The AegeanCuisine initiative is a network of member-businesses in the southern Aegean islands whose aim is to offer visitors the Aegean experience. It was founded to utilize and exploit the wealth of Aegean oenogastronomy, highlight local products and wines, and to promote thematic tourism in these islands.
The philosophy behind AegeanCuisine
The Aegean islands produce an exceptional variety of products noted for their combination of flavor, quality, and uniqueness. Yet for some reason, they have not achieved the recognition or sales they deserve.
The Aegean islands offer excellent conditions for tourism that combine clean seas, bright sun, a long history, tradition, and multifaceted culture. Yet for some reason the tourism season is not of the duration and value these islands deserve.
The AegeanCuisine initiative was launched with the aim of exploiting the particularly wealthy Aegean oenogastronomy aimed at promoting local products and wines as well as to promote thematic tourism to the island. The AegeanCuisine initiative is a network of member-businesses offering visitors the Aegean experience.
The AegeanCuisine initiative was launched through the coordinated activities of the South Aegean Center for Business and Technology Development (KETA) in cooperation with the Cyclades and Dodecanese chambers of commerce. It continues to plan and develop actions and activities to benefit member-businesses and which provide quality services to those visiting the southern Aegean.
A series of informational events and consultations on Aegean culinary traditions was organized on most Cycladic and Dodecanese islands, from Tzia to Kastellorizo, in the framework of the initiative’s first phase. These events were attended by entrepreneurs interested in participating in the initiative, that is hoteliers and restaurateurs, as well as winemakers, producers, and vendors of food and drink products.
The response from businesses, individuals and groups involved in the research and preservation of local traditions, as well as private citizens, was impressive and resulted in a lively dialogue between participants and speakers who were leaders in the field of gastronomy, science, and business.
The roster of speakers included distinguished chefs and restaurateurs such as Lefteris Lazarou, Nikos Sarantos, Yorgos Hatziyannakis, Kostas Tsingas, Tzimos Petridis, and Nena Ismiroglou as well as prominent food writers such as Ilias Mamalakis, Yorgos Pittas, Aryiris Kallianiotis, Diane Kochilas, Niki Mitarea, and Thalia Tsichlaki. Speakers from the scientific world included Dr Nikos Katsaros, Dr Emmanuil Anyfantakis, Dr Dimitris Koutoulas, and Dr Yannis Kritsotakis, while presentations were also made by entrepreneurs Kostas Konstantinidis and Dimitris Rousounelos, winemakers Konstantinos Touloumtzis, Yorgos Floudas, and Maria Dimou. The field of gastronomic training was represented by Anastasios Perimenis, Nikos Theodorou, and Christina Alexandropoulou, while participants showed particular interest in presentations made on behalf of Agrotouristiki SA, Agroxenia, and the Hellenic Academy of Taste as well as by Dimitris Mihailidis and Antonis Panayotopoulos.
The result of these public meetings was the publication of the book (bilingual Greek and English) Aegean Cuisine, a introduction to the gastronomic wealth of the southern Aegean islands through the characteristics of products and traditional recipes presented by a contemporary food writer, Diane Kochilas, and photographed by Vassilis Stenos. A second printing was made possibly by a grant from Aegean Airlines and is available to the public at most major bookstores and Duty Free Shops.
The AegeanCuisine initiative has also established a Special Advisory Commission on Gastronomy in which prominent members of the food and wine industry participate without remuneration. Its members are Lefteris Lazarou, chef and managing director of Varoulko restaurant; Ilias Mamalakis, food writer and author; Nikos Sarantos, chef, founder and former president of the Greek Chefs Club and president of the European Chefs Union; food writer Diane Kochilas; oenologist Yorgos Floudas; Dr Dimitris Koutoulas, professor of Tourism Marketing; Aryiris Kallianiotis, food and wine writer and editor of the sector newspaper To Ampelotopi; representatives of the Cyclades and Dodecanese chambers of commerce; and the director of AegeanCuisine, Yorgos Kalostos.
The Commission’s role is to guide and advise AegeanCuisine in the qualitative assessment and admission of businesses (food, food production, hospitality, food and wine retail) into a network for promoting Aegean oenogastronomy. It also provides technical support, in an advisory capacity, to member-businesses.
The core of this dynamic initiative is the portal www.aegeancuisine.gr/com./net./eu. The portal was initially designed and launched by the KETA Applications Development Team. The portal aims at offering visitors a plethora of information about the special gastronomic traditions of the Aegean islands.
Web pages supported by the portal features local recipes, a glossary of special terms, and detailed information about folk holidays and festivals linked to gastronomic traditions.
The aegeancuisine.gr portal will play an important role in publicizing and promoting local products as well as in promoting gastronomic tourism to the islands as it will be continuously updated and enriched with directories of local businesses who are the best ambassadors of Aegean oenogastronomy. Visitors to the islands may seek information through the portal about where to eat, winery tours, stores selling local products, as well as cooking classes and wine-tasting workshops.
The portal has a commercial dimension that is as important as providing information for tourists since web pages highlight food and drink products from the islands available for sale and export. It also helps promote commercial collaboration between local producers and businesses throughout Greece or abroad.
Through AegeanCuisine’s partnership with the wine database snooth.com, locally produced labels and wine producers will now be entered on that registry and promoted on snooth.com globally online and through the website’s apps for third-generation devices like the iPhone. A typical example of this kind of promotion is the wine pairings service that snooth.com provides Epicurious, the leading and most prestigious recipe database on the worldwide web.
A number of activities implemented in the second phase of the AegeanCuisine’s launch was the inclusion of businesses on islands with an especially rich gastronomic tradition, which produce and trade typical local products, or which offer high-quality oenogastronomic products.
Businesses eligible for membership in the AegeanCuisine initiative are those in the Cyclades and Dodecanese regions which meet specific criteria ensuring that the products, goods, and services offered reflect and highlight the Aegean’s special gastronomic identity. These businesses must also meet specifications as to the quality of their offerings and provide the visitor-consumer with an experience. Specifically, businesses eligible to participate are producers of standardized, packaged, or bottled food and drink products; businesses with food production facilities open to the public; retailers; dining establishments such as restaurants, tavernas, mezedopoleia, ouzeri, cafes, pasty shops (that service sweets as well as sell them), wine bars, and so on offering or selling locally-made products, food, and wine from the Aegean.
Specific criteria apply to each type of enterprise.
The threshold for the AegeanCuisine initiative are dining establishments and any business where the visitor is in direct contact with the flavors, dishes, food products and wines of the Aegean. Priority was given to these businesses in the belief that they act as ambassadors of local gastronomic traditions and purveyors of contemporary adaptations of these culinary traditions and products.
Member-restaurants become ambassadors of the effort to develop the islands of the southern Aegean as gastronomic destinations, enriching our vocabulary with new words that stem from this new philosophy; the word “tourist” is replaced with “visitor”, products are not “sold” and services are not “offered” but in both instances they “provide” or “grant” sensations and experiences through Aegean flavors and the deep-rooted sense of hospitality.
The activities and goals of the AegeanCuisine initiative, which embraces with respect and love the past, present, and future course of Aegean cooking, rise decisively and creatively to meet the current socioeconomic challenges.
Member-restaurants bearing the AegeanCuisine logo actively participate in the promotion and support of locally-produced products which, in turn, bolsters small- and medium-sized enterprises and producers on the islands (farmers, stockbreeders, makers of food and drink). The ever-increasing demand for their products, which now claim pride of place on local restaurant menus, forces these producers to increase and improver their output.
Offering visitors an accessible and flavorful cuisine benefits the local economy, qualitatively and quantitatively. A taste experience leaves the visitor with the aftertaste of “something different” and “initiates” them into a new, previously unknown way of life. Through recipes and traditional cooking methods, the tourist experience is enhanced with elements of the local lifestyle, acquiring a new and different dimension.
The AegeanCuisine initiative currently focuses on the geographic limits of the Southern Aegean Region, that is the Cyclades and Dodecanese, where, to date, some 28 islands and 196 businesses in the food sector have been enrolled.
The initiative effort to sign up local producers, manufacturers, and retailers of local or traditional food, wine, and drink is also underway so that in the future the member-businesses of the AegeanCuisine initiative may set up quality gastronomic destinations on their respective islands and play the role of “ambassadors” in promoting local products with the ultimate aim of developing tourism.
Invitations to apply for membership provide detailed descriptions of the criteria and specifications as well as benefits of joining the AegeanCuisine initiative. Thus every candidate for membership can, after carefully studying the criteria and conducted a self-evaluation, submit an application and set in motion the process for inspection and acceptance.
In the spirit of complete transparency and in order to protect the applicant, the inspection is conducted by a “mystery guest”—a trained representative from the tourism industry or food writing who visit the establishment in the guise of an ordinary guest to see whether it does, indeed, embody the Aegean sentiment and experience.
Membership in the AegeanCuisine initiative secures a series of promotional and commercial benefits:
All member-businesses are included free of charge in the aegeancuisine.gr portal, providing them with important communication benefits. Thus, member-businesses must provide their data, electronically or on paper, including a brief description of their business, products, or services, along with high-resolution images of products, space or facilities, and their logo.
The next step for the AegeanCuisine initiative is to enroll the corresponding enterprises in the Northern Aegean Region, as unanimously agreed by the Chios, Limnos, Lesvos, and Samos-Ikaria chambers of commerce.
The AegeanCuisine Project Tea, is preparing a new promotion and publicity program aimed at domestic and international media, a series of specialized seminars and workshops, additional supporting material for member-businesses, and other activities aimed at the commercial promotion of goods and services.
Future plans also include the continuous updating of the aegeancuisine.gr portal and expanding the AegeanCuisine initiative to restaurants in Athens, the rest of Greece, and abroad.
Joining the AegeanCuisine initiative is simple, free, and open to all businesses that believe they are genuine ambassadors of Aegean gastronomy.