Tag Archives: Greece

That’s magic


I’m a Greek. But don‘t ask me why our Easter sometimes coincides with everyone else’s and why sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe the Church gets it but I don’t.

Despite my theological ignorance, I am touched by the beauty of Easter in Greece. And this year’s was more beautiful than ever.

On Good Friday this year (the day the Greeks refer to as “Big Friday”) I set sail from Bodrum on White Wings, a thoroughly modern and luxurious 140 ft take on a traditional Turkish gulet. An incredibly seaworthy wooden beauty designed to cope superbly well with the Aegean. On board were Çem, Ali, Peter and crew. Friends. Kindred spirits.

We headed to Patmos. If you’ve been there then you’ll understand its spiritual magnetism. It’s the place where St John is believed to have received the visions which he recorded in the Book of Revelations. Many islands have their Chora. But the Chora of Patmos is something breathtaking to the spirit.

We docked early and headed up the hill to Chora. A couple of Turks and a Greek. Good Friday in Patmos was a revelation. To this Greek. And to his Turkish friends. Greek or Turkish, Christian or Muslim … anyone would be touched by the simple beauty and spiritual complexity of what we witnessed in the little square in the shadow of the monastery. And the image of the little boy tugging at the gilded sleeve of his bearded, singing priest father resplendent in the trappings of the Greek Orthodox Church will remain etched in my mind forever.

We celebrated the Resurrection in Amorgos the next night. With fireworks, gunfire and, I swear, a few sticks of dynamite, followed by a traditional meal of stuffed goat and a traditional soup which I have considered inedible since my childhood. From Amorgos we went on to Koufounisia (what beaches!), Schinousa, Ios, Santorini, Folegandros, Milos, Sifnos, Serifos, Kithnos and Tzia, docking in Athens where I am now writing this piece.

Sailing is a joy. But sailing in the Greek islands is a revelation. And I think of this introduction I recently wrote for a recipe book called “Cooking on the Boat” written by Lale and Çem Ape:

At anchor off a Greek island. Or somewhere off the Turkish coast.
A warm late afternoon. The sea gently lapping against the sides of the boat.
The outline of an ancient temple on the hillside. A fisherman’s caique cutting across the horizon. Great friends. Lively conversation. A glass of ouzo. Or raki.

That’s magic.

This planet is full of magic, but much as I have travelled I have not found any like the Aegean. It’s a gentle place, an embracing place. A place of warmth. A place where life is lived with love. And where it is lived to the full. Not necessarily with opulence, but with a richness you will not find elsewhere.

I am Greek, but my ancestral home is Turkey – it’s where my grandparents grew up. Maybe that’s why I love both sides of this ancient sea as much as I do.
Or maybe it’s just because of the magic.

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.



Think of a soft drink.
Bet you thought of Coca-Cola.
Not that it’s the only soft drink in the world.
Nor that it’s the world’s best soft drink.
But it IS the world’s best soft drink brand.
And therefore, it’s the brand that most people choose.
Now think of other product categories. Most have a leading brand. A brand that defines its category. A brand that first comes to mind when consumers think of the category. It is not necessarily the biggest brand in its category, but it is the protagonist of its category. Cigarettes? Marlboro.
Shoes? Nike.
Coffee? Starbucks.
Beer? Heineken.
Computers? Apple.


Consumer choice has exploded.
Brands facilitate decision-making in this world of multiple choice.


What to eat.
Where to eat it.
What to drink.
What shoes to wear.



Where to go on holiday.
Where to invest.


Brands that dominate their category are brands that express the essence of the category. And they do so with vision. With clarity. And most of all, consistency. They connect brand DNA with consumer insight and expectation.


Does a brand have DNA?
Yes! Just like a person, a brand is a living breathing organism with its own DNA. It’s own undeniable truth. Powerful brands are believable brands because they are true to their DNA. Human beings are stuck with their DNA forever. Not so with brands. Nike was not “born” with the “Just Do It” DNA just as Apple was not born to “Think Different”. This DNA was developed through the vision of management applied consistently over time. Not just in advertising, but in EVERYTHING THE BRAND SAYS AND DOES. Look at the design and functionality of Apple products. They communicate so much more about the Apple brand than advertising could ever do.


When we hear the phrase “Brand Greece”, we probably think of advertising done by the Greek National Tourism Organization. That’s a part of what Brand Greece represents, but it’s only a part. Think of how the Olympic Games affected the image of Greece in 2004. And how the crisis is affecting it today.


The Olympic Games had a powerful impact on the world’s understanding of Greece. Unfortunately we lost the opportunity to make that a lasting impact when we turned media centres into shopping malls. Let’s not lose the opportunity presented by the crisis.


Opportunity? Yes.


I am not a blind optimist. But I am a believer. I believe in the power of imagination. And I believe in the power of human endeavor. And this is where the opportunity lies.


Greece is on the brink of bankruptcy. But we are not a bankrupt nation. We are Greeks. People with the power to imagine. People with the intelligence to turn imagination into reality. We imagined the Acropolis. We imagined the Olympic Games. Now it’s time to imagine the future.


I studied economics. But I have learnt of the importance of social psychology.
People do great things when they feel great about themselves. Soccer teams do great things when they feel great about themselves. And nations do great things when they feel great about themselves. Screw economics.


Right now we feel bad about ourselves. We are demotivated. Why? Because we think that the world thinks badly about us. And because we have nothing to believe in as we deal with the rubble of the crisis.


Here’s the opportunity. The world now understands that Greece is not the economic villain that it was a few months ago. There’s an understanding that the Greek crisis is a symptom of fundamental issues in Europe. The symptoms just hit here first. So let’s imagine our way out of it first.


It starts with reversing world opinion. No advertising campaign can do it. It will take a lot more than that. We need imagination. We need vision. We need action. Not necessarily accomplishment, but action.


Look at South Africa. On the brink of total disaster and collapse, the nation came back. The pariah of the world became the Rainbow Nation. With imagination. With vision. With action. Not necessarily short term accomplishment, but action.


The vision was provided almost singlehandedly (and singlemindedly) by Nelson Mandela. Out of the divisive mess caused by apartheid came the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Seeking not legal justice, but a higher form of moral justice. Catharsis. It’s a Greek word.


“Leaders deal in hope.” Napoleon said that.
Our leaders need to provide vision. Vision which will stimulate imagination. Imagination which will lead to action. Not necessarily to short term accomplishment, but to action. Avis never said “we are the best’. All they said is “we try harder.” That’s enough to win over an audience. As long as you back it up with action.


And this is what will start to build new elements of DNA for Greece.


This gets me back to advertising. This new DNA must be expressed in how the country communicates. As a tourist destination and as an investment destination. The world will start to think differently about Greece. And we will start to feel differently about ourselves.


It’s a world of multiple choice.
Brands influence decisions. And the most important decision that Brand Greece can influence is how Greeks feel about themselves and what they will imagine and do in order to create Greece of the future. A Greece of creativity, innovation and change.


Let’s not forget the past. But let’s not bask in it either. We need a future vision which ties the things that the world loves and admires about ancient Greece with things that the world will love and admire about future Greece.

We imagined the Acropolis.
We imagined the Olympic Games.
Now it’s time to imagine the future. 

Zorba? Let’s park him for now.