Although we love the city of Athens, sometimes it’s good to get out. One of our favorite destinations is Kea, a small island in the Cyclades where Greek culinary historian, Aglaia Kremezi, runs Kea Artisanal, a cooking school that focuses on local traditions. In the heat of late August, we caught up Aglaia to find out what’s new on Kea and how Greek food is better outside the restaurant.
Context Travel: I see the advantages to Kea. It’s one of the closer islands to the mainland, only 90 minutes by ferry and taxi to the Athens airport. But, why, specifically, did you choose this island to base your cooking school?
Aglaia Kremezi: My maternal grandfather was born in Kea, but left very young to seek a better future in Athens. I grew up listening island stories from my mother who spent summers here when she was young, but I only visited Kea in the mid ‘80ies. We built a weekend house here 12 years ago, and when we spent our first summer, in 2000, my husband suggested we extend our stay into the late fall, and then we decided to stay permanently…
Kea has great beaches, a rare oak forest on the slopes of the tall central mountains, and a mysterious, smiling lion carved around 600 B.C. into a gray rock the size of a whale. There are remnants of classical temples as well as Neolithic settlements. The extensive and well-kept network of scenic stone-paved paths—the old mule roads—are now the perfect trails for people who want to explore the island on foot.
Context Travel: Tell me about your programs? What would I learn if I visit Kea and your school?
Aglaia Kremezi: We share our home, kitchen and garden with the visitors who come to our classes. Together we harvest the seasonal produce and prepare the dishes that we later enjoy during our long leisurely lunches or dinners under the shade of our mulberry tree. We make traditional breads, gather vine leaves and roll dolmades, make pies with home-made phylo, which everybody learns to roll. We also organize walks, and sunset picnics at the beach.
Context Travel: There are a lot of Greek restaurants in North America. But, what kinds of surprises will I encounter at Kea Artisanal?
Aglaia Kremezi: Restaurant food is VERY different from home cooking. We have no restaurant tradition in Greece, where the best food is served in the homes.
People who followed our classes say that they go home having acquired the basic technique of seasonal Greek and Mediterranean cooking, and this helps them adapt the recipes and create lots of different and easy dishes from scratch.
Context Travel: But, what if I’m not a talented chef?
Aglaia Kremezi: We have a solution: a tasting of artisanal cheeses. We offer tastes of 10-15 different cheeses from all over the country which are very difficult to find even in Athens. Sampling Greek wines is another experience that our guests seem to enjoy very much.
Context Travel: Ok. I’m sold. But what are the specialities of the island?
Aglaia Kremezi: Local lamb and kid, which we roast in our wood-burning oven, home-made sausages, and of course fish that we get right from the boats.
Context Travel: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you good? What would you eat?
Aglaia Kremezi: We just returned from Genoa, where I attended the Slow Fish fair, and once more feasted on farinata, the traditional Genoan chickpea flour pizza, plain and with anchovies, which I adore! On my way back I stopped in Milan for a couple of days, and enjoyed variations of risotto–with asparagus, with seafood etc. Risotto is one of my favorite foods. I love to travel, but unfortunately I never manage to find the time to go somewhere just for the fun of it.
Context Travel: Did you grow up cooking?
Aglaia Kremezi: I am not a professional cook, but I’ve been in the kitchen since early childhood, helping and learning from my mother and my grandmother. I am a journalist and writer, I really enjoy cooking and sharing my food with friends. So, during our classes I have as much fun as our guests!
For more information:
Context Kea Artisanal