One would think that a cookbook is about good recipes, compelling photos and clear cooking directions. Those are the kind of cookbooks I don’t like that much. In everything I do, reading, watching a movie, visiting a new city or country, I look for poignant stories. Food and culture are two characters that flirt with each other over and over again.
Aegean is an actual cookbook containing Greek traditional recipes but I consider it more like a book, a travel book about Greece.
The author and Chef Marianna Leivaditaki tells her family history, her childhood, through the food, through her cooking skills learnt in her parents’ taverna in Crete. It becomes the story of many Greek families, or better, of many families all over the world because in every culture food is memories, nostalgia.
I don’t know Marianna (yet!) but she is the chef of Morito Hackney in London, my favorite place where I used to go so many times I can tell you the menu by heart even though it changes every day.
As many of you know, I lived in London for three years before moving to Santorini. One of my many jobs was in an Indian Restaurant: even though I moved to the City to work with artists and photographers, this was the best experience and the most missed from that period of my life. I loved working with Urvesh, the owner and head chef at Gujarati Rasoi, and thanks to him I understood how much you can communicate through food. Food is heritage, is history, is people, is storytelling. At that time he suggested to check out two restaurants (Moro and its son Morito in Exmouth Market) but I never did. When they launched Morito Hackney in East London, one night I decided to go and check out this new place. I did not know anything about the restaurant, I actually thought it was a Spanish-Maroccan tapas kind of place. Something rang a bell in the menu and I asked the waiter if there was someone Greek in the kitchen and there she was, Marianna Leivaditaki.
I started going to Morito Hackney very often, I went there alone, with London friends and with whoever was coming to visit me from Italy or else. Nowadays my friends are still raving about this place. It’s a very cool restaurant but you know, London is full of this kind of places. What was tangible was that Marianna’s food was talking and surely was talking to me with beautiful stories.
As I always do when I meet something/someone that I admire, I start researching about them and so I did for Marianna. I learnt that she was from Crete, that she used to work in her family taverna in Crete. She moved to study in the UK, loved Moro so much that she asked to work there starting from the floor and ending up being the head chef at Morito Hackney. In her story I can see all the things I love: a young woman that, even if she runs away from her birth place and country, tries to keep alive her roots through the food she makes.
I want to talk and write about the island and what it has to give. I want to write and document the families that for years have lived in small villages far away from everything and their kitchen tables are the most incredible sights. I want to photograph the old ladies going out in the heat or the cold and foraging the season’s goods. I want to share my experience of being a fisherman’s daughter and living a simple but simultaneously so rich life on the island of Crete’Marianna Leivaditaki
Food is such a connection with culture, when I travel is what I look out for, more than museums and art (which says a lot if you know me). It’s longing and love, it’s sorrow and sparkle.
No surprise I was really excited when I saw that Marianna’s cookbook was out. I ordered my copy and had very high expectations about it. Which were happily met!
This is a book about Greece and tells about this wonderful country more than other fiction or non-fiction books.
Food is storytelling and if you flip the pages of Aegean you can learn not only about wonderful recipes, you can learn about Marianna’s childhood, Greek traditions, the importance of hard work, the beauty of a place where food is the way to welcome everyone.
The photographs are by Elena Heatherwick and they are wonderful. This is not a cookbook, is more than that and its photography goes along with this concept: the pictures are genuine, not styled in the classic food photography way. Hands are real and pictures are simple and elegant at the same time, something very difficult to achieve for a photographer.
The book is divided into chapters such as ‘the Sea’, ‘the Land’, ‘the Mountains’ and each recipe is introduced by a memory or an explanation of the tradition behind it and it’s a journey that will take you in the fascinating island of Crete. I highly recommend you to read the moving words of Marianna in the introduction of the cookbook.
The quality of the production, the engraved cover, the design and the paper makes this book a beautiful object.
You probably know I did not have a great experience in Chania last year and that I am vegan, more likely I won’t cook almost any of the recipes of this book (I am sure I will find a way to adapt them), but this is not the reason why I bought it. The reason why I got it is to learn more about this beautiful culture that I decided to embrace and to which I asked to be accepted.
My only complaint is that there is no recipe for the Chocolate mousse with olive oil, oranges and hazelnuts which I am still dreaming about! Marianna if you’re reading…
© One Quarter Greek – Nicoletta Barbata
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