One of the things that motivated us to start Zēlos Greek Artisan was the inspiration behind the artisans themselves. As we travelled Greece in search of products, we met so many amazing people, all who somehow manage to bring their dreams to life in what is admittedly a challenging economic environment. You can read about our Artisans here, but we wanted to share even more about Elli Nikolaou, the Elli behind Elli & Manos.
Maria first met Elli last year, with what was meant to be a brief meeting at an Athens airport hotel turning into a three-hour-plus conversation. It was clear from the start that they had a very similar philosophy - food is love - and they would work well together. As Elli puts it so eloquently, “Food is essential to the Greek way of life. In my family, food was also the essence of offering. As soon as someone walked through the door, the kitchen was turned upside down so that some kind of food preparation could take place, and within ten minutes there would be an offering on the table. Food is love! Food is expression, creativity, art, delicious! It is what connects us. It can tell us the history of a nation. It can teach us the traditions of cultures. It is our common language. It is a part of life we all appreciate. It has so much to offer. It is always exciting. It is life.”
You can see how heartfelt Elli’s passion for food is, and it drives her throughout the creative process as she looks for new ideas. “I always have ideas about recipes and have about 50 notebooks scattered around the house and office with recipe ideas scribbled in them. I love to put ingredients together and just experiment with flavor combinations.” Of course, the challenge is to then translate that to something she can send to your kitchen, and if it doesn’t adapt to a jarred product, if it ends up needing preservatives or additives, she simply won’t make it.
When we asked her how she came up with one of our favorite Greek Flavor Bursts, Tomato & Sweet Red Wine, Elli told us, “I love Mavrodafni wine, a sweet red wine produced in the Peloponnese. I wanted to focus on that one ingredient and build around a recipe around it. I wanted a sweet sauce so it can offer versatility, mainly to be enjoyed with beef and minced meats but also with anything else, as well as straight out of the jar as a dip. After thinking about potential combinations I thought less is more… simplicity … and hence I stared to experiment with tomato combinations. I needed a strong-flavoured ingredient that would at the same time allow the flavor of the wine to come through. It was a success!”
One of her favorite Greek dishes? “Greek Salad! It is the essence of Greek cuisine, the central part, the always-served dish, the salad enjoyed the world over….the combination of the all those fabulous Greek ingredients in one bite, tomato, cucumber, onion, feta cheese, caper, all blending superbly with the unparalleled flavor of Greek extra virgin olive oil. Simple, but amazing.” It’s hard to argue with her!
We asked Elli how she managed to keep persevering in the middle of an economic crisis. “This is where the British ethic kicks in,” she jokes. “I grew up in the Thatcher era in the UK, where shut up, chin up and carry on were the main mottos.” Yes, Elli is a child of the Greek diaspora, born in Dublin, Ireland, raised in Kent, England, and moved to Greece at the age of fourteen. “Greece is still a country where there are a few pioneers left,” she said, and Elli Nikolaou is undoubtedly one of those. Zēlos is proud to support her and other Greek pioneers in their endeavors and we hope many others will, too!
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