If there ever was a go-to source on everything and anything involving Greek food and cuisine, then that definitely is George Pittas. With two decades of researching, tasting, writing and promoting behind him, Pittas is back with a new book, his seventh to be precise, titled Gastronomic Communities – Gastronomic Destinations: A Call to Action (currently only in Greek) presented this week at the Yoleni’s multi-space dedicated to – what else – Greek food.
“This is not like my previous books,” Pittas is quick to note. “In all these years of researching, recording and presenting, I discovered that it’s just not enough. And so I started three years ago looking at the issue of Greek food and its connection with culture and tourism from a holistic point of view.”
The idea behind the book, Pittas says, is to bring together all stakeholders to the table, initiate dialogue and move ahead with actions towards the creation of what he dubs “gastronomic communities” which will be able united to tap into the vast wealth of Greece’s gastronomic tradition and products, and take it a step further, developing it into a driver of the economy.
Gastronomic communities, Pittas says, are all about getting everyone on board, from the producer and restauranteur to the hotelier and the tour operator and through collective actions establish “gastronomic destinations” across Greece.
Greek Gastronomy – A Holistic Approach
Among Pittas’ previous projects for the promotion of Greek cuisine and products is the highly successful Greek Breakfast initiative which spurred hotels across the country to serve Greek products for breakfast as well as the online Greek Gastronomy Guide offering insight into Greek products, their variety as well as where to find them and which producers are the best.
As always, the Yoleni’s conference center was packed with Pittas’ friends and followers. The only way to tap into this vast wealth of products and Greek culinary traditions is by working together, as one, seeking through dialogue at the start to develop the structures that will support the products across the spectrum.
“Getting the product out there, ready to sell means connecting it with the travel experience. The visitor first tastes something here on his trip, likes it and then seeks to find it in his country,” Pittas said.
All speakers attending the event underlined the importance of synergies and public-private partnerships as well as the need to change the ages-old mentality that Greek products are of lesser importance.
Pittas referred to the example of Italy’s parmesan cheese. “In Greece, instead of promoting our own wonderful cheeses, we considered it a sign of progress to eat parmesan, but the Italians believed in their product and today it is protected not only by the producers and traders but also by the state itself,” he said.
“As in the area of wine, so in the area of food there are dozens of small businesses doing their best, dedicating time and money to excellent quality products. But this is not enough,” said winemaker George Skouras, also head of the Greek Wine Federation. “Gastronomy is inextricably linked with culture and tourism. There are many visitors seeking the genuine gastronomic experience of Greece. To achieve this, we need to apply a holistic approach to quality and must cooperate in order to bring together the whole experience. This is where SMEs should begin and this will benefit the local communities,” he said.
Dialogue, Partnerships, Trusting the Product
As of last, there are dozens of efforts being made to establish a single approach to products and producers, and to establish these in the collective memory. Pittas referred to the Tinos Food Paths initiative as one such bright example that has produced results and “propelled Tinos in the last few years as a major foodie destination”.
Speaking at the event was Agis Pistiolas, co-founder and president of Ella-Dika-Mas, a certification company certify businesses Greek-owned, based and producing products in Greece and sold on the retail market with the aim to provide Greek companies with a single logo/brand which will clearly define their product values. There are currently 45 Greek companies under the Ella-Dika-Mas umbrella.
Another excellent initiative is Yoleni’s. Speaking at the book presentation was advisor Angelos Filippidis. Located in the heart of Athens, Yoleni’s started off as an online shop for specialty food items, only to evolve into a mega boutique of the best edible products from dozens of micro producers across Greece.
Earlier this year, Yoleni’s launched its on-the-spot eatery – Topos by Yoleni’s – offering these very products on a plate. Meanwhile, the demanding foodie can find Greek products or recipes from across Greece and order online at Yoleni’s site. The company ships to 28 countries, and the site and blog offer everything from recipes and foodie secrets to gift basket ideas and nutritional insight.
Photos: Maria Paravantes