The ‘no-electricity’ mountain taverna

It was a long, steep, winding journey by car to reach the tiny hamlet of Drakona, in the Cretan mountains overlooking the historic and bustling city of Chania. Several times, we were brought to a halt on the road as goats or sheep, attracted by the warmth of the tarmac, blocked the way. The animals are left in the wild to forage, and this natural living is one of the keys to the healthy and tasty Cretan diet.

“Because they are foraging instead of being farmed and fattened,” a local explained to me, “they are very lean, so we don’t develop cholesterol problems from eating them. We also don’t need to flavour the meat so much as other places. The animals live off the herbs, so the flavour is there naturally.”

Cretan chef Stelios Trilyrakis, leading proponent of the local slow food movement, cooks over wood fires while Visham Sumputh, head chef of Dublin’s award winning Etto restaurant, looks on during the CASK project visit to Crete.

We were about to confirm the truth of this at our destination – Drakona’s famous Dounias ‘Slow Food’ Taverna. Owner, Chef Stelios Trilyrakis is not only famous for his traditional cooking, but for the quality of his ingredients. Italy is credited with the ‘zero kilometre’ movement – the ‘fork to plate’ idea of eating what’s on your doorstep – but this idea of local, sustainable and seasonal food, is at the heart of Cretan food tradition. And at Dounias, it is at its best. We foraged in the fields around the taverna, baked bread in the woodfire oven and ate outdoors – the freshest, tastiest and most satisfying meal that one could hope for. It’s a model for both personal and environmental health, and it’s the model that we are hoping to rekindle in Ireland through the CASK project. Stelios is booked to travel to Ireland in August, where he will be working with Irish chefs for a one day workshop that will see 10 Cretan-inspired fusion meals cooked with Irish ingredients. The public will get a chance to come along in the evening and try the results. Sign up to the newsletter, check back here or follow on social media to get details when they’re available.

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