Crete is a world renounced, glorious island with incredible flavors and a superb local cuisine that is shockingly lacking a real ambassador of its flavors in the international food scene. Despite the well known, scientifically supported health benefits of the Cretan diet, the beauty of the Cretan dishes are nowhere to be found next to popular cuisines, such as the Italian, the French or the Japanese. Not even in as a small scale recognition to its fundamental role on the creation of the model of the Mediterranean diet.
Where the difficulty begins is on the effort to try and find these flavors on professional establishments on the island that are reflective of the flavors one comes across once one thinks of Crete. The level of difficulty rises even more when one is called to suggest places that a guest can eat very tasty clean and unquestionable, 100% Cretan Cuisine Places that salute the flavors springing from the Cretan land and that are not mixed with the rest of Greece, NOR are they a crossbreed creation of European cuisines that came out of the imagination of the hosting Chef. And then there is the hardest part of it all. Try and find a professional setting that will approach the Cretan cuisine and its flavors in a way that can equally, proudly and pompously stand next to any cuisines, from any chef, from any awarded restaurant around the world!
Surely such an introduction might sound harsh and unfair. Indeed there are several settings and locations on the island that one can find splendid and delicious food. There is no doubt that everywhere you go you will manage to find dishes that are both tasty and indeed interesting. From sea food, to lamb, to the use of vegetables, there are places you can definitely enjoy good food. The best part for the traveler is that these places are particularly affordable, especially in comparison to the prices you can find in the rest of the Western world. My argument here is however that there are very few places, if any, that one can find dishes that once you close your eyes you know this is Cretan cuisine by smell, flavor and texture alone. At the same time there is no establishment that actually took Cretan diet to another level. Surely Cretan diet is simple food, but so is cucina povera italiana, or Japanese cuisine, that now enjoy their places among the best cuisines in the world.
Undoubtedly Cretan diet is the strong card of Greek cuisine when it comes to flavors with a name of Origin. Cretan cuisine stands a very high ground among Greeks themselves and this is a superb privilege and an excellent yeast for the idea to grow. This does not mean that the road will not be hard. Nor that the challenges will not rise, especially if you try to disturb the known patterns of eating in the mind of the locals. Especially if one can imagine that there is a large portion of the local population that thinks that a steak medium done is a stake dangerous.
Again at this point we need to make some clarifications. There are certainly efforts from individuals to promote the Cretan Diet and cuisine. However they do it without direction. In my opinion a cooking class in Crete that has Briam as a prep dish is seriously lacking orientation. The fact that a lot of cooking classes from non-professional chefs include gemista (a Greek food), or some variation of it, because it is an easy way to keep more than one person busy is lacking imagination. From the private sector we are dealing with contradictions that should not exist anymore. For example the brilliant case of the Wines of Crete highlights that Cretan products can stand tall in the culinary world, with unique and special flavors, when awareness springs out of collective effort. Yet they stand alone. Where is the Olive Oil ambassador for example? Where the Cretan Cheese or Honey ambassador? How much do people know about all these magnificent local products. The even harder question is how much do LOCAL people know about these products and does it matter? But this is food for thought that can start a PhD thesis.
From a governmental and state point of view there are some efforts to approach the local cuisine, but they lack consistency and aim. Making videos and websites that promote the local cuisine as part of the total package of the brand name Crete as a travel destination is good, however there is no use of the Cretan Diet as a single entity that has numerous reasons to be among the cuisines of choice of the people around the world. At the same time other countries excel with the promotion of their cuisines (Scotland, Sweden, Portugal) even if they are not as healthy, seasonal and easy as the Cretan Cuisine.
My biggest problem though is the lack of an establishment that anyone can enjoy Cretan cuisine from a fine dinning, international level, haute cuisine. I am deeply saddened when I see inspiring professionals from all around the world using every available resource they have in order to create monumental dishes based on THEIR LOCAL CUISINE AND INGREDIENTS. Insane establishments such as Osteria Franchiscana in Modena, Italy, Central in Lima, Peru, or D.O.M. in Sao Paolo, Brazil take their knowledge and genius to create inspiring, mouth dropping, drooling dishes that underline the cuisine and flavors of their countries. Crete on the other hand is consumed in food menus for the masses and low cost materials because of the all inclusive patterns of hospitality. Even the well respected restaurants of the island, whether in high end hotels or private establishments do not offer the flavors of Crete in a way that would stand easily within lists of 50 Best Restaurants, Michelin etc.
I am of course well aware of the fact that in an economic setting such as the one in Crete you cannot expect a restaurant that will cost an arm and a leg for an 8 course menu. Nowadays even the Athenian restaurants suffer from trying to survive the crises that has hit all of us. However my question is this. Is it truly so difficult for a chef or a restaurant owner to create or demand dishes that will stand right next to these innovators and pioneers of the international culinary scene that will take Cretan diet to the next level? Isn’t there the possibility for both private and state initiatives to take Crete where it deserves to be in the international culinary map? The ingredients are there. The the cuisine is there. The respect is there and to a very large extend the human resources are there. So is it just the glue that is missing or is there more?
Since this is a private blog I can say this. My heart and soul will always be in the depth of the culinary culture of Crete that offers such a variety of flavors that can shock any pallet. With this post I do not mean to lessen the existing efforts. On the contrary I salute all those initiatives that aim in truly bringing the Cretan diet outside its shell. At the same time though I wish all the culinary professionals of the island, and by that I mean all that are involved in the food sector whether it is a restaurant or an artisan food maker of any kind, to look on the ways Crete can give a perfect playground for foodies from all around the world. It is seriously missing nothing from world famous culinary destinations. This is one more opportunity we should not let go amiss.