Nestled in the heart of the Athens food district, 'The Greek Kitchen' offers a range of fun cooking classes, foodie tours, tastings, workshops and international events for people of all ages.
By Lorraine Eyre
Whether you are a first time visitor to Greece, a lover of Greek cuisine or someone interested in Mediterranean cooking, The Greek Kitchen caters to everyone.
In an exclusive interview, Stephen Akehurst, founder, and owner of this extraordinary cooking school chats about how he and his team delight in demonstrating their favorite Greek recipes for their most welcome guests to taste.
Well, I had wanted to live in Athens for many years, I love the culture and everything about it from its history, the friendly people, the vibrant cafes, to the language and its excellent cuisine. On the day I arrived here, I knew that I had to find something to do. I spent a year thinking about it and during this time I met Vasia, who is an amazing home cook and a wonderful personality.
Amazingly, considering the fantastic produce and dishes we have here in Athens there were actually only a few places where visitors to the city could enjoy a cookery class and with Vasia's passion for cooking along with my own love of Greek food it seemed like opening up a cooking school was the most perfect thing to do. Together with Vasia, we created our first class that was hands-on, fun and informative whilst not taking up too much of people's time and at an affordable price. From there, we developed our market experiences and was joined by George who takes care of this, as well as presenting our specialist night about Greek cheeses.
The cooking class is the heart of The Greek Kitchen and at the center of this is Vasia who leads our students through their morning or afternoon class with heaps of passion and lots of fun. People can opt to begin with a 30 minute shopping trip with Vasia to the market nearby where they can learn about the fresh produce, discover all the traditional eateries and shops that are tucked away in the back streets around the central market and also pick up some local knowledge before heading back to The Greek Kitchen to prepare the class.
We always work with seasonal ingredients so our menu changes regularly but the students will always prepare a traditional Greek meal with some appetizers, a main dish and a dessert: they will do all the work with Vasia guiding them through and me cleaning up and washing the dishes. When everything is ready we eat together in our yard and it's a chance for people to really talk and find out about the city, we give them suggestions on what to see and where to eat and drink.
The Greek Kitchen is located in the heart of the city, where some of the most ancient neighborhoods such as Psyri, Plaka, Monastiraki Square and Ancient Agora are all within walking distance. How have you combined Athens rich history with food on your walking tours?
Part of what we do in bringing the Athens' visitor closer to the food scene of Greece is to include the culinary history of the city. An activity in Greece isn't really an activity without stories and we have loads of them. As you said, we are in the center of one of the most historical areas of Athens and so we are surrounded by history and tradition. It was vital that our market district experience included more than just tasting local produce; we also wanted the walk to be different from the rest of the tours so we painstakingly ate our way through the center of the city to find places that were non-touristic, ungentrified and filled with locals. These venues have been in families for generations and have survived the many ups and downs of the Greek economy, food trends and of course the problems that any city center faces.
We also make sure that we know what we are talking about and finding George was such a wonderful thing, as a local and someone who is incredibly passionate about his country, Athens and Greek food he really is the ideal man for the job and when the market experience is finished the group heads back to The Greek Kitchen for brunch and the chance to relax and learn even more about Greek food culture. Having a maximum group size of 10 for these experiences is a good thing too, this way everyone has a chance to really learn and enjoy their time with George.
I was fortunate to join one of your cheese and wine tastings, and learn a great deal about the different Greek cheeses and where they are produced. Are these events popular with tourists and are they held all year round?
I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it! It was a great evening and actually the first time that we have done something like this! The event sold out and there is interest for more in the future so it's certainly something that we are going to do. Not just with cheese either! We are so lucky to live in a country that has such an amazing and wide variety of things to eat and drink that we have plenty more in the making.
All of the people who came to this event were living here, we are of course open to tourists coming to the classes and now that we know how to run them and promote them, we will be planning and organizing many more hoping to attract tourists whom I'm sure will find them a very interesting part of their holiday.
What is something special about the fine Greek wines that people might learn during one of your classes?
They are going to learn that everything they believed about Greek wine was a myth! For some reason, Greece has never enjoyed the wine popularity that Italy and France have but things are changing and there are some absolutely fine wines being produced here and plenty of them; there is always something new to try. For example, my favorite find lately is a sparkling rose demi-sec called 'Amyntaion' which is delicious and has been awarded PDO status by the EU! I don't know if anyone was aware that Greece was even producing sparkling wines, let alone ones of this quality for €12 a bottle!
Our workshops are mainly different because they specialize in something particular and they don't change seasonally. They can still be booked one to one or more and last around the same amount of time but because of the subjects they are more appealing to people who are Greek or who live here and know how to make a traditional Greek meal but want to learn the art of bread making, cake baking or olive oil tasting.
When people come to The Greek Kitchen they get an experience that is a part of their trip to Athens, yes they will learn something and have fun but because the classes can be booked by anyone they can also make friends with people. We give them this opportunity to sit down and relax and eat together with strangers but when you put food in front of them, they become friends. Our 'students' will also see that there is a huge world of food in Greece beyond what they might currently know. Feta and moussaka are excellent but they aren't the only things we have here!
We also want to grow and give more opportunities to local people. A bigger school will need more cooks and market experience hosts; there are ideas on expansion into a cafe and some other exciting ventures and when people come to us and support us they are helping us to grow and in turn are helping more people with employment.
Vegetables! I love them and in Greece, I believe that we have the most delicious vegetables in the world! The flavors are amazing and there are so many great dishes here like 'Arakas' (peas cooked in a tomato sauce), 'Fasolakia' (bean soup) and 'Briam (mixed roasted vegetables) where they are able to shine in all of their glory! I have always been a vegetable eater but I didn't know that they could taste as good as they are here!
What are some of the exciting classes and events that you have planned for this summer?
We have a lot coming up! As well as our cooking classes and market experiences with brunch we are starting a bread making course, some gourmet food and wine pairing classes, wine tasting, we are in talks with a few vineyards about doing some cooking classes outside of Athens. Recently, we all trained in olive oil tasting and have created an excellent workshop to show people how amazing it is and what it can do for your cooking! We also want to expand on our special nights like the cheese one and focus on things like wine, desserts, and herbs. I would also like to start a Greek beer event because there are some fantastic beers being produced in Greece and the world needs to know about them!
Finally, How would you sum up The Greek Kitchen's approach to Greek cuisine?
We believe that good cooking doesn't have to be a terrifying experience. Good ingredients will speak for themselves and that you will enjoy your food so much more if you have some fun with it.
For more information regarding The Greek Kitchen:www.greekkitchenathens.com