Eleni Psihouli is more than a food expert. Though she became widely known with her television show, “Chef Ston Aera” (“Chef On Air”), where she, along with talented chefs, creates innovative cooking recipes, there’s so much more to know about her. Being a journalist, translator and assistant of the world-famous sculpturer Takis, she now shares her culinary adventures with the audience.
At the same time, a new passion of hers is born, as she introduces “Idi Prikos”, a collection of dowry pieces, all made by her, and all having molecules of her strong and superbly loud, Mediterranean (and very Almodovaresque, if you ask me) genes. Memories of the past, treasures of Greek tradition, vivid colors and personal style, are the ingredients used to create this unique collection.
About “Idi Prikos”, that took place last Wednesday at TR2 in Kolonaki, how did you come up with this idea? What inspired you for this collection, the color combinations, the patterns?
Although I’ve been connected to cooking, my great passion has always been decoration. When I realized that you can’t find truly unique pieces in the Greek market, because identical products of big brands hold the major share, I started making my own fabrics with pieces I brought back from my trips abroad. When I saw that my friends liked it, I decided to come out and share my passion with a bigger audience. At this moment, embroidery rushed into my life, taking me back down Memory Lane, where all crafts of the past seem to have remained still. It brought back my childhood memories (my mother’s dowry which was hiding in dark drawers) and that’s how I decided to launch a colorfull collection with references to those past crafts, a collection that honors handmade work (it’s got soul!) and has many many stories to tell.
Dowry is a tradition which many consider as outdated. Is there a message that you want to pass with your collection?
Dowry is not only an old-fashioned custom, coming from the past. Dowry means wealth, legacy, many hours of work with a needle in your hand, dowry means love. It connects us with our Greek aesthetics, the one we threw away, when we adopted the new lifestyle rules and embraced the overpriced European aesthetics that weren’t really ours.
Is there a dowry item in your family which you particularly love?
I love whatever stands out, whatever has an intimate story to tell. Embroidery is never perfect. You can look at it a thousand times and on the thousand and first discover a default, the little mistake in the needle’s flow. From this small crack, comes something very strong, the personal tone, the life that passed over it, in contrast to the soulless products coming out of a machine.
For the creation of “Idi Prikos” you got involved with embroidery, an activity which is also considered as old-fashioned but makes a come-back these days. Was it something that you enjoyed doing before or have you started learning it now?
When I was a child I used to sew, because I was obliged to, by society, by school and by my grandmother. I had to do this, instead of hanging out with my girlfriends and play. Last year, I started sewing again, but this time it was my personal choice. “Doctors recommend it!”, says the woman from whom I shop my cloths. At first it was a bit strange to me, but then I realized that embroidery makes you relax, balances your thoughts, makes your mind think and empties it from all the unnecessary. It’s a small, creative secret of happiness.
You have written dozens of articles for numerous magazines, and then came your tv show on Skai. But long before all that, you have been the assistant of sculpturer Takis, which means, you have lived and worked in Paris for years. How did fooding come in between and become an option?
From the love I had for food of course. I’ve always been a fanatic “consumer”, a restaurants lover, and my natural habitat is the places where food is sold. Only there do I feel like a fish in the water and not as an outsider of the tank. And I’m not selective at all. I love flea markets and fast-foods, souvlaki and small grocery stores, where they sell canned food, and culinary restaurants.
“Idi Prikos” praises the value of handmade craft and personal trademark, against the identical industrial products. Do you believe that there is or there should be a similar movement for food as well?
Food is and will always be a personal experience. Even fast food has its own character. You can always tell the difference between two burger brands or two packages of ham in the super market.
Is there a food that makes you nostalgic? Do you have a favorite food or a favorite cuisine?
As I’m getting older, I get even more touched by mother’s food, something that didn’t bother me when I was younger, and thought of the kitchen as an exotic experience. However, Turkish, Indian or Thai cuisine can move me as well.
Is there a food temptation to which you can’t resist?
While I don’t care for anything that contains sugar, I can’t resist to anything salty.
Do you remember the first time you cooked? And have you ever had a “disaster” in the kitchen?
The first time I tried to cook, I ended up with a failed version of kebab. And as for “disasters”, oh they pay me a visit on a weekly basis ever since that first catastrophic experiment. But it’s impossible to cook without making mistakes. Mistakes teach you and make you better. Cooking is an endless fight between success and failure.
Your tv show “Chef ston aera”, was an immediate success.
I don’t care about the ratings or the television rules, which I don’t understand at all. However, I’m touched by the people who stop me at the flea market on the street to share their recipes and experiences with me.
Which is your favorite place to eat in Athens? Do you have a favorite chef, Greek or from abroad?
I love the new generation of Greek chefs. They’re creative, without having any prejudice and with a fresh view of the traditional kitchen. We have a bright future when it comes to food, in Greece and abroad, as far as I can tell. In my most personal moments, I’ll choose something humble, like small fish taverns.
Which are the must-have materials in a kitchen?
My mum used to always say that “If I don’t go to the flea market early in the morning, I will have nothing to cook at home later.” It’s my golden rule.
Is there a person, alive or dead, famous or not, who you would love to invite to dinner?
Iggy Pop. Though I can’t think of anything that I could cook and he’d like.
Apart from “Idi Prikos” and the tv show, do you have any other upcoming plans?
I’m waiting for my editor to get some funds, so my new book “Eleni Psihouli mageireyei tou kalou kairou” (“Eleni Psihouli is cooking, come rain or come shine”) can be published. It’s actually a journal of my vacations in Pilio, a small tribute to humbleness and the wonderful life in nature.
First image: cover shot by Makos (at her apartment) for Eleni Psihouli’s book “26 chefs in 26 minutes” (Fereniki Publications & courtesy of Mr. Christos K. Zabounis). Next two images are courtesy of Skai TV, shot on set of “Chef on Air”.