INTERVIEW: Christine Polyzos, Creator of Kali Orexi Melbourne

Greek dips

Kali Orexi Melbourne

Kali Orexi Melbourne for all things Greek,our interview Christine Polyzos, creator of Kali Orexi.

Below is the interview.

If you want to know more about Christine and Kali Orexi please visit her website.

The idea of Kali Orexi came to you whilst you were on holiday in Greece and is a project driven by the heart. Can you tell us more about this?

I am lucky enough to travel back to Greece with my family fairly regularly and we visit my parents’ birthplace – Meteora – a truly unique and extraordinary place – and we enjoy going to a slow-food heaven there called Restaurant Meteora. We were having lunch there in July 2012 and I reflected on the fact that these types of restaurants, that offer home-style, slow-cooked traditional Greek food, had decreased in their numbers over the years that I had visited Greece and I was very concerned that these slow-food recipes would slowly disappear as well.

In fact, I was celebrating my 46th birthday at that time, an age where my friends had begun to lose their mothers and grandmothers, and along with them, treasured family recipes. My friends lamented that they had not taken the time to learn their loved one’s recipes and had lost this tangible link to their loved one and their heritage.

At that time too, a lot of Greek recipes had not been documented and ingredients had not been quantified as they were generally added with the eye – με το ματι – during cooking and so for this reason too, these recipes were at risk of disappearing.

I love Greek food, this is the food that has nourished and nurtured me. It’s part of my living history. It’s honest, simple, wholesome and delicious food – made with real ingredients and I want my children to eat this way and to cook this way when they grow up and maintain the thread of Greek cultural continuity in their lives.

What do you think is the underlying issue behind the lack of younger generations in documenting family recipes and do you think they are not involving themselves in cooking enough?

I think there are a couple of reasons here – one being that for many of my generation and younger, our parents and grandparents continue to cook our favourite traditional Greek dishes for us. Extended families gather regularly, often weekly, and Greek grandparents prepare all the favourites for their families. This is an extraordinarily generous and loving gesture, but it takes away the pressure for us to learn our traditional Greek family recipes.

The other reason is that many of these Greek dishes take time to prepare; time to prepare the ingredients and then slowly cook them, so the sweetness and deliciousness emerges from the ingredients. Lives are busy and overscheduled now, leaving little time to cook these kinds of dishes. I would strongly encourage everyone to make the time and space to cook this gorgeous food.

Why is it so important to you to preserve recipes and share the stories behind them?

Our stories are stories of migration; of people with hearts divided by two homelands. For the immigrants, my generation’s parents and grandparents, their traditional cuisine was and is a source of continuity in their lives, a constant in an otherwise foreign landscape, a new country, a new way of living. For the first and future generations of Greek-Australians like myself and my children, traditional Greek food provides a link to a part of our identity, to our cultural foundations, to our Greek heritage. As much as we can, we need to know the stories of our past; where and how our parents, grandparents lived; their traditions and significant events in their lives. Understanding where we have come from, allows us to feel more grounded and able to envisage a future. Food is so deeply connected with memories of place, time, people, emotions. It engages all the senses simultaneously and leaves an indelible mark when combined with stories from our family histories.

Do you agree that food is integral in bringing people together and that a lack of togetherness is stemming from not gathering to prepare, cook and eat as a group?

Nothing brings people together more than food! As a family, we prioritise preparing and sharing a meal together most days of the week. A simple everyday meal becomes a small celebration of our family – our time to just BE together. I try and involve the children in the cooking process, because as a parent I can’t and shouldn’t do it all alone and I want them to learn how to prepare our family dishes, so they can prepare them for their families in the future.

Shared interests and activities have always brought people together… in the past people gathered to make bottled tomato sauce together, the hilopites, the loukanika, and during these endless hours together people shared their joys, their woes, their dilemmas. They ate, sang and danced together, bonding and raising their spirits in this simple way.

Do we simply need to go back to basics to improve our sense of community connection?

I think we need to make cooking and sharing together a meal an absolute priority in our lives – food, shelter and companionship are the basic, but essential needs of all people. When we prepare food with whole ingredients and share meals together we fulfil two of these very basic needs. Dishes don’t need to be extravagant – honest food, prepared simply and shared with love with families, friends, neighbours builds bonds that strengthen us and strenghten our communities.

What has been the most popular recipe on the Kali-Orexi site and why might that be?

Anecdotally the most popular recipes have been the Fakes (Lentil Soup) and the Prasorizo (Leeks with Rice). I think this is because these dishes are simple to prepare and are absolutely delicious. They appeal to both people with Greek and non-Greek backgrounds. The most popular recipe-videos on YouTube have been Nikiforo’s Lamb on the Spit and Greek Easter Eggs, both very traditional preparations for the most important religious and cultural celebration for practising Greek Orthodox. I believe these two recipes are the most popular because many of my generation and younger are trying to uphold the rich culinary traditions associated with Easter and want their own children to enjoy the special feasts and festivities connected with Easter, as they did, and to pass on these special traditions to their children to be continued in perpetuity.

See more recipes here.

What has the process of starting Kali-Orexi Melbourne taught you most about yourself?

I have learned new things about myself and I have affirmed many things that I already know about myself. The most significant being that I really enjoy working collaboratively – working with the video team to shoot and edit the videos; with Rita on the recipe copy; Lucia on all aspects of Kali Orexi; and Kenza on the website. Working together is always very engaging, motivating and fun too. I absolutely love getting to know and working with our guests. We have really special times together and the joy from filming days stays with me for days. I enjoy the creative process enormously – creating visually beautiful videos and photographs. Also, I love structuring the videos, so the steps are clear and replicable and love it when people tell me they have made Kali Orexi recipes and they love them. I love it when people say they have a renewed respect and appreciation for their culinary heritage; then I truly feel I have done my work. I love honouring the Greek cuisine this way.

Is there someone in the culinary world that inspires you or do you have a mentor that you work with?

My mentors are the Greek grandmothers and grandfathers – they are my true inspiration. I love being with them and hearing the stories from their life journeys, their wisdoms and of course learning their recipes. I aspire to be like them – cooking beautiful Greek food, nourishing and nurturing my family and friends with these dishes and passing on this culinary heritage with the same generous and open-hearted spirit that they show.

The learnings you had through the process of planning, recording and editing footage and photographs for Kali-Orexi Melbourne has recently led you to venture out in another direction. What are you involved with at the moment?

I really enjoy styling and photographing the ingredients and the final dishes for the website and I have attended a few workshops to help develop my styling and photographic skills. This is an area I am interested in exploring more and welcome the opportunity to do photography for others.

I would also like to use Kali Orexi Melbourne to build a stronger and more cohesive Greek-Australian community. I am interested in working with Greek creatives – artists, craftsmen, jewellers… showcasing and celebrating their work and understanding how their work has been informed by their Greek-Australian experience.

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