For food blogger and author Tassos Antoniou, the most important moments of his life have taken place around a table. While eating is a necessity, for the Greek-born foodie, cooking is truly an art form.
“In Greece, food is a way of sharing feelings, thoughts; food is memories in the making,” Antoniou tells Neos Kosmos.
“It’s an honour for a cook to prepare the food that people will share and create a memory upon.”
In the Antoniou household, food preparation was something of a ritual; the kitchen was his mother’s domain, but the grill was always worked to perfection by his father.
Now living between Athens and London, as time has gone by, while he notes that they have all changed in one way or another, as people do, when cooking, it all feels like it used to; as though no time has passed at all.
“Frankly, this feeling is deeply therapeutic,” he says.
It is this sentimentality, and emotional connection to food, that has fuelled Antoniou’s food ambitions.
The publisher of popular food website MamaPeinao.gr, he also runs English language food blog My Greek Salad, curates a monthly column at leading food magazine Vima Gourmet, presents on Greek national TV, and in whatever time remains, travels extensively across Greece and the globe in search of the next food inspiration.
Following the positive reception of his 2016 Greek language cookbook, So You Never Have To Say ‘Mom, I’m Hungry’ Again, which won the title of Best Easy Recipes Cookbook at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, requests started pouring in for Antoniou to produce something similar, but in English, to be more accessible to Greeks across the diaspora and to philhellenes who have fallen in love with Greek cuisine on their travels.
This inspired his latest project My Greek Salad: The Cookbook.
As people who have visited Greece will know, it can be difficult to emulate the same culinary experience in Greek restaurants closer to home, and so Antoniou’s book helps to close that divide.
Featuring over 100 recipes, including everything from meze and salads, to mains and desserts, the collection has been heavily inspired by Antoniou’s family holidays to the Greek island of Aegina, where he has spent each summer over the past 30 years enjoying their holiday house in Perdika, a small fishing village.
“This is where I first learned to make gemista and how to catch octopus and small fish with the local fishermen. The island cuisine holds a special place in my heart,” he says.
Having a true appreciation for regional cooking, Antoniou has also chosen to include recipes he has collected during his travels across the country, featuring original recipes that have been treasured and handed down from one family to another in local communities of Thessaloniki, Mykonos, Kalamata, and Santorini to name a few.
“After many years of travelling around Greece, tasting local cuisines, meeting with incredible people who introduced me to their communities, I had collected so many experiences and material that I needed to write down. What better way to tell all these beautiful food stories,” he says.
While the emphasis is on authenticity, Antoniou says the recipes are an up-to-date version he has tweaked in his test kitchen.
Keeping with his motto “Greek food made fast, easy, healthy and simple”, he has made sure to keep beginners in mind.
“There is no way to go wrong with these recipes, as I’ve tested them and made them easy for everyone, from amateur cooks to master chefs. Fast, healthy, tasty recipes you can make at little time, with everyday ingredients that won’t break the bank and are all easy to find and work with, no matter where one might live.”
Having lived in big cities such as London and New York, where he came face-to-face with the modern day dilemma of small apartment kitchens, he has made sure that the ingredients list has been kept to a minimum, without skimping on flavour.
“I know it can be very intimidating to cook at home when the list of ingredients for one single recipe won’t even fit on your counter. That’s why I tried to include recipes with no more than five or six ingredients, many of them under 30 minutes,” he says.
While the Greek cuisine is known for its simple techniques, he says the way one treats the ingredients is very important when it comes to the final result of the flavour achieved, and he imparts little secrets throughout the book.
Meanwhile as a visual person, Antoniou has ensured the imagery is topnotch, with a photo accompanying every single recipe to act as a guide for cooks to know they are headed in the right direction, and also as a visual trip to the various colourful and exotic Greek locations featured.
In publishing this book, the writer has chosen to go down an unorthodox path, and open it up to readers and consumers through a Kickstarter campaign. Having worked with a traditional publishing house on past projects, he has experienced the red tape firsthand, which can see it take anywhere from two to three years to get a book published, and so he decided to go independent and engage his audience directly.
“I believe in the power of community and, frankly, nothing is more direct than a reader comment that could give a whole new perspective on this work in progress,” he explains.
“I value the community input very much.”
To demonstrate this, he has included a pledge tier with different rewards including a gift box of Greek delicacies, and even the opportunity to feature their own Greek recipe in a special section of the book, along with the chance to have a cooking class with Antoniou himself.
“Anyone who wants to enjoy the benefits of the Mediterranean diet that leads to a healthy, long life will love this cookbook,” he notes.
“If you can’t get to Greece, get Greece to you!”
To find out more about Antoniou’s Kickstarter campaign, click here.