to come, and we hope to have you join us the next time!
For more information on our Greece workshops and travel, please email us at email@example.com -- thank you!