(by Simone Perotti)
You don’t do things, you do them again. And when they are done, you have already imagined them, otherwise they will never materialise. Which is exactly what happened one day exactly two years ago. One of those days when everything came true, before anything had happened.
That evening we were daydreaming about what we would do: we would go there, we would do this, we would see that. “And we’ll invite a chef from every country onboard, we’ll ask them for a recipe which symbolises the relationship between their part of the world and the Mediterranean”. A recipe from 29 countries, 29 different flavours, 29 versions of taste. An authentic bible of the Mediterranean cuisine, interpreted by 29 chefs, some famous, others simply young and creative. A book to introduce, edit, publish and translate. What an interesting, stimulating, adventurous idea. After all, don’t we love writing, travelling, cooking and learning?!
Today at about 12.00 p.m. local time, thirty-one year old Stefanos Stefanidis from Athens, Head of Chefs of the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation and the Piazza Syntagma Public Cafè, boarded the Mediterranea moored at the Thessaloniki Marina.
Stefanos Stefanidis who is the splitting image of the singer of 99 Posse, came onboard with a wide smile and presented himself by saying “In the Mediterranean area we are blessed by octopus”. A seven-hour drive to reach us from Athens, and seven hours to get back, simply to be with us onboard the Mediterranea to cook a Greek recipe, the second of our trip so far, after that of Moreno Cedroni. “I would not have missed this occasion for anything in the world”. It’s lovely to listen to people who aren’t afraid of saying that they like what you are doing. Stefanos tells us that he’s tired of the Greek cuisine consisting of Moussaka and Souvlaki. “It has nothing to do with real Greek cuisine. It’s not about natural ingredients, nor is it that of the towns and villages, what people eat at home. It doesn’t have tradition, or the quality ingredients. You don’t need to be innovative at all costs: if a New Zealander comes here, what do we do, do we give him the Greek version of molecular cuisine?” Well said, Stefanos.
He stayed onboard with us until 18.00 and cooked us a dish consisting of delicately flavoured octopus served on a bed of “Greek broad beans” (which are nothing like ours) and toast with sea fennel and crispy capers, a creative but not an essentially innovative dish. “This is a classic dish of our rural cuisine. It dates to before my great grandfather’s times, much earlier than that”. We were fortunate enough to see him preparing the dish and then to eat it while we talked to the person who had cooked it; a drum player of a rock group and chef who is about to open his own restaurant, that will no doubt become famous. A wonderful, wholesome dish, that we will never forget.
Throughout the day all I could think was: how lucky I am to be here. How fortunate I am to hear this young chef speak of quality, national products, of the Mediterranean in his cuisine. How fortunate that the wind has dropped, that we are safely moored, that it’s cold out there but we are snug and warm. It is a privilege to speak of, listen to and learn about this sea, mile by nautical mile, meeting by meeting, flavour by flavour. After all, wasn’t this exactly what we had hoped and imagined? On that evening, two years ago …