Logari: a place to feed your soul and a book to feed your mind
Katerina Hamilaki is the author of not-you-average cookbook… In her book entitled “Logari: Cretan Diet through Poetry”, she thoroughly explores traditional Greek cuisine and its evolution through her experiences, talents and poetic lines.
Katerina Hamilaki began working as a professional cook in Mariyannas Hotel, in Sisi, Lasithi, in 1989. She studied Catering and Hospitality Management in a public Vocational Training Institute in Agios Nikolaos, and later worked as a tutor in the same school. In 2003 she received her accreditation from the National Accreditation Center for Continuing Vocational Training and has taught in Agricultural Training Centers throughout Greece and in the regional LLL (Lifelong Learning) department unit of Crete.
Nowadays she hosts classes for tourists in her farm house “Logari”, in collaboration with the National Geographic and various travelling agencies. She also teaches children classes in collaboration with public schools, as well people from all over the world in seasonal seminars.
Q.In the introduction of your cookbook you mention that it may not be the first one to refer to Crete’s cuisine but it is perhaps the first to attempt a presentation by strictly linking the food to a specific space, climate, tradition, and customs. Can you tell us more about how you think eating habits and tradition are intertwined and co-dependent?
This is a very hard question to answer in one fell swoop. Evidence is abundant from antiquity to modern age. Since the prehistoric period, myths have been firmly linked to diet through religion, and this chain has been moving alongside the social development of people. Nominal life meant the sacrifice of an animal, a gathering culminating in a common manifestation, and distribution of food.
In later developed societies, especially in the era of the Minoan civilization until the 5th century BC, myth, sacrifice, gods and food were interrelated acts of symbolic significance, based on the socio-political and religious behaviour of people. Myths, intertwined to history and knowledge, revealed the customs, traditions and eating habits of societies. For any political or social event or religious ceremony, the type of meal was predetermined. Therefore, a dish associated with a myth—with the past, that is—becomes a habit of the present, regardless of any political or religious constraint.
Many dietary habits exist since the Minoan period to date: olive oil, vegetables, greens, legumes, fruit, nuts, or dishes like “Panspermia”, “Koliva”, or the honey and walnuts we offer in weddings, etc. There are many examples in many rituals.
Q.Do you think these local eating habits, traditions, and ingredients are “in danger” by current food trends and culinary fusion?
I would say most certainly so. Healthy eating habits are jeopardised by modern, easy and fast ways of preparing and cooking our food. The root of the problem, however, lies even deeper in primary production: in the cultivating methods (original vs. hybrid seeds), in the ways we collect and maintain products (seasonal vs. frozen), and in their treatment and preparation time (usage of olive oil vs. by-products of lower nutritional value, slow-cooked vs. pre-cooked dishes, etc.).
To top it all, if we consider all the additives and hormones currently used in cultivation and maintenance methods, then I’m afraid we’re in danger—by Hippocrates’ claim that “we are what we eat”—of mutating into some sort of hormonal hybrids ourselves!
Q.Where do you find inspiration to come up with new recipes?
In nature, always and forever. Our local customs and traditions are deeply rooted in my soul since I was born and raised in Katalagari. At a young age, my long wanderings in the fields with my grandmother and mother were my beacon of knowledge on gathering, preparing and cooking dinners for the family restaurant that my parents owned until 2008.
I began observing the aspects of decay and regeneration in nature, in its products, in vegetables and fruit, in wood, stone, soil, and wool. With that came the knowledge that, like the phoenix arising from its ashes, nature rebirths. And that is a constant source of inspiration, that’s how I started creating!
Q.You offer cooking classes at your farm house, Logari, in Katalagari. How excited are international guests to learn about the local cuisine and the Greek ingredients? What are some common impressions?
For me, every recipe has hidden within it a story about the way of life, customs, traditions, cultural and geographical climate of a place. Based on this principle, our guests begin their “journey” by experiencing nature, out in the fields, in the olive groves and vineyards of our region.
We try to offer an understanding of our diet through the way we gather fruit, vegetables, greens, snails, etc. At the same time, we talk about the history of products, their origin and their custom use over time. We end up in the farm house’s spacious kitchen, to prepare and enjoy our dishes. We choose recipes from my cookbook and we complement our cooking with freshly cut herbs from Logari’s garden while enjoying views of the plains from its terrace.
What guests seem to take away from all this experience is that they have not only fed their bodies but also their brains and, most importantly, their souls!
Q.You also work with local schools to offer classes for kindergarten, elementary and high school students. To this day and age, how crucial is it for the younger generations to learn more about healthy, unprocessed, locally grown ingredients?
Extremely crucial. We want to accommodate their “modern” needs but direct them, at the same time, to healthier suggestions. Let me give you an example: Sweet treats are always a temptation for children, so we wanted to come up with some fun alternatives for them in Logari.
Pure materials, forgotten but precious, give children an array of flavours and aromas to experiment with, to make a delicious, non-foreign treat. Honey on a plate is given to each child, acting as a sticky medium! Children then make a “mosaic” of sorts, creating designs, with walnuts and raisins, and sprinkle it with carob powder, while we explain to them its valuable nutritional properties.
“Logari” opened its doors in the village of Katalagari at the outskirts of Heraklion, in 2000. Since then it has been a center for the presentation and promotion of Cretan nutrition within health-education programs, financed by the Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food. The property also features an old, traditional distillery house which Ms. Hamilaki has turned into a brilliant, cosy guest house!
“Logari” address: Katalagari village, Archanes, 70 100 Heraklion Crete
Telephone numbers: +30 6944 662840 +30 2810 752462