a chat with athens’ top (vegan) chefs

‘Dirty’ Vegan chef Nikos Gaitanos

Nikos Gaitanos is a chef specializing in vegetarian/vegan cuisine. He has worked as a consultant at vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Greece as well as in the UK. Currently he is Head Chef  of “Healthy Bites” and “Vegan Nation” restaurants in Athens and “The Saints Stores” in Thessaloniki. He is the author of the cook book “Dirty Vegan”.

What is your food philosophy & practice?
Keep it simple; I love creating recipes with just a few but very high quality ingredients.

Were you ever a meat eater? How did your personal interest in vegan food begin? 
I was a meat eater long time ago – I actually haven’t eaten meat for 29 years! At first I was vegetarian, then a pescatarian and recently I started following a plant based diet. I first heard the word ‘vegan’ eight years ago. At first I couldn’t understand why they didn’t eat any animal products but gradually I began to make the connection, and after my sister became vegan somehow she manage to convince me to change my diet too.

How / when did you take vegan cuisine to a professional level?
I stopped cooking meat 13 years ago, because I started to feel it’s unethical to do so, especially when I wasn’t eating it myself. Since then I’ve worked only in vegetarian and vegan restaurants.

Can people easily get all their nutrients from a vegan diet?
The earth provides us with unlimited fruits and vegetables that have all the nutrients we need, so I believe we just have to eat a little bit of everything!

Is a vegan diet difficult to follow? What are its top advantages?
Initially it can be difficult because to say that you want to change your diet is just the first step. After that you have to deal with a society that is so widely based on the suffering of animals, and with the theories and comments of your family and friends. Last but not least you have to research and decide what you are going to eat from now on. Nowadays it’s much easier than it was a few years ago because the internet provides us with all the information, recipes and ideas you need to make the transition. More and more people are turning vegan every day and that makes it even easier. When you change your diet, you change your life, and you become a member of an ethical society; vegans are helping each other in every way.

What is your best advice for someone considering going vegan?
My advice to those who want to go vegan is to open your eyes to really see the injustice that’s being done to animals, and then block your ears to all those who try to tell you not to do it. What we learn from our fathers is not always right… We are the masters of our life and if we see and feel that something is wrong we must be the ones to change it, or at least we have to try to.

What is your goal as a vegan chef in Athens?
I want to provide excellent food choices for vegans so they will never feel that something is missing from their diet. At the same time I want to encourage the meat-eaters to discover that vegan food is packed with flavours, and that the choice is endless.

Athenians are showing increased interest in vegan food. Why do you think that is?
There are numerous reasons for this. Some are just curious about this relatively new (to Greece) trend, and some are simply fed up of meat and prefer to eat something healthy. Some are curious about making the transition, and want to find out what it would involve, try foods and learn more. The fact is that Greeks overall, not just Athenians are changing – actually people all around the world are changing in this sense as veganism is becoming a larger reality every day and nothing can stop it from happening!

Do you teach people how to cook vegan?
Over the last few years I have been teaching at cooking schools and running workshops on vegan cooking. So far I’ve taught at (Dipnosophistirion School of Gastronomy)in Athens, been a cooking workshop consultant in Thessaloniki, and worked at the Culinary Studies Centre in Herakleion, Crete.

What are your favourite vegan foods, what do they taste like and why do you love them?
My favourite foods haven’t change throughout the years – I love pizza, pasta, souvlaki and burgers! I’m a junk-food lover and the name of my first cookbook says it all: “Dirty Vegan”.

 

 

“What we learn from our fathers is not always right… We are the masters of our life and if we see and feel that something is wrong we must be the ones to change it, or at least we have to try to.”

 

Partners George Cassimatis & Esco Essence

Both Esco and George are yoga teachers and have been cooking and experimenting with plant-based food for more than 20 years. Esco is from Finland and has been working as a freelance chef at yoga retreats, private homes and corporate events. He teaches workshops and is a visionary raw food artist & vegan chef. George founded Triopetra Yoga Retreat in 2004 in the south of Crete and opened Soul Kitchen, Organic plant based restaurant in Rethymno, Crete in 2010. He gave up the city life for a good 12 years to study yoga and nutrition and now aims to share his passion for food and healthy living in Athens. Their vision is to create a working space where they can offer highly nutritious plant-based food and create awareness through workshops and education. With their business, The Plant Kingdom, they plan to deliver food to your homes and offices mainly by pre-order. They will create their own line of healthy food products which you can purchase at selected shops around Athens and of course serve our daily menu at our home base in Paleo Faliro.

 

Vegan chefs Esco Essence and George Cassimatis

What is your food philosophy?
Our food philosophy is based on the principles of healthy wholesome plant based foods. Foods that are nutritious and contain all the necessary elements that our body requires daily. Also the taste and appearance plays an important role on our plates. Our ethical choice is not to cause harm to other being and to work with local producers that share this vision in their work. Our everyday work is actually a creative process to find the balance and better ways to do things, to become inventive and curious and share our passion for a good life which starts with what we eat and goes on to what we think and what we do with our time on this planet.

Were you ever a meat eater? How did your personal interest in vegan food begin?
We both grew up eating traditional meat and fish dishes and slowly through questioning these cultural values and experiencing other ways of cooking from vegetarian to vegan to raw, juicing and fasting we found that our body and mind responds much better without the animal products and ethically this is a big disaster and problem we need to address and face in our time. We do not need to kill or exploit animals at the rate we are currently consuming. If you look into it, watch Eathlings for instance – you will probably agree that it is madness and definitely not a sign of an evolved civilisation, rather it is the opposite.

How / when did you take vegan cuisine to a professional level?
George: I started Triopetra Yoga Retreat in 2004 in the south of Crete and there had the time and great opportunity to experience the great food our chef Chris Clark was preparing daily for 6 years and since have enjoyed cooking with many vegan and raw food chefs from around the world when I started Soul Kitchen Organic Vegetarian Cafe in the old town of Rethymno in 2010. This has given me a good experience and now together with Esco we know what we are doing and doing it very well. Athens we feel is ready now for more and more vegan and healthy lifestyle.
Esco: With years of practice and with many & various experiences & travels. Practice is most important, and with much practice you become professional.

Can people easily get all their nutrients from a vegan diet?
Food is so important so yes when you pay attention and have time to prepare you can be super healthy on a vegan diet. For our climate here in Greece we recommend most of the time to eat 80% raw and 20% cooked food and you need to eat a lot, so much bigger quantities of salad and fruit everyday is perfect.

Is a vegan diet difficult to follow? What are its top advantages?
Nothing is difficult when you know what you are doing and know how to prepare. Advantages are good you get a good sense of well being, good health, vitality and longevity. We truly recommend for meat eaters to try and experience for themselves how they feel after 1-6 months cutting all animal products from their diet.

What is your best advice for someone considering going to a vegan diet?
Listen to your own body and everyday to taste and try something new, so you will find your own balance and taste and happiness. The transition period can last from 1 month to 3 years, to adjust to the plant based eating. We have already a solution as we offer daily meals 100% plant based and Plant Kingdom delivers Monday to Friday to peoples offices or homes so we do all the work for them to experience this food and in all cases our customers are very happy, energized and satisfied with our choices and food. Dinners with non vegans, well now there are plenty of vegan choices in most restaurants and more and more vegan cafes & restaurants popping up that are doing great work here in Athens & Thesaloniki.

What is your goal as a vegan chefs in Athens?
We want to spread the knowledge & experience we have through our food and also with hands on seminars and workshops we are planning to do this year. We plan to create a vegan/raw food cooking school here in Athens so that all this philosophy can become accessible to everyone interested to learn. Even teaching mothers how to cook healthier & tastier food for their young ones at home, switching away from dairy products & sugar to plant based creative, tasty and nutritious alternatives.

Athenians are showing increased interest in vegan food. Why do you think that is?
The younger generation seems more alert, sensitive & conscious of the ethical issues we are facing with our food. Many also understand and feel the health benefits of a plant based diet so it seems natural that even in Athens it is starting to grow and more people are asking for vegan food in their daily lives. So naturally again more and more businesses will transition to serve those customers.

Do you teach people how to cook vegan? If so, what kind of classes do you offer?
We are planning a series of workshops starting this February to teach people how to cook vegan and healthy meals and show them how easy it can be when you learn the basics so you can start very soon to try on your own and experiment with new ideas and ways to satisfy yourself and loved ones. We will teach one three hour classes once a week in a new workshop space in Dafni, Vouliagmenis Ave 223. This will be a series of three months training and then we will do the advanced workshop too and start a new series for beginners. More info on our website and Faceboook page coming up soon.

What are your favourite foods, what do they taste like and why do you love them?

George: I love eating big kale salads everyday with carrots and avocado, lemon, olive oil & black Himalayan salt. I love the textures, the freshness and taste of prana – life force the plants give us.

Esco: I like to eat everyday something different , so I combine whats in season with all the five sense of taste to create tasty flavors and to fully enjoy.

“We want to live with real peace inside and to actively participate in the necessary exciting changes our modern age is undertaking. We are experienced enough to give you good nourishment, good energy and inspiration for a good daily start.”

fast food + vegan? sure thing!

Vegan Nation Athens salads
Vegan Nation serves several green and pasta salads daily. This one is with mango and cashew nuts.

Until recently in Athens, if you were looking for fast food, there are chains like Grigoris and Everest, Goody’s and MacDonald’s, neighbourhood bakeries of all styles, serving all kinds of pies, and of course a souvlaki shop around every corner. Now there is also Vegan Nation, located right across Monastiraki Square, where the focus is packaged, meat and dairy-free foods, showcased on cool shelves to be taken out or casually eaten at one of the two tables outside the tiny store. From vegan sushi to one of Greece’s most lauded meat dishes, moussaka, this place offers plenty of no-frills yet tasty options (with several ethnic cuisine twists) to tourists and locals seeking guilt-free fast food indulgence.

Vegan Nation is brand new to Athens and not only – its owner, Alex Potter, who worked with vegan chef Nikos Gaitanos to create the menu, claims that it is the first in the world of its kind.

The Experiment:
I visited with a friend Cassandra Wagstaffe who co-owns her own restaurant, Cafe Boheme in Kolonaki, Athens and whose diet is mostly vegan, and our preschool-age children, to sample a few dishes. Not everything on the menu was available as what the chefs create changes from day to day, and sitting at the table you aren’t handed any plates or glasses – as the idea is to keep it as fast-food-basic as it gets.

There are no freshly made drinks on the menu (and no alcoholic drinks either), although there are several cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices made in the morning and refrigerated for sale. One of our kids was fast asleep and the other (mine) did not take to the “popular moussaka” – he actually announced that he preferred the one his yiayia gives him. He spat out the soutzoukakia, probably because they were strongly seasoned with spices like cumin, which many kids his age are not very keen on, but he was thrilled by the cheesecake (which has a base of Oreo cookies)  and the strawberry-chocolate-peanut butter smoothie.

Vegan Nation Athens I'm Very Well Thank You Sushi Moussaka
The vegan fast food restaurant’s two most popular dishes du jour – Sushi Combo and Moussaka

I tried the Sushi Combo, a few forkfuls of the above-mentioned moussaka and soutzoukakia, as well as a salad with mango and cashew nuts and the cheesecake. Everything was tasty, and for a fast food place, very satisfying to my adult palate (although my friend and I agreed the moussaka was actually quite stodgy, and I found the sushi rice mushy – though I imagine keeping sushi rice to the perfect texture when it’s sitting on the shelf can be a challenge, considering it’s a food that has to be eaten immediately after preparation).

Vegan Nation Alexander Potter kitchen
Vegan Nation owner Alexander Potter in the kitchen with friendly chef Alexandra.


Conclusion:
Like many others, I am overall excited to discover that an initiative like this has been born in Athens, and Potter seems to have a strong vision for how he intends to develop and improve upon every aspect. I laud Potter (also a gracious host, BTW) for having the grit to launch something like this in crisis-slammed Greece (something we discuss in the interview below), and also commend him for pushing forth with a truly original idea that has already received a very positive feedback and I’m certain has a bright potential for dynamic expansion in Greece and abroad. As for finding the ideal savoury dishes that my preschool kid will love, I will definitely go again and try other options! Cassandra’s comment on the Vegan Nation experience was: “A nice concept, well organized, clean, fresh and instant food at an economical price. A great option for vegans on the run, or for grabbing lunch between work or shopping in the city.”

INTERVIEW WITH VEGAN NATION OWNER ALEX POTTER

Q: In a nutshell, how do you define Vegan Nation as a concept and what it actually offers?
AP: A 100% all vegan on-the-go eatery serving a full spectrum of freshly prepared hot and cold multi-ethnic, neatly packed and exquisitely presented meals along with desserts and cold pressed juices that can all be taken away or consumed on the premises in an enjoyable and refreshing atmosphere.

Q: Please tell me a little about your own connection to the vegan diet & lifestyle.
AP: I grew up in a vegetarian/vegan household so it’s in my DNA in many ways.

Q: Having lived in so many countries, why did you choose crisis-hit Greece for opening this business?! 
AP: Even though I am half Greek, I never grew up Greece. I would spend summers here when I was younger so I am familiar to some degree with the area. I ended up starting a venture in the digital media sector two years ago in full crisis Greece and was traveling back and forth between Los Angeles and Athens. While spending time here I saw that despite the country being in a crisis there was still ongoing demand both from the tourists as well as the locals especially in the food and beverage sector. Before going ahead with the shop I compared different markets including London and Los Angeles. From a business perspective I found Athens to be where it made most sense for this new venture.

Q: Who is your target audience? 
AP: Greeks, Foreigners, Vegans, Non-vegans, Vegetarians etc. It’s really geared to appeal to everyone’s taste (vegan and non-vegan alike) and everyone’s wallet size.

Q: What’s the feedback so far from your Greek clients?
AP: Amazing. I see a twinkle in their eyes when they set eyes on the store. They all love the concept, the menu, the food, the taste and the prices. For Greek vegans it’s a haven.

Q: Please tell me about your menu – what is the objective in what you serve?
AP: It’s about filling a gap in the market and serving great dishes from a wide variety of cuisines at very reasonable prices. I am a strong believer that one should be able to have amazing food without having to necessarily pay a high price for it.

Q: Do you do deliveries as well?
AP: We are already gearing up to start delivery come September. Orders will be available directly by calling our store and also through E-food.

Q: What do you aspire to in the future for Vegan Nation? 
AP: We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone again from both Greeks and foreigners. An important amount of them have expressed on their own that they want Vegan Nation in their home country and in their local neighborhood. Humbly, we are working towards the opportunity of making that a reality.

Q: What do you really want our readers to know about Vegan Nation?
AP: That we are changing the dynamics in diversity of food being offered and the way it’s being offered with a unique and tasty 100% all vegan on-the-go wide selection menu.

 

 

 VEGAN NATION INFO
Ermou 86, Monastiraki
Tel: 21 0322 6226
Hours 10:00AM – 6:00PM

convertart: vegan & gorgeous

What happens when an artist roams aimlessly around Votanikos’s auto repair shops? She picks up an old motorcycle tire and, on the spot, turns it into a soft, pretty belt, that’s what.

“In 2012 I took a car to the mechanic, and started messing around with one of the many spare tires that were lying about. As I waited, I asked the mechanic if I could use one and borrow some of their tools; they agreed, and I came up with my first upcycled creation! ” designer Marina Griponisioti says.

Shortly after, when one of the sound speakers she always carried with her on her travels broke down, she opened it up to fix it and ended up making some jewelry instead.

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With a lot of encouragement from friends and positive feedback from clients, her startup upcycling company ConvertArt, was created in Xylokastro, Corinthia, in northern Peloponnese. As of this January, ConvertArt’s entire range can be found in Athens at the new store opened in the Psyrri district

 Deeply inspired by the materials she uses and how they can “ change life”, she has created various collections with names like Urban, Freight, Luxury, Comfort and Cruises, that consist of handmade accessories and utilitarian objects, such as“polymorphic” (adapting to the body by shortening or lengthening the straps) bags and jewelry, wallets, agendas, tobacco cases and coasters.
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Her creations, many of which look like they’re made from black leather or colored rubber with interesting textures and designs, have a stylish, modern edginess but can appeal to all ages and lifestyles.

Exclusively using recycled inner tubes, tires, electrical equipment, wood and aluminum, her products are not only completely unique but also 100% eco-friendly.

“I believe that by now, when everything is mass produced, handmade products are naturally far more prized,” Griponisioti adds.

The items she creates are cleaned in five different stages so that they are completely safe when they come in contact with the skin.

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Marina Griponisioti 
ConvertArt Psyrri Store:
Pallados 24-26 Psyrri Square, inside stoa Pallados

Opened Tuesday – Saturday
Apart from selling online via the website, ConvertArt objects can also be found at around 35 sales points around Greece, and have been presented at fashion industry events like The Athens Trade Show, the Meet Market and The Fashion Room Service.

As first published in Greece Is (www.greece-is.com)
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vegan food scene, athens

Chocolate dessert served at Melikrini by pastry chefs Vegan Fairies


In the early 1980s in Greece, vegetarianism was an alien concept and a good excuse to mock someone mercilessly.
However, in the last decade in particular (perhaps also due to growing interest in alternative therapies and exercise like yoga) Greeks have become familiar with the vegetarian ideology and practice, and more recently the vegan diet too. That said, the Greek diet has a broad variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes, and the religiously faithful go on several vegan fasts per year, some as long as 40 days. Yet, the presence of meat, and in huge varieties, has taken centre-stage on the family table.

Avocado

The Original vegan hotspot in Athens, Avocado is run by Eraj, whose wife Vivi runs NYSY Studios yoga school right across the street. It’s also next door to Four Seasons organic mini-market so this whole area on Nikis Street has become a health-lover’s go-to place. The (organic) food here is nutritious, delicious and worldly – from Kimchi Wraps to coriander-topped Dahl or vegan sushi and avocado pizza, there’s something for everyone. The juices, teas and smoothies rock too, and if you’re in a hurry and nearby it’s well worth grabbing lunch in a glass here in the form of protein shakes or other superfood kicks. Also suitable for families (there’s a changing table in the women’s bathroom), work lunches and take-out.

Melikrini

A more recent arrival, with a Sacred Geometry-directed design by healing architect Lydia Yannopoulou. The dinky Exarcheia vegan hangout serves soothing , freshly made and superfood-packed, homemade soups (cold in summer and steaming hot in winter) , salads, tarts, snacks, desserts and a choice of hot and cold drinks. There are plenty of raw options too.

Lime Bistro

Run by two chefs who turned vegan a few years ago and then felt they had to open a restaurant to share their culinary inspiration with the wider public, Lime in Gazi has recently expanded by creating a pleasant back garden as well as having a funky interior imbued with shades of blue. Vegan burgers, a daily raw tart of the day, soups, power smoothies and salads (try the raw carob-‘dako‘ rusk tomato salad with creamy almond ‘myzithra‘ cheese), mouthwatering excellent desserts, and truly warm and friendly service.

 

Mama Tierra


Mama Tierra serves a broad variety of ethnic vegan and vegetarian dishes inspired by Latin America, India, the Mediterranean and Middle East, with hearty everyday dishes such as (mushroom) burgers, colourful fresh salads, and soothing soups. The ingredients used are all sourced from small, local, organic producers.


Yi

A raw menu almost exclusively based on uncooked cuisine. More of a cafe than a restaurant, Yi produces its own nut-and-seed “butters” and “cheeses”, and more. Mouthwatering “I can’t believe it’s raw!” desserts like hazelnut mousse and crepes. The focus is to create light, allergy-free dishes – lactose, gluten, sugar and dairy free, and of course non-processed. They make their own nut and seed butters, grow their own sprouts, and use marinades that effectively break down the tough fibres of some foods. Their specialty is hot (with hot water added, not boiled) and cold soups and their most popular dish is the Burrito platter for two.

NB. Raw and vegan cuisine has become a cool phenomenon that modern & especially younger Greeks are warming to, something to which the budding presence of health food stores, organic street markets and workshops by top level vegan chefs like Nikos Gaitanos.

Yi’s Burrito Platter — it’s raw!!!


INFO:

Avocado: 30 Nikis, Syntagma
• Tel.: (+30) 210.323.7878

Melikrini: 14 Asklipiou (Panepistimio metro),
Tel. (+30) 2155458787.

Lime Bistro: 23 Dekeleon (Kerameikos metro),
Tel. (+30) 2103474423.

Falafel House: 23 Athinas St (Monastiraki metro),
Tel. (+30) 2103234183

Mama Tierra: 84 Akadimias
Tel.: (30) 211.411.4420

Trivoli Vegan Kafeneion: Marinou Antipa 107a, Ilioupoli (Ilioupoli metro stop), Tel. (+30) 2114050120.

Yi: 69 Grigoriou Lambraki, Glyfada
Tel.: (+30) 210.964.8512.

Zahari kai Alati
38 Athanasiou Diakou St, tel. (+30) 2109244322.