Chora Sfakion is a small village in Southern Crete and the capital of Sfakia, one of the most barren and rugged areas of what Greece calls “The Great Island.” Surrounded by the Lefka Ori or “the white mountains,” it is an area of unspoiled, natural beauty. Sfakia appeals to visitors who deliberately seek the experience of living in a pure and unadulterated landscape. It was not surprising then, that it was in this rarified setting that I first learned of Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries (CCS).
After talking to women who had just completed a workshop, I went to the internet to learn more. CCS offers a variety of seasonal programs on the island’s distinctive food sources, cuisine, culture, and heritage. What stood out, however, was the mission statement. CCS’s symposiums incorporated lessons offered on “field to table” food preparation with the goals of “sustainable tourism,” a practice calling for tourists to be taught respect for the environment and the socio-cultural aspects of their host community. I was curious to learn more about CCS’s programs and continued my research.
The first culinary excursion in 2017 is “Discovering Crete’s Cultural, Culinary, and Natural Wonders.” It will be presented by CCS in partnership with the Center of Responsible Travel from Crete July 10 to 16. Space is limited to twenty people. Registration deadline is April 12, 2017, and to date, six people have registered. For further information and to register, visit http://www.responsibletravel.org/getInvolved/currentTrip2.php
Participants will stay in beautifully restored lodging in historic villages. They will meet resident specialists on an extraordinary adventure exploring archaeological sites, organic farms, and vineyards, nature reserves, fishing ports, artisan food shops, and traditional tavernas.
CCS was founded in 1997 by Nikki Rose, a Greek American professional chef, graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, writer, and culinary seminar director. According to Ms. Rose, these unique gatherings “have changed the lives of participants.” She explains, “They have enriched the participants’ understanding of how the preservation of culinary traditions actually protects precious food sources and have also contributed in very significant ways to preserving and protecting Crete’s precious cultural and natural heritage.”
Having stayed in Sfakia’s mountain villages numerous times while researching my novel, Labyrinthine Ways, I immediately made the connection between CCS’s mission and the traditional, Cretan ways of food preparation as practiced in Chora Sfakion and other mountain villages. No packaged or mass produced food is served in these rural enclaves; produce comes directly from the organic farms, meat from the field animals, and fish from the sea.
Participants in CCS’s seminars are introduced to this precious, unspoiled way of life. They gain an understanding of how the Cretan traditions of growing, preparing, and serving the cuisine in mountain villages such as Chora Sfakion are so unique. And, they gain respect—just as I and other visitors who have lived in these mountain villages came to appreciate this unique cultural and culinary experience.
During the varied workshops, participants will explore the island to meet many residents working on action programs to protect and celebrate Crete’s heritage.” On the one hand, a team of experts in the international culinary and nutrition field has been recruited as teachers, and, on the other hand, more than forty of Crete’s organic farmers, winemakers, chefs, home cooks, gardeners, fishers, and artisan food producers will be integral participants. Those enrolled in CCS’s seminars—the general public, professionals, or college students who earn credits—go to the organic farmers, the home cooks and the fishers to learn from them in their own environments.
Other seminars will be announced shortly. Below are examples of two popular, previous offerings:
CELEBRATION OF CRETE’S BIODIVERSITY AND HISTORIC FOOD AND WINE ROUTES. For the general public. This seminar offers a mix of healthful eating and outdoor activity in regions of Crete where many residents live to be a hundred years of age or more. Participants traverse hillside trails, observe wild thyme, sage, and oregano, and experience local winemaking festivals. Before the evening meal, there is a trip to the fishing docks, organic farm or markets to select the food that will be prepared and enjoyed with villagers. The evening usually ends with entertainment by local musicians playing the Cretan lyre and other instruments.
STUDY ABROAD—THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET AND LIFESYTLE. For university students and professionals. This is a two-week, accredited course offered in the town of Heraklion, several traditional villages on Crete and also in Athens. Students study different aspects of the Mediterranean diet through activity-related experiences, including visits to archaeological sites, organic food markets, farms, traditional tavernas, and olive oil factories. Students participate in interactive cooking demonstrations by expert chefs and occasionally harvest and shop for ingredients for their meals.
For general information, visit these links listed below or contact Mr. Andreas Spiridakis.
For scheduled program information:
- info [at] cookingincrete.com
- USA Telephone: 202.422.4635
- For private tailored programs, academic study tours or professional workshops:
- Contact Andreas Spiridakis
- CCS Program Coordinator
- andreas [at] cookingincrete.com
About the author: Aurelia is a professional travel writer specializing in articles about the Greek mainland and its islands. She lives on one of the islands for two months of every year, and for the past two years it has been Kardymili in the Peloponnese.
Photo credit: Nikki Rose on all photographs