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A passion for cooking

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After realising a career in law was not for her one local woman turned to the recipes of her family. ALEXIA SALEEM meets the woman behind a successful blog and cookbook

Christina Loucas has one of those life stories that captures the imagination and inspires you to find your life’s passion. The eldest of two daughters to Greek Cypriot immigrants, Loucas was born in Vancouver Island in British Colombia, Canada and pretty much “grew up in restaurant kitchens”. Her father was British Colombia’s restaurateur of the year in 1992 and owned a string of restaurants until his retirement. Her mother, an accomplished baker, used to bake for the restaurants and made wedding cakes in her spare time. You could, therefore say, food had always been in Loucas’ blood.

However, Loucas was destined for a different life and her father had always dissuaded her from the food industry, so when she finished school, she moved to the UK to study Economics and Government at the London School of Economics. She went on to Oxford University to study law then worked in London for six years as a corporate lawyer specialised in international arbitration. Although successful in her career, and on paper appeared to be winning at life, on the inside she felt empty and lost.

feature2 christina with her family
Christina with her family

“I remember going home in a taxi at 1am one night after filing a case and it was snowing outside. I suddenly had this thought: How cool would it be to move to Cyprus and write a cookbook?”

Six months later she resigned from her job and relocated to Cyprus. But, instead of starting her cookbook, she got a job at a Nicosia law firm. Nevertheless, after a few months into her new role she quit in the belief that she was suffering from burnout.

It was her aunt who finally suggested she see an endocrinologist to check her thyroid. Four weeks later, following a biopsy, in June 2011, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She was 31. Her initial shock was replaced by relief that she finally had a diagnosis to explain her unsettling symptoms.

But treatment proved to be a “very lonely process, and during that time I had a lot of time to self-reflect and to look at life from a new perspective. I also lost my voice for six to eight weeks after the surgery and was told it might never come back. I fainted in the doctor’s office when they told me.”

As a result, all Loucas could do was observe the world around her, which prompted her to start thinking about how she wanted to communicate if her voice loss was permanent.

“Which is probably why I gravitated towards photography because I thought that was a nice way to express myself.”

She picked up a camera and enrolled herself in a black and white photography course, soon discovering she had a passion for it.

In the meantime, she decided to take a year off to fully heal and what better opportunity to start the cookbook she’d been dreaming about.

With no idea where to begin, Loucas started a food blog (www.afroditeskitchen.com), where she explored and experimented with different ingredients and flavours. During that time she did a lot of baking in her kitchen after following her aunts and grandmother around with measuring cups, as well as writing recipes for local website Cypriot and Proud. She also started taking pictures of her own food, reading other cookbooks, and following people on Instagram.

feature2 3“I just really wanted to share Cypriot food with a global audience. I thought there are a lot of interesting and delicious ingredients in Cypriot food that not many people know about. I wanted to preserve these really old, traditional recipes, because a lot of people were starting to forget them, or at least in my family. And once my yiayia passed away, nobody else would be making them.”

Which is probably why Loucas’ favourite recipe in the entire cookbook is her yiayia’s halloumi, which her grandmother used to make for a living in her village.

But in 2015, Loucas’ father died, and her creativity dried up overnight. She moved back to Canada and gave up blogging and photography to grieve and be with her family.

In 2016, through an old friend at Oxford, an Italian publisher reached out to publish her cookbook. Although her dream was to see her cookbook in English, it was too good an opportunity to turn down, as her principal goal was to preserve the recipes and to share the distinct Cypriot cuisine and culture she was so passionate about.

In 2017 her cookbook was published in German after the German rights were sold, but still no word of an English language version of the book.

In 2019, Loucas was ready to start blogging again. The world of food blogging and social media had changed during her break but Loucas was more focused on being true to herself, finding her voice and sharing her personal journey.

Not long after, she got the email she’d given up hoping would arrive: the English rights to her cookbook had been sold and it was going to be published by Canadian publishers and distributed in the US and Canada.

Ten years after from her cancer diagnosis, Loucas’ life looks very different to the one she left behind in London. Soon after the English rights to her cookbook were sold, she met her partner and the father of their daughter. And just last month, she walked into a bookstore and saw her cookbook on the shelf.

 

 

Christina Loucas cookbook, Cyprus Cuisine, which has been described as part memoir, part cookbook and part travel guide, features over 80 recipes, illustrated in full colour, ranging from drinks to desserts, to soups, salads, small bites, breads and pastries, pickles, dips and main courses. It’s available to buy online at: http://afroditeskitchen.com/book

 

 

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