THE Cyprus Tourism Organisation announced that it had launched a campaign to promote the Cypriot breakfast. Three seminars were held in the Paphos district to train chefs from various hotels, but the CTO hopes that by next year the Cypriot breakfast would be served all over the island.
This was apparently the first step of a grander scheme to develop culinary tourism in Cyprus, the CTO having conducted a survey and discovered that tourists were now after new taste experiences that could only be offered by local cuisine. As the organisation said in a statement, the current trend was for tourists to seek authentic fare and to steer clear of standardised, globalised products.
All this sounds good but it suffers from the superficiality with which the CTO approaches everything. The idea that Cyprus could become a destination for culinary tourism by making hotel chefs attend some training classes organised by CTO bureaucrats defies logic. If all the chefs are trained to make the same Cypriot breakfast, would this not lead to the standardisation that we want to avoid?
This was exactly what had happened in the eighties. The majority of the Cypriot chefs received their training at what used to be the Hotel and Catering Institute in the 1960s and up to the 80s and once they went to work they used to make food in exactly the same way. Traditional dishes like stifado, mousaka, afelia, dolmades tasted exactly the same in whichever tavern you had them in the tourist resorts, as a main dish or as part of a meze. Tavern owners did not change anything as long as there were bums on seats and the money kept rolling in.
Things are not very different today, although the local taverns and restaurants have to compete with the fast food chains that have sprung up everywhere, plus those offering international cuisine. To compete and differentiate the Cyprus tourist product, local restaurants must indeed focus on local food, as the CTO says, but not based on recipes taught at training seminars. Chefs must be adventurous and imaginative, and prepare dishes that are local, but original, in some way, and not the same as food on offer at the eatery next door.
The truth is that this food culture has never existed in Cyprus, where standardised fare has always been the norm, as far as local cuisine is concerned and it is phenomenally naive, if not outright stupid, for the CTO to believe that by holding a few training seminars it would turn Cyprus into a culinary tourist destination. Such drastic changes take decades to materialise and are never instigated by bureaucratic state organisations.