Israel-Greece Conference"Food connects people, and that's what Greek cuisine does"
"Food connects people, and that's what Greek cuisine does"
Georgianna Hiliadaki, owner and chef of the Michelin-starred restaurant Funky Gourmet, was speaking in a panel that dealt with local cuisine at the Calcalist Israel-Greece Conference in collaboration with Aroundtown and Brown Hotels
"Food connects people, that's the essence of Greek cuisine," said Georgianna Hiliadaki, owner and chef of the Michelin-starred Funky Gourmet restaurant, in a panel on local cuisine at Calcalist's Israel-Greece Conference in collaboration with Aroundtown and Brown Hotels. Hiliadaki is one of the few women in the world who has two Michelin restaurants. The panel was moderated by Ruthie Russo, a food writer and Culinary Ambassador for New Israeli Kitchen, and also included Zviki Eshet, Founder and CEO of the Greco Hospitality Group.
Russo opened the panel by saying that “according to the Foreign Ministry, Tel Aviv has the most sushi restaurants per capita after New York and Tokyo. In contrast, as far as Greek restaurants in Tel Aviv? Chances are that most of them are owned by my friend Zviki.”
Russo: How can Israel be neighbors with Greece, but we’re much more influenced by Asian cuisine?
Hiliadaki: “This is a good question. We are quite similar and partners in Mediterranean cuisine. And precisely because we are similar, we like to do other things.”
Russo: Over the years there have been many culinary trends – French, Italian. Now that you have opened several restaurants in London, how are you doing there?
Hiliadaki: “The first restaurant was a pioneer, the local partners learned from us at Funky Gourmet. Until then the Greek food focused only on souvlaki, they realized there was much more than that, and the Greek food was very well adopted. After the first restaurant we opened two more in town.”
Russo: Greek food embraces other trends – such as sharing food, a happy atmosphere and music.
Hiliadaki: “True, food connects people, Greek cuisine does just that.”
Russo: Zviki, how did you fall in love with Greece?
Eshet: “I did not come to talk about business or money, but about love. I am in love with Greece and its people. I look in the mirror in the morning and do not understand how I was not born Greek. The story started 30 years ago. I arrived in Athens, took a ferry to Kea and then drove to a beautiful monastery on a hill. I came and looked for the reception, but there was none to be found. I went looking for the lobby, but there was none. But suddenly a big man in black appeared, and asked what I needed. I said I'm looking for a reception, he says no, just go up and choose which room you want. He brought me bedding and toilet paper, and told me: that's all you need my friend. It changed my life, and I can say today that it was the best week of my life.
“The simplicity, hospitality, love – that’s what being Greek means. That weekend I decided to resign and become Greek. Because I’m full of passion, I want to share that love with everyone. 10 years ago I decided to share it, to open a small restaurant so I could have a place to eat Greek food. I took my chef to small villages, to meet Greek mothers, and learn the secrets.”
Russo: Georgianna, what do you think of an Israeli chef who represents Greek culture?
Hiliadaki: “I’m happy about it, it connects us. I was in Tel Aviv, and I felt it was the Athens of the Middle East.”
Russo: Zviki, and what would you say if a Greek chef were to open an Israeli restaurant in Greece?
Eshet: “Great idea, Georgianna, let’s do it.”
Russo: How does food connect countries and cultures?
Eshet: “It’s very basic. Do you know these big tables of families who come on weekends? They do not know each other very well, they sometimes even hate each other. At first there is a lot of tension, but after the music and the ouzo, you see how they get closer. At the end of the night “They are already dancing. It is the same thing between countries. We have 7 Grecos in Israel. The night before I came here I was in Greco Herzliya, on Sunday evening. I thought it would be a quiet evening, it’s Sunday, after all, and I discovered 400 people dancing and they were very happy.”
Russo: It seems to be the order of the day to embrace Greek food, also in terms of sustainability and health. How can collaborations be promoted?
Hiliadaki: “Definitely, the ways to do it are thanks to tax breaks and conferences like this one.”
Eshet: “I have dedicated my life to this mission. Next month I am launching an ouzo made in Greece, and we are opening a place in Kea, a kitchen where we can cook together.”