Greeks do it better
Anthea Loucas, editor of Australian Gourmet Traveller, sheds light on Australia's fascination with food, future directions in restaurant dining and why this could be Greek cuisine's time to shine
When Anthea Loucas walks into a restaurant, she turns heads.
As editor of the influential Gourmet Traveller magazine, she is at the helm of what is considered to be the bible for the serious food enthusiast. What she chooses to cover in the pages of each edition has put many restaurants on the map. And who she - along with the publication's top restaurant critics - choose to award the coveted Gourmet Traveller annual restaurant awards to has seen dining establishments turn into institutions.
Paying her dues with a start at the Herald and Weekly Times, as fashion editor for The Age and Herald Sun, and later as Editor of Good Living at the Sydney Morning Herald, Anthea has lived and breathed editorial throughout her impressive career. In her eight years as editor of Gourmet Traveller, Anthea carries a weighty responsibility, and clearly enjoys the creative process of composing her publication.
"The best part of the job would actually be having an idea and making it come to fruition" she says. "Working with the team, on whether it's securing a fabulous writer for a story or coming up with an idea for a food story... having a crazy idea and actually making it happen."
Gourmet Traveller hosts monthly reader dinners in association with the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, at new or renowned restaurants featured in the publication. "Aside from being really fun, it is a great chance for us to come face-to-face with the reader. We are very lucky to have a very loyal following and it's always fun meeting them in the flesh," says Loucas.
Gourmet Traveller has been around for nearly 50 years and has a 41,000-strong subscriber base. So what is it that gives the publication its edge? Anthea is quick to reply, "It has a great brand, it's trusted, it has great integrity". It is at once practical - you can use it to plan meals, restaurant outings or holidays - and inspirational all at the same time.
"It's also an affordable luxury, a bit of a treat. And all of that aside, I believe we produce a really great product that people obviously have an affection for." Anthea believes the surge in the obsession with cooking has benefitted her publication and other food media.
"Shows like MasterChef Australia have pushed [food] really seriously into the mainstream of popular culture in a way that food has never been before. Australians are very food literate anyway, but now it's in a whole other stratosphere."
Following on from the success of its past sell-out Greek editions, Gourmet Traveller's October issue pays homage to Greek cuisine and travel. It features recipes for stuffed zucchini flowers, kourabiedes and Cretan kalitsounia, along with contributions from George Calombaris, The Press Club, and John Rerakis, Philhellene. Although Anthea admits that it may seem strange timing considering Greece's current economic climate, she couldn't go past reader demand and the commercial success of the previous editions.
She adds, "And on top of it, I thought if there's a time to support the country, it's probably about now. Debt crisis aside, all of the experiences that you have in Greece are still there. We should be encouraging people to travel there now more than ever."
Anyone familiar with Gourmet Traveller knows that it will present Greek food with the publication's delectable flair. "Greek food is very familiar to Australians, but it's great for us to be able to show them the next level, aside from pita and three dips." Anthea says. "Italians get all the credit for pasta, but there are some really great pasta dishes in Greek cuisine.
The working title was 'Greeks do it better'. What can I say; I'm Greek so I'm really excited to be doing it."
Anthea's parents Harry and Mary Loucas, both from Cyprus, were instrumental in molding her interest in journalism - and in cooking. "My dad was a really big newspaper consumer. I definitely think I caught the newspaper bug from him. I remember coming home from school, waiting for The Herald to be delivered and reading my favourite writers." She credits her mother and maternal grandmother as being amazing cooks. It was the evenings when her mother worked late, however, that put Anthea's culinary skills to the test.
"Often my brother and I would cook the family meal of an evening when we were teenagers because my mum would be working and we both really loved to cook. And we'd actually get quite competitive about it." Greeks are well-represented in the Australian population, but their cuisine hasn't established itself in the mainstream in the way that others have.
"It really puzzles me when you think of how accessible the flavours and the ingredients are. I think the timing is right for it now because people are more curious about food than they've ever been before. People are being educated - through food magazines, and TV shows - that food is not intimidating, it can be fun, easy and simple. And Greek food will hopefully be a part of that."
With her finger on the pulse of the culinary world, what trends does Anthea see on the horizon? "Across the board, we're seeing some more relaxed dining experiences. The next generation [the generation Y's] are bringing a much more raucous approach to restaurants - restaurants as night clubs. We're starting to see a lot of Mexican. And also that sort of back-to-nature foods continues to flourish, chefs that are foraging for their own food. It's very locavore, it's very much about food that you can grow or find within a two kilometre radius of the restaurant." If the next big thing is cooking with locally produced food, Greeks with their enviable veggie gardens may well do it better.
The October edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller is out now.
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