Filming In My Kitchen & Early Greek Cookbooks

Just two weeks ago, to cap off a busy season and to usher in the hot, hot summer months, we had a Greek TV film crew in our kitchen here in Athens. As far as locations go, it seems we have one of the few untouched late 19th/early 20th century kitchens (at least the bare bones of the kitchen, certainly not the appliances!) to be found in Athens. Actually, the kitchen, indeed the house, was designed by a British architect/classical scholar and built in 1886. To my mind, it has more late Victorian British features than Greek. However, it was deemed prime location material for the filming of a segment dealing with the history of Greek cookery. This particular segment dealt with the famous late 19th – early 20th century chef, Nikólaos Tselementés.

filming_kitchensetup

Nikólaos Tselementés (Νικόλαος Τσελεμεντές) (1878 – 1958), a Greek chef, trained in France and other Northern European countries, wrote what is thought to be the first comprehensive modern Greek cookbook, originally published in 1910, Odigós Mageirikís (Οδηγός μαγειρικής) which simply translates as ‘Cooking Instructions’ or ‘Guide to Cooking’. One fashion he introduced were rich French sauces such as the creamy bechamel. He was also a great advocate of the use of butter versus olive oil. Tselementés rationalised this fracophile stance by claiming French food had its roots in Greek cuisine – a somewhat misguided and simplistic notion, but true in his mind.

tselementes

Many years ago I came across Tselementés in an academic article that appeared in the Journal of Modern Greek Studies on the historical and cultural significance of his cookbook. It is, in fact, not the first published modern cookbook in Greece, but was preceded by a cookbook in 1828, translated from Italian by an anonymous author. This earlier volume, however, did not receive the same popularity (possibly because illiteracy was much higher in 1828 than in 1910) and contained a hodgepodge of Italian, French and local Greek recipes. Tselementés’ book, on the other hand, became the first successful modern Greek cookbook . It had a great influence in turning Greek cooks away from ‘peasant’ cuisine and turn them towards more sophisticated (Western) practices. Tselementés sought to purify Greek food from its ‘barbaric’ Turkish elements. This paralled trends at the time in literature, folklore, linguistics, history, etc. – aligning the relatively young nation-state of Greece to Western Europe and cleansing it of its Eastern roots.

Aglaia Kremezi, a cook and culinary historian whose opinion I value, also voiced some of these same issues in her book The Foods of the Greek Islands and in an article in the proceedings of the 1995 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. Kremezi pointed out that Tselementés was chauvanistic (teaching only male chefs) and had elitist tendencies (focusing on haute cuisine). She also taxed him with influencing the way in which Greek food became more standardised and took a turn away from healthier, regional and varied ‘peasant’ foods. These latter types of foods, of course, are what Kremezi excels at. As many of her cookbooks grace my kitchen shelves, it is apparent that I prefer this type of Greek food as well.

However, it was interesting to see the TV crew filming. Though, I will continue to resist to pile an inch or so of buttery bechamel on my moussaka – exactly what is about to be done in the segment filmed below.

tselementes_filming

Some of the props the TV crew used looked so familiar. In fact, I owned many similar items – from my Grandmother’s kitchen to mine. The crew was here only one rather full day, a whirlwind filming: makeup in the courtyard, dressing room in our dining room, canteen in the forecourt and filming interviews on opinions of Tselementés and Odigós Mageirikís in the garden and at the front door of our house. I have to note that the two filmed interviews were by women, so perhaps the female perspective will have the last word. The filming was exciting while it lasted, but exhausting simply watching the action.

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A monthly IMK (In My Kitchen) post. Check out other IMK bloggers, each of us writing about what’s been happening in our kitchens each month, normally hosted by Maureen @ The Orgasmic Chef, who is now on ‘sick leave’ until September. So, wishing her a speedy recovery. For earlier IMK posts, see the fabulous Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who, began the IMK phenomenon and until 2016 listed all of us IMK bloggers. A chronological listing of my In My Kitchen blog posts can be found on a separate page, just click the link or look under the heading of Diaries in the Menu bar above.
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21 comments

  1. What an enjoyable read, thanks so much for sharing! One thing I love about traditional Greek cooking is that there’s no heavy kind of buttery element and none of my family’s traditional recipes (going back to my grandmothers) ever involved butter. Loads of oil yes, butter no (apart from when my grandmother would make her Greek crepes then rub a block of butter over them so they were saturated)! I would love to watch the program filmed in your kitchen 😀

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    • True enough that traditional Greek recipes relied on that wonderful green olive oil produced locally. However, there was a time when certain cooks tried to emulate the rich and creamy cuisine from fancy restaurants in France and other European centres. I like to think that the traditional Greek regional cooking won out in the end. And, those crepes sound really good!

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  2. What a beautiful house and kitchen, with all the lovely place blue touches and the al fresco area. Cooking in such a kitchen would be a pleasure. Why resist that buttery bechamel on the Moussaka? That’s the best bit.

    I have linked your post this month- an informal link up- to mine along with all the others I find.

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    • Thanks Francesca, the kitchen certainly had great ‘bones’ like a well-aged lady. And, it is fun at times cooking here. However…many of the appliances do not work, the sink is tiny, etc. etc. I could go on, but I would just work myself up into a state. We do what we can and it is amazing that we churn out loads of finger food for receptions and dinners for anywhere from 10 to 50 guests. Bechamel…hmm…we will need to differ on this. I don’t mind a thin layer, but piling it on too thick ruins the dish for me.

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  3. It makes you appreciate how slow film production is when you see it first hand. I doubt there is an unaldulterated regional cuisine. Influences both ancient and modern from far and wide have sen to that. It’s interesting that bechamel on moussaka is a modern introduction. I too have linked your post to my IMK.

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    • They did three takes just cutting an onion! And, you are right, there is no such thing as unadulterated regional cuisine. It changes all the time. Thanks to both you and Francesca for linking the IMK post. I hope Maureen recovers soon.

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  4. A very late response to your fascinating post! My husband’s grandmother learned to add bechamel to moussaka at her Convent of the Sacred Heart School in Egypt in the early 20th century. I,too, am happier without it.
    Regarding your tiny sink, was there ever an additional outdoor sink/preparation area?

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    • I strongly suspect that some of the broken marble slabs I am using as paths and stepping stones in my newly constructed herb garden were once countertops from both the kitchen and the small room next to it that is marked on the plan as the scullery (British-speak for Laundry). There is also a marble sink in the garden that does duty as a planter plus several large stone troughs in the veg garden that might have originally been for laundry, but now produces lettuces and other greens. So, yes, there must have been a larger sink in there once! Will need to ask around and see if anyone remembers.

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  5. Wow, Debi! How very interesting — the concept not the actual filming. 3 takes for cutting an onion? I’d be a nervous wreck watching that! “Just cut the damn thing!” Your kitchen does look wonderful, though, and how fantastic that you have the originals for some of the props. This was a great post!

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    • It really was an interesting experience watching them film. Three takes on onion cutting was due to intruding (external) traffic and construction noise – something you cannot escape in the city. Glad it is over and we can get back to real cooking in the kitchen.

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