Two years ago, multi-awarded Greek-Canadian filmmaker Christos Sourligas’ mother was told she had she only had 12-18 months to live. Having a deep bond with both his parents, Greeks who emigrated to Canada from Arkadia in the 1960s, this devastating news catapulted the prominent and multitalented writer, director and producer to reach a eureka moment. He realised that one wonderful way to honour his mother’s life and to keep a part of her in this world was to write a book based on her incredibly delicious, lovingly made traditional Greek recipes.
Throughout his career in Canada, the US and other countries, Souligas has impressed the international festival circuits with his films ‘Elephant Shoes’ and ‘Happy Slapping’, the latter being the first-ever feature film shot exclusively on iPhones. He has centred and developed his talents and expertise in film and television throughout his life, so although he is a fan of great food (and especially the healthy variety), writing a cookbook was a very new kind of project for him.
New, but not entirely quizzical. With his contagiously playful spirit, he tells me that his mother’s cooking was so great that over the years he'd begun to suspect that the constant stream of friends that visited his family home came to relish her food rather than see him. So upon receiving the painful news that his beloved mother Evdokia Antginas was not going to be near him and his family for long, it was almost inevitable for Sourligas to want to preserve her culinary magic in some way.
“My mother feeding her family was the most meaningful way for her to convey her devotion to us,” he tells Greek City Times. “‘My Big Fat Greek Cookbook: Classic Mediterranean Soul Food Recipes’ is basically a love letter to her for the sacrifices she made to give us.”
Originally, Sourligas, who grew up in his family’s restaurant kitchens, kickstarted himself into action to create a culinary ode in her memory to be shared with close family and friends. However, it soon led to something much bigger. The book soon caught the eye of his literary agent Louise Fury (The Bent Agency, NYC) who in turn sold it to Nicole Frail of Skyhorse Publishing. A simple home-crafted project thus turned into a globally marketed venture. He recalls that “At first I was just gonna print, say, 100 copies at a photocopy shop to gift to family and friends. But then, the project got even bigger than me, than my mother... than my entire family! That’s perhaps because it had a much deeper story to tell… the story of how food is a testament of love.”
I ask Sourligas about the process of putting the book together. “For over a year and a half, I visited my mother a few times per month and watched as she prepared these delicious, mouth-watering recipes,” he says. “My sister and father helped her out while I sat there, laptop and camera on hand. Between writing down the ingredients, directions, stylising the food for photos, etc, I would spend the average of an entire workday per recipe over at my folks’ place. And beyond just showing how to make each recipe, my mother chatted about her old days while living in Greece, bringing up all these amazing memories, and oftentimes, she would even belt out a folk song or two! So it wasn’t just about documenting how a recipe is made, but also the personalised love it embodied.”
Sourligas, who is a regular visitor to his native Greece, therefore discovered a deeper, more emotionally evocative and culturally meaningful connection to his ancestral land not just through food but also the touching personal stories that accompany them, which is what he hopes will come through to the readers. As a near-magical process, passing on a message is something that as a filmmaker and writer he can intuitively and instantly relate to: “Telling a story is the fastest way to connect with people. Nowadays, I find storytelling has become a lost art form. If you can learn how to tell a good story you are properly engaging with someone. That’s probably why I became a filmmaker...it's the best way I can reach mass audiences.”
And beyond stories real or imagined, this book project brought him closer to Greece. “I feel an abundance of energy whenever I visit Greece; the country, the people, its places are radiating at a high frequency,” he reveals. “Fortunately the world, a world that has grown quite “sick” in various ways, is increasingly looking to Greece again to re-learn the basics: the classics; psychology, philosophy, culture, social wisdom, leadership, wellness... and of course our multifaceted, delectable and generally heart-healthy gastronomy and its age-old benefits. The phoenix is rising from the ashes after a decade of crisis, and I want to be a part of it,” he says.
As for his mother, Sourligas feels beyond grateful that she has proven more resilient than the doctors direly predicted. “The most amazing part is that my mother is still with us,” he says, “and I pray she gets to be around for years to come! I hope all its magic pours out of the pages. Buy it, read it, cook with it…and let my mother’s soul resonate in your heart and home.”
My Big Fat Greek Cookbook: Classic Mediterranean Soul Food Recipes is slated for a worldwide release on October 15th, 2019, and will be distributed by global publishing giant, Simon & Schuster.