Flavors from Greece
Q. Did you go to cooking school?
A. No, I did a correspondence bachelor of arts degree for anthropology and sociology and science of religion through a South African university. I’ve always liked people, but I just thought it was nice and interesting; I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I worked in London for two years but traveled a lot, also. Traveling was the best thing.
Q. How did you get your start in the kitchen?
A. I was working at a restaurant in London when I was 20 and there was a chef named Angela Dwyer. I thought her food was amazing. I returned to South Africa, but when I came back, I started in the pastry section with no prior experience.
Q. Many of the recipes are introduced with a short anecdote of how you came across them. How did you find them all?
A. My sister and mother live in Greece and [my family] spent two months there for research. I went to many kitchens in many places, like Crete and Santorini, and people were always offering things, saying that this was their mother’s recipe, for example.
Q. You moved to Tuscany 15 years ago. What’s been your culinary experience so far?
A. It’s different. It’s very seasonal. I live in the countryside, where it’s more obvious than if I were in Rome. We eat very much organic, we get olive oil from the man up the street, we get wine locally too. Sometimes we get wine from America or New Zealand, if we want it, but there’s a big emphasis on zero miles and less travel right now.
Q. Anything you’d like to have?
A. Today, I struggled to find chilies to make chili jam. I went to five or six different places and I couldn’t find any. But I’d rather work with the seasons. I think there’s a reason why nature puts certain things out at certain points in the year. For example, watermelon comes out during the hottest time of the year, rose hips bloom in late autumn because you need them in the winter. It’s not a coincidence.
Q. What about the food you ate growing up?
A. There was a big mix of things in South Africa. Food growing up is the kind of thing that always remains, because of events - I think that’s the whole point of food. Can you imagine if we just ate novel cuisine that didn’t have a relation to anything for the rest of your life? It’s quite weird. People like to come back to their turkey once a year, a birthday cake with candles - it wraps up your memories.
Q. What do you feed your family?
A. They get whatever is getting into the [next] book. We make everything: pizza, grill, pasta, Greek food, Thai. It’s not the traditional Italian thing, with all the courses; it’s a complete mix.
Q. How do you feel about Greek salads outside of Greece?
A. In Italy, I don’t find Greek salads anywhere. I’ve only had them in Greece or at home. But I think it’s fine, we don’t have to be in the army or anything. If that’s someone’s creative interpretation of a Greek salad, as long as it tastes good, it works. People do what they want in different places. I appreciate variety when it comes together as a dish, and isn’t there just for the sake of being different.
Q. Although you eat mostly organic and local, is there anything you wish you could get?
A. I would pay anything for a Vietnamese meal tonight! But I can’t get that here.
Interview has been edited and condensed. Cecille Avila can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.