My Big Fat Greek Taverna: From diplomacy to Ouzo
Melinda Ferguson Books
Review: Karen Watkins
If you’re in search of the perfect holiday read, look no further than Costa Ayiotis’ captivating memoir. This is the story chronicling his journey from a South African diplomat’s high-flying New York lifestyle to living a dream of opening Lemonia Greek Taverna in Hout Bay.
Born in Egypt to a Greek father and Dutch mother, Ayiotis weaves a tale of resilience and determination in the face of sceptics and naysayers.
The story begins in 1997 when Ayiotis, along with his wife Christine and friends Elmarie and Herman, decide to bring the taste of Greece to Hout Bay. Choosing the location for its fishing village charm, they transform a century-old farmhouse near the beach into Lemonia, where patrons entered as customers and departed as friends.
Ayiotis’ decision to deviate from the stereotypical blue-and-white colour scheme in favour of a warm lemony yellow sets the tone for the unconventional success story. The memoir delves into the intricacies of establishing the restaurant as Ayiotis skilfully draws inspiration from his father’s culinary prowess for Greek cuisine.
The book takes readers on a humorous roller-coaster ride, portraying Ayiotis’ encounters with an eclectic clientele, ranging from plumbers to supermodels and Mafia dons. His fiery Greek temperament is put to the test as every patron becomes a discerning food critic as he seeks refuge in the decompression chamber (cold room) with a bottle of ouzo, only to return feeling chilled.
Throughout, Ayiotis pays homage to various influences, from Basil Fawlty (a fictional character portrayed by British actor John Cleese in the sitcom Fawlty Towers) to friends in the franchise business and seasoned chefs. Some names have been changed for privacy, others not, so read the story to see if you are among the characters.
A commendable aspect is Melinda Ferguson’s editorial prowess, shaping a sprawling 1000-page manuscript into a polished book.
The references to Greek dishes could benefit from translation and it’s disappointing that there is an absence of recipes.
Ayiotis masterfully captures the essence of Hout Bay Republicans in what is a delightful and recommended read offering a recipe of humour, resilience and a taste of the Mediterranean in the heart of South Africa.