I became familiar with her work through her daily show on TV. She is the queen of cooking and, actually, the most stylish chef I had ever seen hosting a cooking show. I am always waiting for the camera to zoom in on her hands and see what strange ring she is wearing this time. But then I saw her blog and did some research, only to find that what I see on her show is only the tip of the iceberg. So, on a sunny Friday morning, I entered Eleni Psychouli’s super bright and colored world, flavored with local goods and phone calls and emails and blogs and recipes and amazing findings and madonnas and some statements about the essence of kitsch that are hard to argue. A woman that may be having all the energy in the world trapped in her body and all the ideas in the world trapped in her mind, always on the lookout for something new, or something old that can be turned new, or something worth looking at, here she is, in her apartment in downtown Athens.
You are writing on magazines, you have your own tv show and have launched your website this year. Tell me what is it that you do?
Oh, many things. I write for my website, pirouni.gr. Then I also have a blog on Miss Bloom. I write for two magazines: Olive and Αλάτι και Πιπέρι. And I have my daily show on Skai.tv. Once a month, I organize a festival for local food at Aegli. I started my own kitchen wear / house wear line called ‘Είδη Προικός’ and I am about to open my own restaurant in Volos, with two architects as partners.
A restaurant? That sounds nice! Are you going to be in charge of the kitchen and the architects in charge of the space?
No, I am doing all the interior design. Décor is one of the things I love to do and I am good at doing.
Is it more exciting to write about food, or to actually have your own restaurant?
What I find exciting is doing many things at the same time. I love reaching out to new areas, I am dying for the unexpected. I can’t tell you how much I love it when the phone rings and someone will be on the other end of the line with a proposal to… I don’t know… me becoming an astronaut! If you make me do one thing, that is boring, and nothing else, then you are killing me. I have never stopped doing many things in my life. I am always on the run, always searching, always taking notes and pictures and sharing them, always on the move.
On your website, apart from sharing recipes, you share comments and ideas about local stores and places to visit.
To be honest, I didn’t want to share any recipes on my website, but the rest of the team convinced me to. I am getting tired of recipes. What I want to do through my site is something that has to do with journalism, I want to make a guide, to show people their city, to show people the local products, to show people other people.
What made you go online?
The fact that I have been a journalist for about 15 years and I have a huge database of interesting things to share. All this information, when we are talking about magazines, gets lost unfortunately and I wanted to sort out all the things I have come to know throughout these years. I wanted to see what lasted in time, what changed, I wanted to filter all the things I have learned and add new things to my perspective.
And I guess this is a very interesting process. Doing research on your own city.
This is what I find exciting! I believe a city can be so small and so huge at the same time. Someone can live in Pagrati, for instance, and have no idea that there is the best cake shop right around the corner. And I want to show people that. That’s why I run up and down and pretty much everywhere, in search of something good and something interesting and I suggest people try out what I have discovered. In other words, I am trying to make cities a bit smaller.
You just said that you don’t believe in recipe sharing any more. Why is that?
I think the whole food issue has moved passed the recipes. Maybe people are still running after recipes and want to see one in a magazine or a website, but I have been in this business long enough to see that gastronomy is moving away from recipes. The most important thing right now is to introduce people to local products. In Greece there is a revolution happening in the local products, amazing things are being organized and realized and that is why it is so important to become familiar with what our land has to offer. If you want to take this product and use it in a recipe, feel free to do that, that’s ok.
You are very involved in bringing out the local products and producers. Is there any support from the government in this local boom that you mentioned?
There are amazing producers and amazing people and some amazing things are taking place at the moment, but the government is not helping them at all. I would say the government is making matters worse. But I have always been against the whole hand of help from the government. We have to help each other out, the producers and the consumers and the journalists, because it is up to us to change things and make things new.
Do you have any interesting stories to share? With producers you got in touch with?
So many… You know, it is touching to see people leave the city and go back to the villages, with their laptops and try to cultivate their land. They are people like me and you. They may never have had a close relationship to nature and are trying to figure things out with a manual they found online. And they may be coming from the marketing business or some other profession. You see, what is happening is that the new type of farmer is being formed in Greece. And he is not the one to block the National road, or wait for the government to give him a helping hand, but he is a person with clear goals that knows how to reach them. Once I asked a friend who has moved to the countryside several years now how business is going for her and she got so happy when she announced she made 1000 euros that year! Can you imagine? Things are changing. The farmer profile is changing. And I think we will soon be having farmers like the ones they have in Italy, who live in their super farms, drive their Ferraris and go to the opera. These kids will be living like that sooner or later.
You are a big fan of travelling. Which would be your favorite destination?
Marrocco for sure.
Do you have any favorite food destinations?
I mostly travel food – wise. I want to try out their cuisine, and I can’t really say I prefer one country’s food over another’s. But if I had to chose just one, I would go for Moroccan. It’s funny, because when I come home from my travels, my suitcase is filled with food.
Really? Like what?
Potatoes, beans, you name it!
Where is it that you go, when you are eating out?
Because of the job I am doing, I am eating out six days a week, because I have to try out new places. But if I have any time left, to enjoy some food with my friends, I have a couple of places I usually go, which would fall under the ‘trash’ category for most people probably, but serve very tasty Greek food.
Could you name them?
The first is Koudounaki in Psirri. It is run by two twins who make the most amazing salad with seeds in it. The other would be Palia Fava, run by Dina in Faliro. You have to try the grilled sardines there.
How did you come up with the idea of Είδη Προικός (Dowries)?
Trough the idea of recycling. We used to have tons of dowries in my house, which went back four generations: my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother and I. So you can imagine our closets being filled with linens and embroideries and absolutely no place for us to hang our regular clothes. I got so frustrated I used to complain to my mother that she had to throw them away. In the meantime I have always been a lover of kitsch.
Really? Why is that?
Because I think kitsch is the highest form of art. It combines impulsiveness, humor, second reading and childhood. I love kitsch and have been collecting kitsch objects forever, along with my friend Vassilis Kallidis. If I weren’t Eleni, I would be kitsch! And if you were to look at kitsch in a psychoanalytic way, you would see that it is the act of remaining in a childhood state. Keep in mind that I grew up in a kitsch environment. Greece in the 60s and 70s was nothing but kitsch.
So how do you combine dowries and kitsch?
Where was I? Oh, I was telling you about the dowries in my family. A while back I also started getting involved in embroidery. I spent hours and hours working on embroideries, hurting my back. And then I remembered all the beautiful things I had stored in my closets and I came to fully appretiate the art of dowries. At the same time, I had made a big collection of fabrics from my travels abroad and it all just made sense. I went to my mother’s house, opened the drawers and closets and pulled out all the embroideries and I threw all the fabrics I collected and just combined these two and came up with Είδη Προικός. But, of course, I changed them a bit. You can’t have just pretty little laces covering the top of your shelves or tv. So I made kitchen wear and table wear out of them, I made pillows and beddings out of them and blankets and towels. I just gave new meaning to all those things that I came to appreciate so much.
If you could live in a past time, which era would you chose?
The French 18th century.
If you could cook for one person you admire, who would that be?
Iggy Pop. No second thoughts. I would love to see how he has changed, because he is now only eating healthy bio products. I think just watching him eat, his movements, would make me happy. I wish for nothing more.
What is missing from Greek cuisine nowadays?
Let’s talk a little bit about your show. Is it hard coming up with something new each day to present to the viewers?
No, we have so many things we want to show, that we could keep on doing what we are doing for another 10 years.
The things you cook on the show, are they really so amazing?
Yes, because there are people working on editing and producing this show. Sometimes people tell me: ‘Come on, do you really enjoy everything you try? You always go mmmm when tasting the things you cook.’ And the truth is yes, I really love everything that we cook on the show. People think that the person I am having on each show is someone I say just five minutes before we started rolling, but the truth is I am working with my guests for a long time before they cook on air. They propose 15 different dishes, I reject all of them, the propose 15 more, we change the ingredients, chose the top three and then we share it with our viewers. Plus the editors in chief on the show are three, including me, so there are a lot of people doing a lot of work that you cannot see.
Let’s get back to basics. How did you start cooking?
I don’t know. Only Tsagarousianos knows. I was cooking, but not so much. I am a child of the 80s, a child of all this club generation. I was working for Takis the sculptor, living in Paris and attentind all the good parties there. Then I moved to Greece, but the club scene here lasted for about a year. When rave music started becoming a thing, this whole club scene was over for me. It was at that point that I said to myself: now what? So I became a mother and had my son. And my son had to eat properly, so I began getting involved in the kitchen. Until then I loved food, but as a consumer and a customer. I would love eating out. But I also had a big heritage from my grandmother, who came from Istanbul. She was a great cook and I always wanted to ran after the things I tasted in her kitchen. Then I became self conscious and realized that it is not the recipe, but the hand that cooks the food, that makes it special. That’s cooking for you, pure magic. So, my husband at the time was head of the art department at 0.1, a magazine run by Stathis Tsagarousianos. After they finished work, I used to have them all home and cook for them. At some point Stathis proposed I started a food column at a magazine he would soon be launching. I said yes, but didn’t know what I was saying yes to at that point. A few days later I got a call from him and I started writing about restaurants. Truth is, I would write about everything, but the restaurants, but it went so well. I had no idea I had it in me, and Stathis believed in my skills.
You write, you search, you cook and you eat. How do you manage to stay so slim.
I dance, a lot. I do ballet and pilates and a whole combinations of these things. Actually, the reason I bought this place is to be close to my ballet teacher, so I can practice more.
A few comments on the things said and pictured above:
Eleni’s apartment is the hub for everything you see in her writings, show and blog. There phone is ringing non stop, with questions from people she is working with, or just some guy who needs advice on how to make a good tomato sauce. / I saw the rings. I am telling you. There are so many of them. From artists, or vintage, different sizes and styles. She used to be an ear-rings person, but after a minor infection, she became in love with rings. / The mosque on the heat radiator is actually an alarm clock. Guess how it beeps. / All the drawings in the green corridor were made by her son when he was young. / The mustache guy in the frame Eleni is posing in front of is actually a random poster found at a flea market. Everyone in the house calls him the Groom. / One of the things that Eleni cannot live without is plastic fake flowers. She has so many around her apartment. Another is dolls. She insisted on posing between a vase of faux flowers and her doll. / Queen Elisabeth doll keeps waving all day long. Her purse is collecting solar energy and gives her the strength, or the power, to wave constantly.