Monday, 1 December 2014

Food defines a nation


The precision of sushi, the excess of a double cheeseburger, the history of the olive oil dripping on a Greek salad. All betray the character of their creators. Food defines a nation. 

Food has become the ideal soft power tool.

Countries have always used food to welcome foreigners, ease the dialogue and make friends. Today the notion has shifted from hobby to economic necessity as farsighted governments use it as a branch of foreign policy by investing in programmes that push their produce overseas.

In 2002, some bright bods in Bangkok launched the Global Thai scheme, aimed at increasing the number of Thai restaurants around the world. Two years later the total had gone from 5,500 to over 20,000. Impressive? Peruvians launched the Cocina Peruana Para El Mundo (Peruvian Cuisine for the World) initiative to raise perceptions around the quality of Peruvian food. And it worked. Peruvian dishes and pisco sours are popping up on menus around the world. As for Italy, the nation has been as loud as its Mediterranean flare when it comes to branding the local produce abroad. Who could imagine indulging into a bowl of pasta without adding a sprinkle, a small pile of shavings or some trimmings of Parmesan cheese?

But what about Greece?

Unfortunately, despite the abundance of Greek produce abroad we still have to cope with low awareness, poor branding and lack of recognition of the Greek yoghurt, the Greek olive oil or even the Greek feta cheese. Just look at the sales of Chobani, a Turkey-produced yoghurt that's promoted as Greek, in the US. Similarly, the Greek olive oil has yet to reach the ranks of its Spanish or Italian counterparts. Although its produce could never amount to much more than the 10% of global production (due to Greece's small size of land), its quality could position it well to the top of all as 74% of it is extra virgin. And as for feta cheese, it's been only a few years that the Greeks managed to register it as a certified quality produce of Greece, and thus distinguishing it from the French feta cheese.

It's not all dark and gloomy though for the Greeks.

Lately, we've been observing an effort of some young and lively entrepreneurs around Greece wanting to rejuvenate the brand of Greece abroad through authentic Greek food. And it looks like it's starting to pay off.

London has been at the forefront of this change with various Greek establishments having made a buzz over the last couple of years. Most notably, Mazi, The Life Goddess, Ergon, Carpo and lately Opso... most of which are run by young entrepreneurs from Thessaloniki, Greece.

And it's not just about appealing, bold logos, cozy interiors and the good ol' Moussaka dish. Nowadays, it's so much more than that.


Christina Mouratoglou spent a few years in London studying and working in PR, before she was able to put her passion into a business of her own. Mazi, a cosy little restaurant in Notting Hill, London, sources most of its ingredients from Greece in an attempt to revive some old classic Greek dishes giving them a new twist.

It sounds like a cliché but I was always a major foodie 
– I loved food and loved dining. 
I was fascinated by the restaurant industry, 
and I come from 
a family where food is sacred.

To start the business, Christina asked her parents for the investment - no mean feat considering their retail business was starting to be affected by the Greek economy crisis.

She then met her partner, Adrien Carre, who shared the same vision as her and so Mazi was born. Christina has a lot to be proud of - Mazi is one of those rarities where you fall in love with the restaurant on site, and you just know in the pit of your belly that you will love the food.

Mazi offers a great selection of new age Greek food, cooked with lots of love and passion. One of its renowned dishes is the assortments of 3 classic spreads found in almost all Greek restaurants, here made with a twist: i) Tzatziki with only a pinch of garlic, ii) Spicy tyropita (broken filo pastry), leeks and chillies, iii) Grilled aubergine with soy and thyme honey. If you want to opt for an authentic Greek dessert, try the honey dumplings with a handful of crushed walnuts and the scent of some fresh lavender stems.

The Life Goddess

The Life Goddess started out as a Greek restaurant only to soon after expand into a Greek deli and online shop for Greek products. Set in the area of Bloomsbury, the restaurant established by the Nyfoudis brothers and Elias Poulakiotis in 2013 instantly became a hit. 

Adding to the delicious dishes is its signature logo and bold visual identity developed by the renowned design group Beetroot from Thessaloniki, Greece. What the young restaurateurs wanted to avoid is the overplayed kitsch visuals one can find abroad when looking for Greek establishments.

Coming with years of experience in the food business, Nikos Nyfoudis was adamant on their approach:
We exclusively cook with extra virgin Greek olive oil and with Greek products that one can find on the racks of our deli.


One of the latest additions to London's restaurant scene is Opso in Marylebone. Having studied and worked in London for more than 10 years, Andreas Lambridis opened a restaurant with a philosophy of "classic Greek, reworked through modern eyes".

Elegant, yet comfortable, furniture design pieced together with elements of Greek white marble from the city of Kavala formulate very bright and inviting interiors. Dimitris Karambatakis, a food enthusiast and one of the two brothers from K-studio is responsible for creating a space that is: "Greece inspired, London made".

Greece inspired, London made.

Opso, which means delicacy in ancient Greek, is a casual all-day restaurant offering tasty food at affordable prices. Its signature dish, the Lamb Shank Giouvetsi (pictured below), is a celebration of authentic Greek food! 


The idea of Carpo, a small deli specializing in nuts and dried fruit, first came to life in 1990 in a small urban neighbourhood of Athens, Greece. Things though didn't go as planned and soon enough their founders, Kontopoulos brothers, had to close it down. In 1993, the brothers at their second attempt found better luck and managed to transition the small shop into a small factory outside of Athens, that processes, roasts and packages nuts in big quantities.

In 2011, amidst the economic crisis in Greece, they opened up their first retail store in Kolonaki, one of the busiest and most elegant shopping areas of Athens' city centre. However, the sentiment during those days was not at all like that. At the time, such a move could be considered as a huge risk.

Three years later, in February 2014, Kostas Kontopoulos made a bold move and rented an outlet in a super central location in London, Piccadilly street. In fact, this was his first time that he had ever traveled to London! Since then, Londoners have been able to enjoy not only nuts and dried fruit but also a wide range of Greek products such as honey from the island of Kalymnos and fine Greek coffee.

There's no such thing as luck in entrepreneurship; we define it. If you do something well, just keep on doing that and try to develop it further. Don't try something else. I once did it and lost it all.


Ergon deli and restaurant started out in 2009 back when the two brothers, Thomas and Giorgos Douzis, partnered with Dimitris Skarmoutsos, a young and upcoming chef in Greece. The first establishment opened in their hometown, Thessaloniki, Greece, and soon the team expanded their project in other locations of Greece including a small franchise in the Greek islands. 

In November 2013, they decided to move their dreams into the British capital bringing their concept into the busy streets of London behind the Selfridges.

Their idea was not something that new, but the execution behind it made all the difference. Great visual branding of Greece-sourced products and a casual restaurant to go next to it.

Coming from a family where food products trading was on the daily menu, the two brothers from Thessaloniki put a lot of emphasis in working with more than 150 food producers from Greece, and trading more than 1,000 products in wholesale.

We want to see Ergon grow horizontally and vertically. The fundamental idea behind "Ergon" has all to do with the food ingredients. This is our strength.


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