By Penny Zalalas
Betty, Eleni and Samantha Bakopoulos are three Greek Canadian sisters who have written two award winning cookbooks, made appearances on American television and radio stations presenting their Greek recipes, and also host regular culinary tours to Greece.
Together they are better known as “3 Greek sisters” but individually they are:
Betty– a former teacher, who is most at ease in the kitchen preparing meals and feasts for family and friends. Her desire to pass on family recipes to her three daughters brought to light the majority of the recipes in ‘Three Sisters Back to the Beginning’ and ‘Three Sisters Around the Greek Table.’
Eleni- an accomplished artist with exhibitions and distinctions worldwide. Her love of photography and passion for food and family found expression in ‘Three Sisters Around the Greek Table’. For their second cookbook, she travelled to Greece, documenting childhood, and the connection between family, place and identity.
Samantha– was a passionate teacher of young children for many years before her love for cooking inspired the partnership that brought about the creation of both books. These projects balanced her talents in the kitchen with the office, where she mastered graphic design, photography, and social media.
Their parents immigrated from villages in the Peloponnese region- where they farmed vegetables, raised sheep and goats and also produced yoghurt, Feta and Mizithra cheese.
They also grew grapes, produced homemade wine, and even made their own pasta, which was sold at local markets. What they could afford to keep became the basis for their meals and inspiration for many of the recipes that appear in the sisters’ books.
The girls father Giorgos immigrated to Canada in the late sixties with much of his extended family and in order to join him, their mother Katerina had to leave her family behind.
Having no immediate family in Canada, their mum always longed for her loved ones back home and for Greece. Every summer holiday since 1976, the girls would travel to Greece with their parents to visit their grandparents and other relatives who lived there. These trips shaped and influenced them immensely.
“While most of our school mates were at summer camps, we were at our Mum’s village, carrying water from the springs, or making pastry, roasting lamb on a spit at the Neda River- those moments are priceless.”
All three sisters were born in Toronto, Canada and raised in the Greek community of Danforth Avenue, where most of the neighbourhood spoke Greek and their butcher, baker, grocer and even the family doctor was Greek.
“Greek was our native and first language,” says Eleni. “When we started school we didn’t speak English and in the afternoon we attended Greek school.”
Their first book ‘Three Sisters Around The Greek Table’ includes traditional and tasty dishes such as Lemon Potatoes, Gigades, Spanakopita, Moussaka, Melomakarona and Avgolemono and it didn’t take long before they won a ‘Gourmand World Cookbook Award’ and the ‘Best Cookbook Award’ at the New York Book Festival.
“Originally we wanted to gather all the recipes from our Mother and aunties, so we could pass them on to our children. Then we realised we also wanted to share Greek cuisine abroad and for people of all nationalities to be able to have Greek cook books, the same way they had access to Spanish and Italian recipes.”
After their grandparents (parents of their father) died, the house in the village of Kouvela felt empty and about three years ago the sisters decided to return to their roots and renovate the home, where they shared so many wonderful memories.
They set out to build a place where their children would be able to visit and also fall in love with Greece, the way they had. This trip also gave the girls fuel to write a second book with the title ‘Three Greek Sisters Back to the Beginning’ and the cover was taken in front of their rebuilt home in the village.
“With the second book we decided to be extra traditional and included recipes on how to make yoghurt, filo pastry, Magiritsa and Koliva, just like our aunties used to make them,” says Betty.
Every page features the quote “Food is Love.”
“For us that’s really what food is. Whenever we do talks or demonstrations, we try to get people to switch the way they think about food and to think about it that way. You have to eat three times a day at least or more. And if you look at it as a chore, then you dread it,” Eleni notes.
All the recipes in both books are from friends and relatives of the family and come from different regions of Greece. “We firstly taste test the food at home and then step-by-step, we progress with writing each recipe,” says Eleni.
The girls’ hold culinary tours to Greece every year, which includes a memorable stop over in Kouvela (their dad’s birthplace)- a beautiful 850 metre altitude mountain village, which has only 30 permanent inhabitants.
They also guide groups through Athens, Kyparissia, Koroni, Mystras, Nafplio and Olympia, where they sit through cooking demonstrations and tasted amazing cuisine from the locals, which satisfied all their senses.
The ‘3 Sisters Culinary Tours’ is Betty, Eleni and Samantha’s desire to bring people from all around the world to Messinia- to teach them about the rich Greek dishes and produce available from this region and to make sure they enjoy an authentic experience.
“We want them to see a different Greece- not just to visit the tourist regions that most guides recommend. We want them to be shown around by people who know the area and to experience it like a local,” says Betty.