As the dust settles I am finally getting to reflect on the Wasteless Cardiff suppers journey so far. I planned to write a blog for each Wasteless supper we delivered in March 2018 but surprises such as the heavy snow really threw us. The Wasteless team had to work hard and seamlessly to deliver the events against all odds.
For those of you who might not have heard about Wasteless in Cardiff it is a collaborative platform which involves more than one food businesses in the delivery of a pop-up feast using food surplus, food that would have been wasted and food that is produced in a less wasteful manner. I have been running it for the last ten months with Rebecca Clark from Green City Events. It is our brainchild as Ruth Molaski recently wrote in her Western Mail article. Wasteless has taken most of my ‘food work’ time in 2018. And we both really care about it.
We held our pilot Wasteless in October 2017. And in March we got together to deliver two additional events partly supported by the Sainsbury Waste Less Save More fund. The talented Jane of Hungry City Hippy wrote a fantastic review about the early March event too.
Who is Wasteless for?
Bringing new businesses to the table to inspire and be inspired by them in taking a wasteless approach remains one of the key objectives of Wasteless suppers trials. We wanted and continue to aim to showcase our local chefs and food businesses, and how they do ‘wasteless’ food.
Wasteless also aims to bring crowds to the table educating them about the potential of food they may waste and informing them about ways to be savvier at home. The events are much more than a meal, with guests really engaging in discussions about their footprint and impact, leaving more empowered after having shared knowledge and ideas on their journey to becoming wasteless.
Our choice to go from potential food waste to fine dining is deliberate. I am very keen that we make the point that a menu you are likely to have paid two or three times the price of a Wasteless supper ticket can be actually made from ingredients that we as consumers and the retail process most commonly waste. I hope this stark antithesis between food destined for the bin turning into gourmet dishes really sticks with our guests and those who read about Wasteless.
Our choice to do Wasteless and yours to attend the events also sends an important message to food retailers, who can see that we care more about what may perish – they are willing to work with all of us and they are listening. They have people like you and me working for them who care as much about reducing food waste. This has been one of the most encouraging messages of the project. We are in it together!
To date three Wasteless suppers have taken place in the Welsh capital of Cardiff. The WasteLess suppers preserved, pickled, cooked and served around 261 kilos of the food collected in the weeks leading to the events. The food was then safely handled, stored, distributed and cooked by the participating chefs/businesses to offer five-course feasts.
There were eighteen participating food businesses with different practices and business models, who prepared and donated food, and hosted the suppers – a number that has by far exceeded our expectations. In fact, when we wrote our project plan we thought we might attract around fifty people to our table at this stage of the process. But the food collected ended up feeding 135 guests (and another twenty people who volunteered to help deliver the events).
What was served at Wasteless…
The creativity of the chefs we have worked with is humbling. Dishes such as sourdough flavoured ice cream from Cocorico Patisserie who then used the bread again to make tartelettes for the canapes serving the cheese donated by the Cheese Pantry were a massive hit. Laurian’s recipes were conceived during the heavy snowfall when bread and vegetable was in shortage, and many of our guests had already started to think about food as a precious commodity. The fact that we already had over 80 kg food collected at that time propelled us into action to ensure that Wasteless supper happened regardless of the snow. The response was amazing and most of our guests turned up on the evening – many quite hungry for vegetable and bread at the time.
Also for Wasteless supper #2, our preservation master, the beloved Eira of Inner City Pickle created a delicious aubergine, tomato and chilli relish and a banana jam which we used in our menu. The amazing Laura of Tidy Kitchen company laboriously sliced and minced different cuts of chicken and pork to make scotch eggs and terrines for our guests. Laura came on the team just ten days before the event. And she blew our guests away with her dishes’s presentation as well as the flavour. You must give her food a try and support her newly established independent business.
At Wasteless #3 Chef Jan’s (Anna Loka) recipe of mixed vegetable rostis with a butternut squash sauce and crisp fried greens (a great use for wilted greens) inspired a lot of our diners to go home and look at their vegetable draw twice before clearing it. Melissa’s (Penylan Pantry) starter balls mixing various vegetable, fish and meat into delicious bites showed people you don’t need much to create an impressive party platter. Beca Lyne Pirkis’s trio dessert using tens of kilos of bananas, mandarins and frozen berries in a sticky mandarin cake, jam doughnuts and the most delicious banana fool I have ever tasted was spectacular and gave us ideas on how to use ripened fruit.
Beca, who is one of the baker’s dozen in the 4th series of The Great British Bake Off and now cook, food writer and TV presenter, said, “The issue of food waste is something that concerns me, and helping to raise awareness around it by being part of Wasteless is one way of inspiring others to make better use of leftovers as well as drawing attention to the volume of surplus food that happens weekly in Cardiff. I’m honoured to be asked to play a small part in helping the cause.”
Phil’s (Dusty Knuckle) mushroom ketchup, pickled apples, daikon slaw and slow cooked meat was a dish that required much labour and ingenuity in using everything that was made available to him – it had so many layers of flavour and texture and nothing was wasted. And I hope that my own new-found, personal obsession with dehydration, pickles and pickling methods from around the globe gave people at our table more ideas on how to make the most of seasonal resources.
Clare Williams of Penylan Preserves who created three different relishes for Wasteless supper #3 says, “I am extremely humbled to be part of the #Wastelesssupper team. Preserving is a great way of ‘keeping food’ for longer and I couldn’t believe how good the food was that was going to be thrown out!! I am a great believer in using my senses on when food needs to be thrown NOT a best before date on the packaging!”
The Purple Poppadom team transformed frozen chicken, most of it a by-product of the Wasted suppers at Selfridges last year into a delicious curry produced to us by the fantastic Illtud of Charcutier. ‘We are great believers in the work of the Wasteless team. Chef is very excited to have contributed a Purple Poppadom Nadan Kozhi chicken curry, showing how ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away too early, can be so tasty.’
The future is bright for Wasteless food events. As well as being a finalist for the Cardiff Life Awards in the first six months of its life, it has received much attention from the public and media platforms.
The question we keep getting is, ‘When is the next Wasteless happening?’ With the encouragement and support we have received from all of you and businesses in Cardiff and across Wales wanting to be part of Wasteless, there is a lot more that we can do to spread the message by inviting people to a wasteless table, and maybe a more wasteless lifestyle.
We would like to thank all the volunteers who have worked hard to make Wasteless happen. Most notably Dai Tilbert (Punk Bikes Cardiff), Laura Sorvala (Auralab) and Dan Barnett worked tirelessly on the events through collections, deliveries, preparation and on the night.
Great thanks go to Oasis Cardiff, the refugee charity who let us use their fridges and freezers for the vast amount of food that we used for Wasteless. Any fresh or frozen food we did not use was left at Oasis for the use of their daily lunches.
The fantastic businesses which contributed to WasteLess include Penylan Pantry, a sustainable café and grocery store which implements the low-waste approach in its practices; Mezza Luna, an award winning, independent, Middle Eastern restaurant; Anna Loka, the first 100% vegan café in Cardiff; the Tidy Kitchen Company, a dynamic, fine dining catering company run by chef Laura Graham; Dusty Knuckle, the best UK pizzeria according to the Guardian, a promoter of slow food and Wasteless menus; the award winning Purple Poppadom; the Cheese Pantry; Cocorico Patisserie and deliciously creative dishes; Penylan Preserves and Inner City Pickle chutneys, relishes and jams; the talented Beca Lyne Pirkis; Oriel Jones’s fine Welsh mutton meat. Wasteless Suppers have been hosted by the Little Man Coffee company, an ethical coffee shop which is a hub of community activity; Illtud of Charcutier who has been involved in WastED at Selfridges and is a talented food businessman in Wales; Caffi Sio, the sister company of Chapter Arts in Cardiff Bay and The Old Library Milk & Sugar.
Lia Moutselou of Lia’s Kitchen and Rebecca Clark from Green City Events co-design and co-run Wasteless. Our partnership on food waste and ethical ventures is well established. Over the three years we joined forces to deliver a series of food waste projects and initiatives in Cardiff, in collaboration with Love Food Hate Waste campaigns and other local organisations and businesses. From community cook ups with food destined for the bin, to roadshows, school lunch clubs and pop up street food stalls, we have inspired, engaged and educated to encourage action and behaviour change relating to food waste.
Lia’s Kitchen is an ethical food venture inspired by sustainability, Greek cuisine and world flavours: www.liaskitchen.com. Green City is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company based in Cardiff, hosting a range of exciting and inspiring environmental and sustainability events and workshops: www.greencityevent.co.uk
Special thank to Suzie Larke Photography for covering our Wasteless #3 supper and to Dan Green Photography for covering Wasteless #1. The rest of the phots are from Green City Events and Lia’s Kitchen.
Wasteless has received some queries about why this food waste was not used for the homeless and charitable purposes. Both Lia’s Kitchen, Green City events and many of the businesses we worked give support in kind and otherwise to many projects supporting charitable causes. In fact the profits of the pilot Wasteless supported the Cystic Fibrosis Better Life Appeal at Llandough Hospital. However, using food surplus to feed the homeless is not the purpose of Wasteless. For those concerned please rest assured that there is plenty of food waste at the disposal of charities, organisations and projects to support the homeless or otherwise less fortunate – Wasteless collected from just one supermarket location in Cardiff and we are sure many retail outlets would be happy to partner with charities. We are happy to share our experience if this helps anyone wanting to set up a project. The positive experience our supermarket retailer is having with Wasteless may provide them and other retailers with reassurance which might facilitate more agreements and projects in the future. Through our previous food waste reduction work we have facilitated partnerships. But often the limited resources of charities or such projects and the hard work required for the collections has been an obstacle to their long-term sustainability. Nonetheless there are fantastic projects in Cardiff, elsewhere in Wales and all around the UK that do charitable and stellar community work successfully either through their own collections or a subscription to Fairshare and we are sure that many more will continue to flourish.
Getting down your greens is a very important step of keeping healthy during winter! Kale is a member of the brassica family and has great nutritional value. From high levels of iron, vitamin K, C and A, to anti inflammatory benefits it’s a food both accessible, locally grown and often organic.
Kale can help you increase your greens intake in easy and tasty ways. Make a pledge now to eat more veg any time of the year. Follow the #vegpower campaign for inspiration.
Here’s an easy recipe to get you started – Kale with spaghetti. When Zöe Rozellar walked into our kitchen with this idea of cooking kale it opened so many possibilities! You can also enjoy the kale as a side, for breakfast with egg (Zöe’s favourite) or with rice/couscous/quinoa. You may also add raw or cooked mushrooms to this dish – the red elf cup mushrooms from Blaencamel market stalls were a treat with this dish.
Ingredients (2-4 portions depending on starter or main size)
- 300g organic kale
- 1Tbsp. Sesame seeds
- 250g spaghetti
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 tsp. Paprika
- 1/2 tsp. Ground nutmeg or more
- Olive oil
- 250g goats cheese or feta cheese
Preparation (up to 30min)
- Wash the kale, pull leaves off the harder stalk (if not tender) and drain.
- In a big baking tray dress in 1/2 tsp salt, the sesame and a couple of generous lugs of olive oil. Massage well so that oil and salt dress all leaves.
- Bring water to the boil for pasta adding salt and oil. And preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
- At the same time you start boiling the pasta, add the kale in the oven after you cover the tray tightly with aluminum foil.
- The kale should bake at least for the duration of your pasta preparation.
- Once the pasta boils and is in the colander, return the pot to heat, cover its base with olive oil and add the two cloves of garlic roughly chopped.
- Lower the heat and stir fry the garlic till softer – a couple of minutes – taking care not to burn.
- Add the paprika, nutmeg and 1/2 tsp of pepper and stir fry for about half a minute or so.
- Add the spaghetti and a pinch of salt. Toss well to dress in spices.
- Remove the kale from oven, add to pot and stir well.
- Remove dish from heat and add the crumbled cheese.
- For a vegan version add Dukkah or roasted and crushed hazelnuts instead of cheese.
On 14 October 2017 the first and pilot WasteLess dinner took place in the heart of Cardiff at LittleMan Coffee Company Café. It was fun, it was epic, it was inspiring and most importantly it was tasty! But what is WasteLess and why am I telling you about it?
WasteLess is a collaborative pop-up event which involves more than one food businesses in the delivery of a feast using food surplus, food that would have been wasted and food that is produced in a less wasteful manner. The pilot WasteLess feast collected over forty kilos of food that would have been wasted in the week leading up to the event. The food was then safely handled, stored, distributed and cooked by the participating chefs/businesses and volunteers to offer a five-course feast presenting eleven dishes. All participating chefs and cooks contributed ideas to the menu as collections went along. WasteLess tapped into their culinary culture, business practices and the creativity of their teams to bring a wonderful menu together .
I co-run WasteLess with Rebecca Clark from Green City Events. And after years of working together on food waste reduction projects through community cook ups with food destined for the bin, roadshows, school lunch clubs and pop up street food stalls, we wanted to set up a platform that helps local businesses tap into their creative and sustainable practices and to showcase elements of Cardiff’s existing and emerging ‘wasteless’ food movement. There are many fantastic businesses already doing great things and many more who could be supported to do more. We want to bring new businesses to the table and to inspire and assist them in taking a wasteless approach.
The fantastic businesses which contributed to the first WasteLess event include Penylan Pantry, a sustainable café and grocery store which implements the low-waste approach in its practices; Mezza Luna, an award winning, independent, Middle Eastern restaurant; the Little Man Coffee company, an ethical coffee shop which is a hub of community activity and of course, moi, Lia’s Kitchen. Many more were involved in other ways. The Cheese Pantry donated cheese close to its use by date. TOAST Ale provided the event with beers and ales brewed from bread that would have been wasted, The Bottle Shop Cardiff advised on the sourcing of ethical wines and Get Wonky Juices, donated their delicious juices made from ‘scrap’ fruit and veg.
‘Food waste is bad business practice- akin to throwing money in the bin. It’s unsustainable for future generations, and breeds bad habits in an already throwaway society’, says Melissa from the Penylan Pantry. ‘Being part of Cardiff’s first Wasteless dinner was a huge honour and a very exciting prospect, working with others to help raise awareness, offer support and encourage businesses, and the public to think differently about food waste.’
Anna and Zac from Mezza Luna said, ‘As a food business, we at Mezza Luna believe it is our social responsibility to be at the forefront of the fight against food waste.And by doing so encourage people to have better awareness of food and the environment. Middle Eastern cuisine is a great example of the WasteLess approach. For example, all parts of an animal are used for cooking in different dishes. We strongly believe in this approach and we aim to encourage greater respect for food.’
It is not just the businesses that we worked with that really believe in what we do.
Celine Anouilh from the Chartered Institute of Waste Management in Wales said, ‘ I much enjoyed this first WasteLess dinner raising awareness of food waste. Lia and Rebecca used of the right ingredients to produce a taste meal and an inspiring event: a partnership between enthusiastic and ethical businesses, forgotten food from super markets shelves, great cooking skills, creativity and passion! I ate a delicious meal, met wonderful people. CIWM Cymru wishes every success to this fantastic project and look forward to attending the next dinner’.
The October event was just a test to see if our WasteLess vision is truly possible. We are now ready for the next step. Partly supported by Sainsbury’s Waste Less Save More fund Green City Events and Lia’s Kitchen will help deliver more WasteLess events in 2018.
The first WasteLess dinner entertained thirty guests and raised over £600 for Cystic Fibrosis in memory of Tom Woollam (Better Life Appeal Llandough Hospital).
We would like to thank all businesses who donated prizes to a charity raffle: John Lewis, Snact, Get Wonky, HangFire Southern Kitchen, Milgi Cardiff, Penylan Preserves, Colourfiled, Twin Made, Nelly’s Treasures, Ellicopter Hoops and Sustainable Studio.
Lia Moutselou, Lia’s Kitchen and Rebecca Clark from Green City Events co-design and co-run WasteLess. Our partnership on food waste and ethical ventures is well established. Over the three years we joined forces to deliver a series of food waste projects and initiatives in Cardiff, in collaboration with Love Food Hate Waste campaigns and other local organisations and businesses. From community cook ups with food destined for the bin, to roadshows, school lunch clubs and pop up street food stalls, we have inspired, engaged and educated to encourage action and behaviour change relating to food waste.
Lia’s Kitchen is an ethical food venture inspired by sustainability, Greek cuisine and world flavours: www.liaskitchen.com. Green City is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company based in Cardiff, hosting a range of exciting and inspiring environmental and sustainability events and workshops: www.greencityevent.co.uk
Sign up to our mailing list for future WasteLess events or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week our box from Blaencamel Farm looked like a picture of autumn itself. Whilst new crops like squashes are being harvested some of the summer crops like the last of the tomatoes and chillies are still going. The greens, such as Cavolo Nero, are a darker shade. My seasonal compass is navigated towards deeper flavours, with spice combinations that help us transition seasons comforting us during the first frosts.
This dish I cooked and loved a lot last year. It grew from my fascination with how spices and ingredients fuse and connect culinary cultures. And it uses some of my most loved ingredients. Dill as herb much loved in Northern Greece where I am from but also prolific in Iranian and Ukrainian cuisines. Cumin for us Greeks of the eastern side (just a pinch mind). Caraway, a key spice for the soothing borscht and much Ukrainian cooking. Sour grape powder typical in Iranian cooking. Goji berries instead of the Iranian barberry. Turmeric, ginger, beetroot, pomegranates, tomatoes, parsley… You can see where this is going. It’s a tasty cure on a plate. You can replace some of the fresh turmeric and ginger with powder although I think it is much nicer when fresh is used. I serve this dish with brown rice.
Order your seasonal Blaencamel veg box online www.blanecamelbox.com or by email to Tom Frost (Tom@blaencamelbox.com). Find out more about Lia’s Kitchen and subscribe on Lia’s newsletters here www.liaskitchen.com
Ingredients (Feeds 6 people)
- 1 Hokkaido or other squash, 700g
- 250g beetroot (raw grated or small cubes)
- 300g cherry tomatoes halved or whole or 1 tin whole organic tomatoes
- 1 onion, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic roughly chopped
- 200g of autumn greens, roughly chopped (kale, Cavolo nero or Japanese greens will do as) (optional)
- 1/2 Hungarian wax chilli (optional)
- 5cm turmeric chunk grated OR 1tsp. turmeric powder
- 3cm ginger chunk grated OR ½ tsp ginger powder
- 1 tsp sweet paprika powder
- 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 tsp. caraway seeds
- 1 Tbsp. fresh dill finely chopped OR 1 tsp dried dill (both heaped)
- 30g fresh parsley chopped
- 1 tsp sour grape powder (optional – available at middle eastern shops)
- Pinch of oregano
- 1 small handful of dried goji berries
- Juice of one lemon or half an orange
- 1 can pre-cooked beans (recommend borlotti or cannellini but use what you have)
- Up to 2 cups hot water or vegetable stock(500ml)
- Pomegranate seeds (optional)
- 2tsp sea salt
Preparation (approximately one hour)
- Place the goji berries in citrus juice for the duration of the preparation.
- Peel and grate or cube the beetroot. If using cooked beetroot cook an hour before prep starts.
- Halve the squash and remove seeds with a tablespoon. Peel, slice and cube in 5 cm chunks (not too small).
- Stir fry the onion, 1 tsp salt and spices (cumin, caraway, paprika, turmeric, ginger and sour cherry &chilly if using) for five minutes on low heat to soften and release aromas.
- Add the garlic and oregano stir fry for a couple more minutes.
- Add the squash, beetroot and beans and stir well.
- Add the softened goji berries with the citrus juice, the chopped dill and parsley. Stir well.
- Add the hot water or stock with another tsp of salt.
- Stir well, cover and simmer for thirty minutes. Then add the greens and simmer for another fifteen minutes.
- Enjoy with a dollop of Greek yoghurt, walnuts and honey and pomegranate seed or apple if you fancy a fruity taste.
Whilst I may have skipped a month of sharing recipe ideas with you inspired about one of my favourite places in Wales, it seems that the summer crop that has done so well on Blaencamel Farm’s land this summer keeps going strong this first week of September. This year the almighty broad bean has inspired various summer version of one of my favourite Greek dishes, Spetzofai, a stew which hails from beautiful Pelion on the Greek mainland (the land of the Cyclopes).
This simple sausage stew requires flavoursome, good quality sausages containing at least leek with a hint of spice, fresh seasonal vegetable and beans. The freshly podded broad beans make for a lighter and quicker version of the dish. To replace the broad beans chose either giant (Lima/Butter) beans or cannellini. As I am always inspired by my Greek heritage, Welsh producers and my local farmers’ market so I recommend you use Charcutier’s Italian fennel or their Thyme sausages for this recipe. The stew follows the same cooking method as the July 2017 Fasolakia dish which is popular in Greek cuisine. You can adapt it to make your own vegan, vegetarian and meat dishes Greek-Stylee. As usual you can source most of the recipes at the Roath and Riverside Farmers’ Market in Cardiff as well as other farmer market locations supplied by the farm in Wales.
Ingredients (for 4 people)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 pack Charcutier Italian Fennel or Thyme sausages, in chunky cubes (280 g)
- 1 bag Blaencamel farm broad beans, podded (250g when podded)
- 2 Blaencamel bell peppers, halved, seeded and sliced
- ½ Blaencamel Hungarian wax pepper
- 4 Charlotte potatoes, washed and halved with skin on
- Optional – half a pack of Blaencamel farm spinach (200g)
- 1 bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste or 1 large tomato grated
- ½ glass white whine
- 1.5-2 tsp. sea salt
- 0.5 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 parmento/all spice berries
- Olive oil or extra virgin olive oil
Preparation (60 min)
- Coat the base of a wide pot with enough olive oil to cover it.
- When the oil is hot add the cubed sausage and sauté until browned.
- Add the onion, peppers, one teaspoon sea salt and sauté until the onion softens.
- Add the tomato paste or grated tomato and fry for a couple of minutes stirring well.
- Add the chunky cubed potatoes, beans of your choice and roughly chopped spinach. Stir fry for a couple of minutes until they are well coated in tomato paste and oil.
- Add the wine and the chopped parsley. Stir well.
- Add half to one tsp of sea salt and enough boiling water to almost cover the veg and meat (but don’t submerge them).
- Stir well but before you place the lid on the pot to simmer for around 40 minutes, try to push the meat and potatoes to the bottom of the pot and the beans and courgettes closer to the top so that they steam.
- From this point on do not stir so that your vegetable does not fall apart when cooked.
- The dish is ready when the water has reduced but not fully evaporated.
- Set aside for 20-30 minutes. Or for a real Greek meal enjoy (cold or in room temperature) the next day.
Enjoy with a chilled glass of Greek Agiorgitiko Wine .
A few months ago, when I sat at the table with Maria Mouratidou to talk about Perek Farm near Thessaloniki, Greece I thought I would hear the story of a cooperative, a successful entrepreneurial model, which flourished in a Greece of adversity. But my conversation with Maria told me more about how food could help reframe our lives and reality. How important it is in preserving heritage, the recollection of which is starting to dwindle together with the lessons it has to offer. And how a different way of producing, farming and living could be one of the ways for a brighter personal and global future.
Greece is often branded as one of the most biodiverse, fertile and blessed soils in Europe which apparently can yield more produce per square mile than many of its neighbours. Yet it is in crisis. And the Greeks are running to supermarket chains offering them mass produced food from far-away lands. What has gone wrong?
Recently as I listened to BBC Food programme Sheila Dillon’s voice narrating the struggles and opportunities facing Greek agriculture I was reminded how hope is reborn by necessity, simplicity and through turning to the land. I come from a generation of Greeks whose parents left the countryside for a better future accessible through academic education. And here I am asking myself how many educated ‘fools’ does it take to break a country? Or could we turn our skills and knowledge to tools that could help us reframe reality for the future in Greece and around the world.
So what about Perek? Here’s my take on its story as a family business and an example of how our life, economy and nutrition could be reimagined.
What about Maria?
Maria is a sprightly, ageless lady, who left her academic career in 2003. She worked in molecular biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Medical School. This gave her a sound basis for understanding the links between intensified agricultural practices, the use of pesticides and the increasing health impacts experienced by many of the farming communities where agriculture grew in concentrated pockets of land mass. Maria was also looking to change the pace of her life. ‘We wanted to live’, she says, ‘to enjoy the sunsets and to take time to breathe in the lavender. We never imagined that we could do so much for the people around us. We never knew’.
And so was Perek set up. Initially as a small business that produced traditional pasta and pie products typical of Northern Greece and the Pontos such as Trahanas (often fermented Greek pasta grain); Verenika (tortellini -like dumplings with various fillings encountered in other neighbouring cuisines such as that of the Ukraine); Ivristos (vegan pasta similar to tagliatelle but broken, dehydrated and toasted to enhance preservation); Perek pastry (large, thick filo pastry toasted and filled with greens or cheese or other goods); sourdough breads and specialty cakes flavoured with Tsipouro. All these goods used specialty wheat and rye varieties carefully selected for each product, grown and milled locally by farmers carefully chosen for their practices.
‘Subconsciously I looked at what my mother did’ says Maria. ‘I wanted more than just a business and to preserve methods, foods and practices from our long-lost homes in Pontos, Kerasounta’. There were many women in the area of the same micro-heritage that Maria could work with. So a workshop was set up and the reputation of its quality produce grew and grew. People visited to stock up on supplies, the place was like a magnet pulling in those seeking to reconnect with tradition and practices that Perek had to offer. The quality and flavour was unparalleled.
‘It was as if we had made a Nobel prize discovery, when all we had done was use resources grown in tune with nature. We made what we knew from our grandmothers and mothers – recipes and traditions handed down generation to generation. Gradually people started asking why they could not taste recipes with food they bought, why there was no restaurant on the premises. We were lead to growing as a business. As we say in Greece ‘the route leads the walker’.
Maria applied her scientific knowledge in seeking wheat, dairy and meat produce that was uncompromised. ‘As a scientist I felt it was essential to make an alternative suggestion to society to help rectify the damage done to our ecosystems, society and health. We have an obligation as scientists to talk about the impacts of chemicals on our food and genetics. And I wanted to also talk about the ‘science’ of tradition. To look deeply into our heritage and see how it leads us back to understanding the basis of longevity and how to enhance biodiversity’, Maria says.
‘All you need to do is watch and listen to each place (the Topos). The hint is often in the names of places, Ampelotopos or Agrampelo (the vine meadow), Karpouzlouko (the water melon field), Kapnohorafo (the tobacco plot). There is a reason for these names. People observed what grows and doesn’t grow well. Then they rested the land. They swapped crops’, she continues. ‘And you must remember, tradition does not focus on loss and profit and mass production. It is about making do, health and wellbeing’.
With the help of her daughter, a food scientist who researched Meznikof’s work and returned to Greece to be part of the business, Perek grew. Today the business employs over forty people. There are at least five regular animal farmers it collaborates with as well as an array of carefully selected artisan businesses.
The Perek Restaurant, a beautiful stone building with a large cyclical fireplace/oven in the middle, overlooks Thermaikos Bay and looks at Mount Olympus. It feeds up to 2,500 people each week and is supplied by the Perek workshop which continues to provide employment to many women and communities in the area. Perek supports free range farmers whose produce it uses for the restaurant, whilst it has also set up its own small farm mainly focussing on the rearing of black pig pork, indigenous in Maria’s home land. The pies, including the amazing Perek pie, often use wild greens (Horta) such as purslane, amaranth and nettle. Stipa (Toursi), fermented cabbage similar to sauerkraut and kimchi, feature on the menu. Katsikisio tyri, goat’s cheeses from free range animals and Greek varieties of chickpeas, lentils and other pulses also feature on the menu. It is the place to visit if you want to taste the land’s flavours.
‘One of the positive impacts of the crisis, was the lack of money to buy some of the expensive, industrialised animal feed which increased productivity and commercialised dairy and animal farms. This hit farming in Greece badly. But the remaining farmers downsized and turned to grazing and traditional methods of feeding. Production rates decreased but quality improved. The taste of the milk and cheese for example is now more distinct of the land’s vegetation’, Maria explains.
With a model so successful there could be temptation for Perek to grow and expand. Make no mistake, Maria is a business woman, savvy, clever and resourceful, but her message is unequivocal. ‘We supply twenty to thirty external businesses at the most. There are limits to how far we can go without compromising quality and the ethos of our business. We will produce enough for our restaurant, our own shop and some suppliers but we cannot supply everyone. There would be costs to that and we have to be careful’.
The meaning of life…
When Maria left her academic career for a different life she was ill. ‘Cancer made me revaluate life. I asked myself why I am running around like a mad woman. Why do I never have time? Why do I struggle?’, Maria told me. Can you relate to this too?
To me Perek is more than just a food business. It is a model and a way of business the depths of which might not be appreciated by everyone but its restaurant service for example remains accessible to the average Greek living in the area. And this is what makes it so amazing. That you can have quality in flavour, produce and life. That you can support ethical practices and communities through a conventional business model which is not willing to compromise its ethos. That you are able to preserve the elements of different segments of Greek traditions and tribes which shed light into who we are, how we can live more healthily and how we can connect to our neighbours.
I am not going to demonise where we are as a global society today, it gets tiring. There is a reason we made this journey through progress and perhaps now we are better equipped to move on into the future. Take Perek and Maria’s story as an example of how our and future generations could take academic excellence, skills and knowledge and apply it towards a different direction awar from our conditioned aspirations of achievement and wealth. Towards a more meaningful future for us, our friends, our nature and our children. Just take that.
Visit Perek farm all year around from Monday to Sunday. For more information here: http://www.perek.gr/ . Visit Perek on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Perek-Restaurant-Monopigado-Thessaloniki/387257144667373