Daphnis and Chloe are the Greek words for laurel and grass respectively and, also, the title of one of the first fiction books ever written in ancient Greece. In it, as in Mediterranean culture, both landscape and the seasons are two important characters in the story. But, more recently, Daphnis and Chloe is the name of the culinary herb company run by Evangelia Koutsouvoulou, a Greek woman with the romantic mission of delivering the authentic taste of Mediterranean food to your mailbox. How? By clicking through her website you can get spices grown in the warm land of your favorite myths. In this interview we talk with her about food and its intrinsic relation with culture.
The first question is a required one: do you live to eat or do you eat to live?
I’d say the second. I love good food but I’m a very “simple” cook and my everyday eating habits are made of just a few ingredients put together. I only want them to be of good quality.
That's curious because you like posting your own recipes in your Tumblr and you're kind enough to share with the world some of your ancient family recipes. It looks as if, to you, food were attached to memories and nostalgia. Who taught you to cook?
No one really taught me how to cook. I’m curious about the food of my ancestors, the Greek rural cooking, because it reveals so many things about the way they lived. Food is often the mirror of societies; there is a lot to learn from how people eat. I’ll sometimes ask my grandma for advice, but usually all starts from curiosity.
Going back to the first question, you mentioned that your only must in the kitchen is using good quality ingredients. Besides using herbs blown by the warm breeze of Greece, what is the process for getting good quality spices in Daphnis and Chloe?
There isn’t a standard procedure. It’s more like an ongoing process. I never stop looking for new suppliers, I receive samples continuously and every time that I discover something that inspires me I go and meet the producers. In the natural state of things, there’s plenty of “quality”. The real challenge is managing to bring this goodness to the cities unspoiled. Since we work with many herbs that are not commonly commercialized out of their native areas this involves several steps, that in certain cases we discover in the process!
You are very concerned about offering spices that come from responsible producers who are proud of their product. Do you think that a change in the food industry is urgently needed?
I think that both producers and consumers should make more questions to themselves. In order to make the right decisions we have to know our food: where does it come from, how was it produced… Change depends on us individuals.
I have recently discovered that I can't live without paprika. What's your personal key spice?
I have a very “Mediterranean” taste and I consume lots of oregano, I use a different type for each combination!
So are you of the opinion that by adding the right spices when cooking, it's possible to turn something exquisite, even those dishes you have never liked?
Well, I’ll never like escargot, no matter what. Still, the right aromas can make miracles with many dishes!
As a Mediterranean myself, I consider the Mediterranean cuisine to be the best in the world because it's both tasty and healthy. For you, which cuisine is every bit as good as Mediterranean cuisine?
I don’t know if Mediterranean food is the best in the world, but I love it all. Each of our cuisines is similar and different at the same time: you’ll never get the same tomatoes in Italy, in Greece and in Spain. Neither the same cooking procedures. Leaving exotic favorites apart, because I’m not an expert, I’d say that those are the cuisines I feel more familiar with. I presume that Chinese, for example, think the same of their own food!
I guess that's inevitable! Changing the topic; the name of your brand is the title of the first fiction book ever written. Are you interested in mythology?
The names of Daphnis and Chloe were inspired by mythological characters but the book was written in the Hellenistic period. It’s thanks to my father I grew up surrounded by gods and legends. He is a lover of the subject and he’s a great storyteller. Mythology is full of beauty and ideals: there is nothing not to love there!
You said earlier that you don't consider yourself a sophisticated cook but, in addition to using quality ingredients that come from their original sources, what do you think makes someone a good cook?
It’s your love for the fire and stoves that makes your food taste delicious!
Evagelia is currently running a Kickstarter campaign in order to make her delicious herbs available for as many European capitals as possible. You can support her project here.