Discovering Sifnos: The Small Island behind Modern Greek Cuisine

By Rebecca Bradbury   4 April 2016

Little known elsewhere, Nikolas Tselementes is a big deal in kitchens across Greece. Considered to be one of the most influential chefs of modern Greek cuisine, he hails from the island of Sifnos, which makes for an enchanting yacht charter destination.  

Located in the Cyclades, Sifnos forms part of the island chain that boasts Mediterranean hot spots such as Mykonos and Santorini. Yet, low-key, unassuming and an ultimate foodie haven, Sifnos has something unique to offer visitors on a luxury yacht charter.

In Greece, the word Tselementes is synonymous with cookbooks, but few people know that Nikolas Tselementes was actually a chef who had a significant impact on contemporary Greek cuisine. Born in 1878 in the pretty Sifnos village of Exambela, he travelled to Vienna to study the art of cooking before working in some of the world’s best hotel kitchens.

He also wrote a 500-page cookery book in 1910 called Odigos Mageirikis. Translated as ‘Cooking Guide’, the book is full of tips and advice as well as signature recipes and has become the staple cook book found in every Greek household.

Nikolas Tselementes the Greek chef from Sifnos
Cooking Guide by Nikolas Tselementes from Sifnos

A modernizer, Tselementes is renowned for combining the best of Greek cuisine with that of West European countries. He particularly favoured the French style of cooking and his versions of dishes such as moussaka and pastitsio – with layers of cream sauce and cheeses – is what we have come to associate with typical Greek food.

With gorgeous sandy beaches, and picturesque villages of whitewashed houses and blue-domed churches, Sifnos is bound to lure you ashore and, luckily, its picturesque coastline is home to two marinas and plenty of quieter moorages. This makes the island easily accessible by yacht or tender.  

Once ashore, visitors will be able to get a true taste of Tselementes’ birthplace, where the oldest of the island’s 2,600 residents remember him as the man who cooked for them while they were hungry in World War II and, today, chefs working in local restaurants strive to maintain the legacy he carved for the island.

The oldest of the island’s 2,600 residents remember him as the man who cooked for them while they were hungry in World War II

Terracotta pottery in window in Sifnos, Greece
the roast lamb dish revithada from Sifnoslocally made clay pots for cooking in Sifnos, Greece

Among the hilly landscape is a plethora of natural growing herbs and mountain goats roam freely, emulating a feel of the ingredients that surrounded Tselementes throughout his childhood. Eating out introduces national dishes such as mastelo – oven roast lamb - and revithada - chickpea soup – which are still cooked in traditional clay pots.

Produced on the island since before Christ, these pots infuse food with a distinct Sifnian flavour and are made at 18 potteries dotted across the island using locally extracted clay.

Other famous Sifnian food specialities include cheeses such as manouri and myzithra, and succulent sweets, including Turkish delight, oven-baked marzipan and roast caramel sesame seeds.  

white homes and blue-roofed churches in pretty Sifnos townfamous chickpeas soup of Sifnos, Greece
white windmill with blue domed top on Sifnos, Greece

For keen food lovers, there is even a three-day food festival dedicated to the chef held on the island every September. Known as the Gastronomy Festival Nikolaos Tselementes, the event welcomes both amateur and professional chefs from the region, who present their unique gastronomic and cultural traditions.

For more information on planning a yacht charter in Sifnos, get in touch with your preferred charter broker or take a look at all luxury yachts available to charter in Greece.

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