Monthly Archives: March 2013

Cyprus is not the miracle. The Cypriots are.

There is no such thing as a financial crisis.
It’s the result of a social crisis, a values crisis, a confidence crisis, a how we feel about ourselves crisis. And I am starting to feel that the current European crisis is a crisis of democracy. That the real deficit is a democratic deficit.

Last week Cyprus gave the world some of the best cliffhanging television that it has seen for a long, long time. Part drama, part comedy. Soap opera and epic serial. But tragic. Always tragic. Because it was the story of the collapse of the Cyprus miracle. And the treatment that was handed out from the north smelt of Protestant punishment.

But I have learned something about the Cypriots. You will be back. With another miracle. Because Cyprus is not the miracle. The Cypriots are.


Maybe this is the centre…


I worked with someone. An Italian. He had a name for me. The Greek American Zulu. This was a reference to the most important places and cultures that have influenced me.

Greek. My origins, my DNA, the essence of who I am.

And Greece. This crazy unpredictable country that I have now chosen as home. Beautiful Greece.

American. Because of my years working in the world’s largest American advertising agencies with some of the world’s largest American brands. And my time in that wonderful city called New York.

Zulu. South Africa. Where I was born and where I grew up. The place I called home for so many years and the place I still go home to every year. Religiously. Without fail. And not just because my mother, my brother and my sister live there.

To visit places with names such as Okavango, Mashatu, Phinda, Hluhluwe, Mtunzini. Magical mystical places. Like Makgadikgadi.

Have you ever seen so many stars that the night no longer appears dark? Have you ever heard silence so silent that it is loud and your ears hurt? You will in the Makgadikgadi Pan. Hundreds of square kilometers of dry lake bed. Flatness. A landscape devoid of any landmarks. Nothing to distinguish left from right or north from south. A strange eerie wilderness.

It’s a long long story. But I once spent a night on a luxurious bed planted in the middle of this strange landscape. A night with so many stars that the Milky Way looked like a river. A night so silent that I swear my ears hurt. One of the most memorable nights of my life.

I love Greece. A country so sweet, so warm, so welcoming. A country that truly feels like the cradle of civilization. Even before you see traces of culture.

I love America. So young. So brash. So daring. So loud. So adventurous. So ambitious.

So … American.

And I love Africa.

So primeval. So raw. Such a reminder of who we really are. How big and how small we are. And if you’ve ever been on safari you’ll know what I am talking about. Ever worked through the bush? Ever looked into the eyes of a lion, understanding that he’s looking straight back at you? It’s enough to clear you of anything. Nothing is more essential. No problem is serious enough to warrant your attention. Nothing is more sobering. It’s why my advice to troubled friends is often that they look into the eyes of a lion. They get it.

I chose to leave Africa. For the simple reason that I felt somehow isolated at the bottom end of the world. That I was too far from the centre. But now I realize that maybe this was the centre. Because it is where you see the stars and hear the silence and look into the eyes of the lion.

Food is culture.


We are what we eat.

We are how we eat.

We are why we eat.

My cultural immersion happened on Sundays in South Africa in the world’s largest kitchen with brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles and aunts. Around a huge table. Food. Wine. Conversation. Laughter. Celebration. Noise. Arguments. Surprises. Friends. Debates. Love. Life …

Well I thought it was the world’s largest kitchen because I myself was so little. Hours of Greek cultural immersion. Always on Sundays. Enough to keep a South African kid close to his roots. Enough to fill the heart with Greekness if not the tongue with Greek.

Then this South African Greek moved to Hong Kong. And after a few years to Greece.

I struggled with the Greek language. But Greek tastes were easy. I’d learnt them in γιαγιά’s kitchen and just like your γιαγιά, my γιαγιά was the best cook in the world.

Greece was a culinary cul de sac in those days. Great food… but no cuisine if you know what I mean. Tavernas, Italian and French. That was about it. I left for Mexico in 1992 and learnt about the wonders of Mexican cuisine which has nothing, and I mean NOTHING to do with the TexMex we call Mexican. And some horrors too … like termite eggs, maguey worms and fried grasshoppers. But that’s another story …

From Mexico I moved to New York, a culinary treat if ever there was one. Nobu. Gotham Bar and Grill. Il Cantinori. Milos. Raoul and a host of others whose names I cannot recall right now. And of course the best hamburgers in the world. But that too is another story …

I discovered a new, edgy, experimental, creative, innovative, courageous, humorous, self confident Athens when I came back in 1999. Well, I thought it was all these things because Aristera Dexia was all these things.

Athens was these things. For a while. But it all ended after the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics.

I recently attended the Χρυσοί Σκούφοι awards hosted by Athinorama.

These awards are twenty years old. Their contribution to the development of Greek cuisine is huge. Chefs are creators. They build on inspiration. They thrive on recognition.

I left with the realization that innovation is alive and well in Greece. At least in the kitchens of the country’s leading restaurants. And it’s the best kind of innovation. Firmly rooted in Greek tradition. But courageously reaching out to the future. Close to the heart of Greeks, but reaching out to an international audience. A cuisine that gives Greece a role in the modern culinary world.

This country can draw inspiration from its chefs. Because the way they move forward is exactly the way we should all move forward. Boldly. Creatively. Rooted in our past. Reaching for our future. Creating a role for Greece in the modern world.

Creative enterprise based on our unique knowhow. The knowhow of life.


All time classic? That sounds like γιαγιά’s moussaka. Nikos Karathanos pays tribute to every γιαγιά. But he moves her into the future and on to the world stage.

SETE is putting emphasis behind gastronomic tourism.

Please don’t call it ‘all time classic.’

Because it’s time to imagine the future.