Tessa Kiros always had interesting food in her house as a child. Born in London to a Greek Cypriot father and a Finnish mother, the fridge was filled with haloumi, olives and feta. Roast lamb with oregano and lemon was a Sunday favourite, sheftalies and souvlaki was always on the menu, finished up with baklava and halva.
“When my grandfather came to visit us from Cyprus he would bring small pickled birds in a jar – which I think only my father appreciated – amongst the other delicacies he carried,” she tells Neos Kosmos, noting how interesting it was to see what her grandparents would travel with and what delicacies immigrant children would crave.
Tessa points out that her father made sure that the family were in touch with their Greek Cypriot culture and community. Food featured high in their celebrations from birthdays to Easter and Christmas – food always played the leading role.
At the age of four, the family moved to South Africa, which like London, embraced the multiculturalism of food. But by eighteen, the teenager set off to travel the world and learn all she could about the world’s cultures, traditions and discover new ways of living and eating.
“I always wanted to travel. I remember when the teacher went around the class asking what we wanted to do/be – I said I wanted to travel,” Tessa tells Neos Kosmos.
Tessa took off to Israel where she worked on a kibbutz, then to Cyprus, Greece and travelled by train through the rest of Europe stopping off in London. She’s travelled to Sydney, Mexico and America. She’s worked at a friend’s cafe in Plaka, Athens, at The Groucho Club in London and in Athens again under a French chef.
It was on a trip to Italy to study the language and food that Tessa met her husband Giovanni in Tuscany, where they now live with their two children. But Tuscany proved to be a place of many inspirations and after the birth of her second daughter, Tessa set out to document her journeys through food herself.
“I wanted to document everything for myself – to have it as my memory in the exact way I wanted it,” she says. Shortly after, it became a book. The 34-year-old was finally a published cookbook author with the release of her Tuscan book Twelve.
After writing to many publishers, it was Murdoch who took a risk on this wordly but unknown author, and the risk has paid off. Tessa is the author of seven bestselling titles including: Apples for Jam; Falling Cloudberries; Twelve, Piri Piri Starfish: Portugal Found, Venezia; Food from Many Greek Kitchens; and Venezia Journal.
And now she has finished her eighth title Limoncello and Linen Water: A Troussea of Italian Recipes. This book pays homage to the heritage of Italy but is also a tribute to the women in our lives – our mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers – and the important lessons we learn from them.
“I don’t think I ever set out to do a particular thing in the books,” Tessa says of the inspiration of her cookbooks, “I just put in what feels should be in.”
One thing I adore about the cookbook Food from Many Greek Kitchens is the way the cookbook is sectioned off. Unlike traditional cookbooks with your entrees, desserts, meat and seafood recipes, this book – like her others – include chapters such as traditional foods, fasting foods, Easter foods and baker’s foods, highlighting the way in which each culture eats. And with each recipe, she includes details of the festive event, showcasing that celebration, culture and food go hand in hand.
“I think a little background on why something is eaten can be helpful to put context to things,” Tessa explains to Neos Kosmos.
Even though the writer says it’s not her aim to purposely connect the two, she says it happens organically as food and culture are the “things that interest [her] completely.
“Personally I do think the two are connected – I love the way nations eat certain things at certain moments.
“I love cooking traditional things with people from their places, seeing how it’s done – exactly what they put in and when and why. I love cooking new things with people that love cooking and for people who love to be here with me.”
Tessa Kiros is in Australia next week promoting her new cookbook Limoncello and Linen Water. Tessa’s cookbooks are available in all good book stores.