Greek Sisters Gather Around the Greek Table
Giagia used to say, “Good things come in threes.” The Bakopoulos sisters are no exception. This month’s feature of extraordinary Greek women making us proud comes to us from our fellow blogger and Hellenic women champion Christine Salboudis who runs Philo4thought, an organization that highlights the Greek virtues of philanthropy, arete, and time, by featuring young professional entrepreneurs. These three sisters, authors and entrepreneurs, tapped into their Greek roots to publish a best-selling cookbook that celebrates family, tradition, and story telling.
Here are excerpts from their in-depth feature:
As many might guess, a Greek meal is not just about the food at the table. It’s about the careful preparation and the love that goes into it; the process of sharing the meal and the energy we draw from each other within that comforting and familiar setting; the process of bonding in the kitchen and at the table. What we gain from this body of work is a bond with our past, our present, and our future. How did this come about? Let’s take a look.
THE JOURNEY & “AHA” MOMENT:
While all three young professionals are charming and creative, they each pursued very different formal studies earlier on. The combination of creative and professional skills that this team possesses plays a significant role in the success of the 3 Greek Sisters enterprise.
Betty earned a Bachelor of Science and Psychology as well as a Bachelor of Education (with a major in science and special education) from McMaster University. She has been teaching at the elementary and secondary levels for several years. She currently conducts culinary classes and directs the 3 Greek Sisters cooking demos. A large part of the audience is actually comprised of “junior chefs” ranging anywhere from 10 and up. According to Betty, “They sit in the front row all wide-eyed and excited to learn about their heritage. I feel at times that I also teach junior cooking classes right here in my own home. I have 3 daughters aged 14, 12 and 10 and they are with me in the kitchen all the time, rolling meatballs, preparing pastitsio and washing dishes!” Seeing the next generation actively embrace the traditional process of cooking in a community setting is a satisfaction in and of itself. The initiative, which is open to general audiences, inspires a genuine public interest that goes beyond the borders of the Greek community.
Samantha earned an Honors Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Guelph and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Western Ontario. She taught Grades 1 and 2 for 5 years before moving onto the cookbook venture with her sisters. “Since our first cookbook, I have been invited back to classrooms to teach cooking classes and have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm from young students to get into the kitchen and cook their very own phyllo pastry for their parents.”
Eleni earned an Honors Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual Art – with a minor in History – from the University of Guelph, followed by a Masters of Fine Arts degree from York University, where she specialized in Painting and Photography. Her work continues to be exhibited in many countries, including France, Germany, and Italy; she also maintains her own art practice (https://www.facebook.com/elenibakopoulosart) in Guelph, Ontario.
In terms of the logistics and inspiration for this grand collaborative adventure… from the technical perspective, Samantha and Betty write out the recipes and Eleni prepares the introductions. Eleni also does all the photography for the books published by what I have fondly dubbed the 3 Greek Sisters Enterprise! The real magic happens when they get the rest of the family engaged in the process! “The project itself is truly a family effort. We have our parents by our side throughout the recipe testing phases, then have the kids taste test. Once we have something we like, there’s the editing process.” The tri-editing process reflects the quintessential teamwork needed to make the project successful and fulfilling. “The three of us write together, and it’s nice to hand a piece over to your sisters for a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The husbands also help at times.”
The Bakopoulos sisters refer to this project as “historical scrap booking… *and* a great excuse for us to just be around each other.” When asked what led them to publish, they explain that “It’s a wonderful way to hold on to our common heritage, to keep the culture alive at the mainstream level, but it’s also an opportunity to educate half-Greeks about the connection between food and family values.”
The sisters initially just wanted to write all the recipes down in book form for their own families, for their children to enjoy the traditional, classic foods and culture they knew growing up. Upon further research, however, they discovered that everyone connected with this personal story in relation to their own upbringing and their desire to feel connected (or to reconnect) with it. They also found that Greek books apparently don’t tend to sell as we’ll as French, Italian or Spanish cookbooks, that “Our culture is underrepresented and needs avid promotion; the identity of our traditions were lost, somehow, in the vacuum of more trendy conglomerate terms like ‘Mediterranean Diet’ or ‘Vegetarian Diet’ – which are essentially based on Greek culinary traditions.” When the time came to select a name for the book, the sisters agreed that “Greek” had to be in the title. Around the Greek Table (http://www.3greeksisters.com/thecookbook.php) not only provides a vivid introduction of the foods that so many grew up knowing; it’s a means for readers of Hellenic descent to reclaim their heritage. The book features many dishes from the southern regions in Peloponnese and Kalamata. More northern and island dishes are featured in their second book, Three Sisters Back to the Beginning (http://www.3greeksisters.com/thecookbook2.php), which just came out in April 2013!
When asked what other paths they had considered, the Bakopoulos sisters agree that while they each followed the paths they had set out to take upon graduation, “Now that we have started our business venture together, we are working fulltime as Adelfes, the publishing company we founded in 2009.”
The desire to work together remains a constant source of motivation and inspiration for this dynamic trio. As the sisters explain, “The most important thing for us is love and family – you cannot pursue success at the expense of that.”
According to Betty, Samantha and Eleni, their parents just cooked all the time. Food was just such a central part of the every day. Their dad was famous for making their school lunches. “Mom and Dad were definitely our strongest mentors. Our aunts in Greece were also very influential. Food was just always *such* a big deal in our family — healthy cooking too. Our mom was always health conscious – she always looked for ways to bake or broil instead of frying. Our moussaka has always impressed people – and we think the key is that all our vegetables, even the potatoes, are cooked in the oven. Frying tends to make dishes “heavy”, a comment we hear from non-Greeks. Even our fritters, classics like Kolokithopites, they are baked in the oven and are still crunchy and delicious. This stayed with us even when we began cooking in our own homes. This is also a big part of our cookbooks.”
INSPIRING EACH OTHER:
When asked, “What is it like to work with your sisters?” The three laugh in unison when asked. “We’re real sisters, but missed each other so much because we had moved to different towns and this was a great reason to get together. There are deadline pressures we get each other to stick to, and that can be stressful, but it’s also enjoyable — a real bonding experience. Of course there are times when we argue certain points, but we know we’re aiming towards the same end result, that we’re pushing each other to something better, that we accomplished together. When it’s all done, we look at it and say ‘Wow, we actually did it!’ and that’s a great feeling. These projects have definitely brought us together again, made us stronger and more courageous, as sisters and as individuals.”
“In addition to our family, our fans and their emails really do keep us goings and pursuing new ways to get the information out there.” Here are a few reader responses the Bakopoulos sisters have received over the years: http://philoforthought.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/reader-review-hyperlink_content.pdf.
According to the Bakopoulos sisters, for any business venture, to become successful, it needs to become a full-time venture. “You are either actively working (phone calls, emails, appearances) or you are constantly thinking about your next marketing move. As soon as you stop promoting your product, people will forget about it. People are used to things moving and changing quickly, and so you have to keep up – you have to keep re-inventing yourself.” As a result, it’s difficult to measure how much time is dedicated to professional networking initiatives.
Every industry has its challenges. From a professional perspective, publishing itself turned out to be about much more than just getting the book itself printed and distributed. “You really have to know about warehousing, marketing, social media, and several other things. It’s a very challenging process. It was a real learning process for us.”
There is another hurdle to overcome – one of resistance from within the community. “There is often a conflict between what the industry demands of us and our gut feeling about what we want — what our community would enjoy…. Everything has to be very visually stimulating, which has not been a focus in many Greek books until recently. In the media, there is no *Greek* cooking show. Networks prefer the term ‘Mediterranean’…. There is also a fairly comical resistance from the older Greek community who ‘already know how to cook,’ but they will watch the demos at the local expos then realize the book isn’t really for them, specifically, but for their daughters, daughter-in-laws, granddaughters, nieces…. These are the older recipes, that appeal to the Greek community; they are meaningful parts of our heritage that would otherwise be lost.”
The sisters smile and comment one of their more controversial recipes for Koliva. Why include that? “We included Koliva because we felt that the next generation needs to know how to carry on the tradition of honouring our loved ones who have passed. Sharing Koliva at the end of a memorial service is something that has been done for years, but we have always looked to our elders to continue this tradition. When we meet second generation Greeks at events, this is what they are thanking us for.”
“Of course, our book also includes classics like Pastitsio and Moussaka. We have been so touched over the years to receive emails from people who are happy to have their kitchen evoke memories of their childhood homes. The smells of cinnamon and nutmeg cooking in the oven has them brings back happy memories. These books have also helped people who have married into a Greek family, and they are thrilled to hear their husbands exclaim, ‘It smells like Mama’s house!’” The satisfaction of educating the greater community and educating the greater community and getting this positive feedback is another impetus for the sisters to continue their efforts!
In addition, there is a technological challenge to consider. “We have a lot of projects on the go. The world is rapidly changing, people are using technology more than ever, so we need to stay on top of that. It forces you to look at things like, e-Books, apps. Webisodes – things that years ago you may not have thought of.” Juggling these concerns requires constant effort in addition to considerations for content building, community initiatives, and the multitude of creative and administrative responsibilities required in a successful publishing venture.
When asked how they balance work-life schedules and concerns, the sisters admit that sometimes it’s difficult to manage it all. “It’s a challenge being a mom, a wife, an entrepreneur…. but the great thing is that there are 3 of us and there is no shame in admitting that we need help. Sometimes one of us has to pull back to take on something personal and the other two pick up the slack.”
HOBBIES & OTHER INTERESTS:
All three sisters have a genuine love of fine art. “We all love to paint, garden and read. The three of us are also huge movie buffs, so we spend a lot of time watching great films. We are also attached to our previous careers as teachers and artists.” As you may have guessed by now, they are also very involved in their local community. “Whether it is in our kids’ school activities or charitable activities within the Greek community, we’re always willing to pitch in.”
WORDS OF WISDOM:
Our fine entrepreneurs have a wealth of advice for today’s young professionals, starting with the fact that no business venture is easy. “You’re always thinking about new things, always wondering what elsewhere is to do, always ‘working’ on some level.” In their case, “work” and “life” seem to have met a lucrative harmony based on the sisters’ development of a solid work ethic from the get go.
When asked what skills or life-lessons they value the most, the sisters are in unison in terms of their belief that “Whatever it is that you choose to do, you should always strive to excel.” When they first set out to begin the 3 Greek Sisters Enterprise, the goal was apparently not to produce the best self-published cookbook. “Our goal was to write the best Greek cookbook, period! Even though we had never written or published a book before. Set high standards for yourself and then find the way to make it possible!”
In general, the Bakopoulos sisters have no regrets about starting their own publishing business. “It would have been wonderful if we had known other self-published authors at the outset, though. People believe that you can sell a million books overnight – and the truth is, selling books is a very difficult job. There are lots of people along the way that take a big chunk of the pie – the printer, the shipping companies, the bookstores, etc. This is why your goal at the start has to be something different than just making money. From the start, we were simply happy to know that we have made wonderful, beautiful books that would stay around for a while for the next generations of Greeks to look back on and share with their families.”
Around the Greek Table, says it best: “The preparation of food in Greek culture is an expression of love. It says to those whom you prepare it for, you are worth the effort. Like love, good food is comforting. For those preparing it, it is rewarding. For those who share in the feast, it is life-affirming.” This cultural legacy can also be applied to young professionals everywhere:
- Do something that you are passionate about. Work on something that you love, because it will be easy to work on it each and every day.
- Take a project as far as you can; let it be fueled by genuine passion and drive.
- Do five things a day for your business. It can be anything — getting five new contacts, a few phone calls or Facebook/blog posts. Do this the first three years and, even though these things seem small, you’ll see the results and also build good habits.
- You have a great product. Let people know it!
To this, I would add (from observing the sisters in action over the past few months) that it’s essential to have a team you trust without boundaries, who share your love and passion for the project without question.
The publication industry can be so challenging! The Bakopoulos sisters love sharing their experiences with the next generation of young professionals and entrepreneurs. Thanks, Betty, Samantha and Eleni!
While the majority of the 2013 events in which the Bakopoulos sisters are participating are based in Canada (http://www.3greeksisters.com/calendar.php), they have participated in Greek Festivals in the U.S. and are always interested in attending and participating in these and related cultural events, fundraisers, and charitable book sales in which proceeds from book sales go to the charitable organization sponsoring the event.
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