Eating Well Is The Best Revenge
By Diana Farr Louis
“The Mediterranean Diet, rich in vegetable fats from extra virgin olive oil, leads to a longer, healthier life than a strict low-fat regime . . . . But what if you could help other people as well as yourself when you buy your oil? Wouldn’t that make you feel better still?” Diana Farr Louis
ATHENS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—3/18/2013—Olive oil, the miracle liquid, keeps making headlines. Only last month, an important study in Spain reconfirmed what we’ve been hearing for decades now: The Mediterranean Diet, rich in vegetable fats from extra virgin olive oil, leads to a longer, healthier life than the stricter low-fat regime recommended by the American Heart Association (http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/102/18/2284.long). Furthermore, the benefits from eating lots of grains, greens, veggies, and fish increase when you cook or dress them with olive oil, and they remain whether or not you lose weight.
Knowing this, it seems foolish not to switch to olive oil and save your butter for an occasional soufflé or an even rarer hollandaise sauce.
But what if you could help other people as well as yourself when you buy your oil? Wouldn’t that make you feel better still?
Recently, Aris Kefalogiannis, CEO of Gaea, whose olive oils and related products have won more than 60 awards internationally, announced a competition aimed at young Greeks that will be funded by the sale of a new brand of extra virgin oil in the United States.
As he explained in an interview in his Athens office, “The oil is from a relatively young, organic grove on the small Cycladic island of Antiparos and it is exquisite—green, fruity, and delicate with that pungent aftertaste that is the hallmark of fine fresh oil. But Agrilia’s 3000 trees only produced 9.5 tons of oil. This is not commercially viable, yet much too precious to blend. So the owner, Nondas Lambadarios, and I hit on this unique idea to combat unemployment and keep young Greeks from abandoning their homeland. We will sell this exceptional oil online, 19,300 bottles of it, through celebrity chef Cat Cora and the competition website (www.ReInspireGreece.com). We will then distribute 250,000 euros from the profits to the ten most deserving contestants.”
The competition, called Re-inspiring Greece from the Youth Up, seeks to offer alternatives to unemployment by encouraging young people to return to the land, but not to outmoded agricultural methods and commodities. Instead, the aim, as Kefalogiannis says, is to “get people thinking outside the box and creating innovative products. The ten best ideas will receive 25,000 euros in seed money to develop them, plus easy loans from the Bank of Piraeus, and assistance and expertise from the American Farm School in northern Greece, our partners in this initiative. In fact, we will be especially looking for group efforts, since Greeks tend to be strict individualists and collaboration comes with difficulty.”
Gaea, founded in 1995, is a good example of both innovation and collaboration in the Greek food industry. When Kefalogiannis set up the company, he was initially interested in introducing fine Kalamata olive oil to the outside world. Now, Gaea products include oils from two districts of Crete, the island of Lesvos, and Laconia, as well as a whole range of flavored oils, six types of olives, tapenades, and sauces developed by top chefs in Greece. One of his most recent novel ideas was the re-sealable olive snack pack; now, you can sate your lust for olives without dripping oil all over your hands and clothes.
But in the conference room of Gaea’s big open-plan office, I also noticed products unseen in Greece—treats such as saffron-based teas from Kozani, and Cretan biscuits—which appear here in different packaging but will sport the Gaea logo and sail into the US along its widespread distribution network. “Here in Greece, they have distinct identities, which I wouldn’t want to undercut by adding our trademark, but our more familiar red-and-black stamp can act as a quality guarantee for shoppers who already know our own products.”
As Kefalogiannis told people about the competition, the excitement grew. “Every time we presented the concept, we’d get a new idea. For example, it was the American ambassador, Daniel Bennett Smith, who recommended we involve the American Farm School/Perrotis College, which has just inaugurated a Center for Agricultural Entrepreneurship (http://www.afs.edu.gr/page/default.asp?id=76&la=2&ap=181&pl=183&pk=88) that can offer guidance to our prize winners. Its president, Dr. Panos Kanellis, is on our panel of judges, and the other seven members all represent professions that can be of help, whether it’s legal, accounting, business, or the food industry.
“As for the oil, we’ve chosen blue-and-white packaging reminiscent of the Aegean, not exactly what you’d expect to find on the shelf, where everything’s likely to be green. And the product may not be what the American public, used to bland oil from overripe olives, expects, either. But they may be surprised to learn that the very qualities that make it so distinctive and tasty actually make it healthier than most supermarket brands. A study conducted at Athens University showed that the organoleptic attributes of this Agrilia oil—in other words, its fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency—indicate the presence of above average anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants.”
Meanwhile, with Cat Cora and the Greek America Foundation spreading the word in the US, Kefalogiannis is traveling to agricultural areas is Greece to publicize the competition. Most recently, he spoke to students at the Agricultural University in Athens, the Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs, and meetings in Kalamata, the olive capital of Greece, and Larissa, the wheat capital.
“Hopefully,” he said, “all the contestants will be good and they’ll put us judges in a difficult position. We’re open to all ideas, but especially ones that reflect a new mentality that can bring changes to the countryside. Greece is such a conservative society; it needs to look to the future not the past. We need a breath of fresh air.”
Gaea will announce the winners of the Reinspire Greece competition in May. But, for inspiration, contestants have only to look at what the company has achieved in such a short time. In addition to original, quality products, Kefalogiannis has also, with the Swiss organization “myclimate” made Gaea oils the first carbon-neutral olive oil in the world.
And what could be more novel than raising money to give a start to possible future competitors?
Note: Unfortunately, Agrilia olive oil is only sold in the US but, if you can’t buy it yourself, tell your friends to go to www.ReInspireGreece.com and order some to support this very worthy cause.
One of the most interesting aspects of Greek cuisine is its use of olive oil in sweets. Every cook here has dozens of recipes for cakes and cookies that call for olive oil instead of butter. Oil is less common as an ingredient in puddings, but this mousse, taken with permission from the Gaea website, looks irresistible.
Chocolate Mousse with Extra Virgin Olive Oil
270 gr. extra bitter dark chocolate
170 ml. Gaea DOP Sitia, Crete Extra Virgin Olive Oil or other fine oil
150 grams sugar
1 pinch salt
50 grams Cointreau, or other orange-flavored liqueur
grated peel from 1 orange
chocolate flakes for topping
Melt the dark chocolate in a bain-marie (double boiler) and add the olive oil and Cointreau. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the egg yolks and half of the sugar till the mixture becomes fluffy. Stir the mixture into the chocolate and mix well. In a different bowl, beat together the egg whites with the rest of the sugar and the salt. Fold it gently into the chocolate mixture along with the grated orange peel. Serve in 6 individual bowls, sprinkled with chocolate flakes. Store the mousse in the refrigerator until ready to serve.