Interview by Vassilios Nicolaos Vitsilogiannis
Sophia Stamou was born in Athens, Greece to a family originally from Corinth, Greece. She was 12 when she started practicing culinary art. Sophia loves the warmth and fineness of collecting friends and family around the table. That’s the Greek way to welcome and treat loved ones.
She continues to collect the best out of Greece in any place she visits and shoots her shows.
I’d like to thank you Sophia for accepting this interview. My first core question is when did you first notice that you had culinary skills and were they by inclination or developed with training?
First of all, I would like to thank you very much for your invitation, which is very honorable both for me and the whole team and its great work with the Anthology of Greek Gastronomy. The Anthology of Greek Gastronomy is the most important and authoritative World Guide, in terms of the Gastronomy of Greece, gathering a huge volume of material far and wide of this country, after endless studies, research and a lot of work.
Regarding your question, I realized how much I have loved cooking – since I was a small child, as I intensively watched and followed the family cooking tradition. At the age of 10, I made my first, awkward creations! This shows that I had momentum from a young age! Cooking is taught only by the soul and from there each dish passes first, before reaching the palate! Νο amount of training makes the cook. Any training does not make any professional! Only love for what one is dealing with – will reach one high and that is when the education will bring to one’s path the necessary knowledge to proceed more penetratingly in their art! My big weapon in the knowledge of cooking was my contact with the adored Makis Velissaropoulos and my collaboration with him at Le Monde School. I owe a lot to this rare man who was rich both in morals and knowledge, Makis Velissaropoulos…May God rest his soul!
Anyone would assume that with a major in English and French literature you would become a language teacher but instead you chose to get into the translation of cookbooks. How did that happen?
I really like writing books! I used to write from a very young age and my books are a special component of my way of thinking. Cookbooks are always enjoyable and fill you with knowledge and ideas. So, I decided to read a lot of books and start translating. Then came Le Monde School, the ultimate expression of English and French cooking and confectionery terminology. Then came my cookbooks, in relation to experiential stories and now I am making a new book that contains my experiences, from my travels all over Greece! This book breathes and has a heart – the heart of every Greek home! I worship this Greek home that lies in every corner of our country. I bow to it and I bow to the greatness of these people!
Is food writing an economically viable profession in Greece?
Unfortunately, I can not answer this, because writing books is not a profession for me! My books provide an optimistic message. The description of tastes and the relationships of ingredients unique; a patchwork of performances and thoughts, full of truth, passion, love, respect and substance! My books contain the essence of Sophia from Porto Koufo of Halkidiki, Maritsa from Syros, Anna from Santorini, Panagiotis from Kythira. These are warm hugs, serving food of incomparable quality and taste, in combination with a smile – believe me – the contents are priceless. I have no words to express what I have experienced and written in my books. There is a signature of authenticity…
What qualities do you think of making a good chef?
A good chef, first of all, must be a good person. An honest person. This is the case across all professions. First, you are a human being and then you are everything else. You become a good cook with the years, with the willpower and gathering of experiences. Your home, your family and your environment make you a good person, your birth. A good cook must pay close attention to cleanliness, raw material and freshness. He must be polite to his associates, and talkative with his audience. He must know how to listen to and accept opinions and criticism.
Are there trends in food? Do any of the current trends excite you?
Of course, there are plenty! We like to eat other food in the summer and some others in the winter. You find some flavors in Aegina and others in Karpenisi. Thrace has a different food culture and Arta another. However, there is one common element everywhere: TASTE IS IN COMBINATION WITH CLEANLINESS, OFFERED TO YOU WITH KINDNESS AND CONSISTENCY!
What are some of the meals that just sing “comfort food” for you?
I love sweets and desserts, pulses, legumes and everything fermented. I certainly have my weakness and this is not hidden. [Sophia laughs].
Are there any chefs you admire? What do you admire most about them?
Difficult question, because there are many acclaimed chefs in our country and I have met many of them. Do not ask me to say names, Greek cuisine is a history of philosophy and I am proud of being a member of it.
What’s your favorite dish to cook and why?
Stuffed vegetables are my favorite food and I love to sauté them to cook them. Sauté the onion and take the food to the next level! This is my secret, for all those who have tried my vegetables ask me. “But what do you do to make it turn out that way?”, “Sauté in plenty of olive oil, my friends!”
What is your oldest and fondest food experience?
Uncountable unique experiences…
Cooking Greek fava on the volcano of Santorini in huge cauldrons on the Eve of Taxiarches. Snail picking and cooking in Halkidiki. Baking sweet cheese pie by the sea in Syros. Toasting unique handmade bread in a wood oven in Kythira. I keep as a charm everything I have lived in the neighbourhoods of Greece and I look forward to what I will live in the future.
You hold a leadership role as the CEO of Sigma Media Group. What is the mission and vision of the Group?
Greece is an endless light!
The mission of our company is to relay this light globally! Greek heritage is the past, but the Greek spirit is the future. Just unite the past and the future and the Resurrection is all around Greece! Discover it.
Greece is not just a summer vacation. Beyond the magnificent sun and sea, there is an unknown side of Greece ready to be discovered all around in both small and big neighbourhoods in every place, village or town.
Exploring these unique places is the ideal way for you to see the real incomparable personality of the simple daily “heroes” of Greece and the huge hospitality of this country, at the same time, an appointment to the originality of mind and soul.
I would state that visitors should keep alert for living their life experience through 365 days every year in their lives because they would have something new to live for.
What’s the company’s clientele?
We don’t have customers! We have friends, collaborators, supporters and people of daily toil, who have recognized its value and its mood. That΄s why they all remain by our side absolutely and universally! At the same time, very large companies have embraced us with their valuable sponsorships, to achieve the common goals that we all have – for Greece to become the trademark for visits every day of the year, every season, every hour, every moment. Our country deserves it!!!
What are some of your future plans?
They are many and inexhaustible !!!
At the moment, we are filming the ANTHOLOGY OF GREEK GASTRONOMY, which is the most complete and valid guide in terms of Greek products, catering, sweets and food in general! The Anthology is conducted in parallel with the TASTE JOURNEY in various regions. Both will be resources that supply the World public with all the information needed, in order to eat properly in Greece or to shop properly in Greece and beyond. It is a valuable guide and when completed will leave behind great work and incomparable statistical research on the Gastronomy of Greece.
How hard is it to be the hostess and producer of your own shows?
It is countless difficult but at the same time countless creative and wonderful!!!
I have no words to describe what a gift my team and all these rare people who have supported us in every place has given to me.
If I would ask you to choose between a traditional food business and a vegan food business what would that be?
Every kind of food has its beauty and I love every kind of cuisine.
I support the traditional – common way of eating but it was not a few times in the past that I have searched for the health and peace that vegan cuisine offers. Vegan cuisine is not a fashion of the time. It is a way of life and I bow to those who can follow it! I wish we all had this philosophy inside us. I try very hard to continue to study this cuisine and to discover the countless options it offers to us! I am looking for it very seriously and I am very close to chefs – who serve it with boundless passion and many ideas.