They say that the kitchen is the heart of the home where families get together to sit for a meal, a conversation, a laugh, a cry and everything in between.
For Sophie Stokes, the kitchen is where her heart is. The place that humbles her the most as it reminds her of the privileges in her life compared to her parents’ upbringing in the Greek Civil War.
In an interview with The Greek Herald, Sophie tells us of her childhood and how her Greek heritage fuelled her love and appreciation for food in general and eventually led to the release of her new cookbook, ‘In Sofia’s Kitchen: Mediterranean Flavours Down Under.’
Tell us about your new cookbook, ‘In Sofia’s Kitchen.’
My first cookbook was a dream come true. I always loved to cook, feed my family and friends, and dreamt of documenting my recipes in a published book. I chose to self-publish because I love the challenge of doing things I have never done before.
The process of writing down all my recipes, with measurements and instructions, was the hardest. If you know anything about Greeks, they love to cook with the heart. A little bit of this, a little bit of that and the outcome is a dish that is filled with so much love. But of course, how can others learn to make such deliciousness without the instruction? So, each time I cooked the recipe, I would have a large notebook next to me and write every measurement and every step so that I could pass that onto others.
It’s an amazing learning journey when self-publishing and I learnt so much from putting together my recipes to styling for the photographer to formatting to editing. It’s a huge accomplishment to do all this on your own but so worth it.
How does your family influence the way you cook?
Growing up in a Greek home, you are surrounded by food. It’s all about cooking delicious food and lots of it. There’s a Greek saying, ‘if you don’t have leftovers, then you’ve failed as a host.’ My aim always is to have leftovers, nothing less.
How did your Greek upbringing influence the way you see food?
My parents grew up in small villages in Karpenisi (Milia) and Kalamata (Velika) that experienced hardship during the war – especially the Greek Civil War. My mum often tells me how during the war, all they had to eat was Horta. All day she would tend to the sheep and come home to boiled Horta.
There was none of this luxury we get to experience every single day of our lives choosing what we may want or not want to eat.
I took all that to heart and made the choice to honour my mother and father and all those that suffered during those hard and hungry times by respecting food and doing all I can to never waste it and always appreciate what we had.
I am appalled when I see people have food fights – the disrespect it shows to those who still hunger in many countries is heartbreaking.
Tell us about the new cookbook you have coming out in November
‘A Tasty Gathering – The Art of Bringing People Together’has been developing for a few years now. When I first thought of this theme, I wanted it to be a celebration of cultures. From there it evolved into not only celebrating cultures but the true heart of it, gathering of loved ones around the table and celebrating humanity.
The last few years has been tough for many and it almost felt like, at times, humanity was losing that connection. But as we patiently waited for the light to shine through that dark tunnel, we could once more see what mattered to us and what was so important to us – gathering together and breaking bread.
The book has seven sections. Each section has a theme with recipes relating to the theme. The book is a resource of ideas of what you can cook for that theme. Of course, any recipe can be cooked at any time, but it’s so much fun to invite your family and friends over for an afternoon of cooking together and then sharing the food together and experiencing a culture you may not be familiar with.
What’s next for you?
When the pandemic hit our shores, our events took a hit also. Our cooking workshops ceased, our food tours to Greece ceased and our pop-up Mediterranean dinners ceased. Our foodie retreats in the Clarence River area in collaboration with Clarence River Bed & Breakfast continued but with limited guests and limited dates.
But now that everything has opened, we’re super excited to be offering our retreats again and we have two ‘sold out’ weekends in June and July already. These retreats will be showcasing Greek cooking with the July one being a ‘Greek Easter Feast’ weekend.
But what is also super exciting, is we are offering our very first ‘sold out’ Cypriot Flavours Foodie Retreat in the Hunter Valley at the end of the month. We have a guest cook joining us, Nikoletta Nicolaou from Nikoletta’s Kitchen, who will be guiding us through some very delicious Cypriot dishes.
This retreat includes a wine tasting event where we will visit Mira Wines run by the beautiful Ana and Kiros Alexandratos and immersing ourselves into the art of tending a vineyard as they share with us how it all came about. And if the Cypriot Foodie Retreat is well received, we hope to offer many more in the future.
So, it’s full steam ahead with the return of our foodie retreats this year plus the launching of our second cookbook on November 12.
And who knows, we may even head back to Greece next year and share our love for all things Greek!