The Farm-to-Table Restaurant Bringing the Cretan Diet Back in Vogue

The owner and managers of Peskesi are working to reintroduce the Cretan diet to locals and tourists alike.
Peskesi is an organic farm-to-table restaurant in Heraklion dedicating to promoting the traditional Cretan diet. (Photo: Peskesi)
By Daniel Dawson
Apr. 9, 2024 12:15 UTC

Once hailed in the land­mark Seven Country Study as the lead­ing rea­son peo­ple in Crete suf­fered fewer instances of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease than their Western coun­ter­parts, the Cretan diet has since been usurped on the Greek island by a more Western diet.

Undeterred by chang­ing eat­ing habits, the owner and man­agers of Peskesi, an organic farm-to-table restau­rant in the island’s cap­i­tal, are work­ing to rekin­dle the Cretan diet’s pop­u­lar­ity. Their mis­sion is to edu­cate tourists and Cretans about the island’s rich culi­nary her­itage.

From the start, we wanted to use the restau­rant for edu­ca­tional pur­poses, using the food to teach peo­ple about the Cretan diet and its ingre­di­ents. Our goal is to serve tra­di­tional food in a mod­ern way.- Panagiotis Magganas, owner, Peskesi

The need to revive recipes from Crete is because the tra­di­tional way of liv­ing is chang­ing as years go by,” Zacharias Magganas, the restaurant’s man­ager, told Olive Oil Times.

The peo­ple now gather in cities, leav­ing the vil­lages and their tra­di­tions behind,” he added. Globalization also affects food tra­di­tions a lot. For exam­ple, pizza and burg­ers are eas­ier to find in Crete than wild greens cooked with lamb.”

See Also:The best extra vir­gin olive oil from Greece

The Cretan diet is widely used to describe the habit­ual eat­ing pat­terns of 13 vil­lages around Kastelli, in the cen­ter of the island, which par­tic­i­pated in Ancel Keys’ study dur­ing the 1950s and 1960s.

The tra­di­tional Cretan diet is char­ac­ter­ized by a high con­sump­tion of fruit, veg­eta­bles, cere­als, and legumes with a small amount of dairy prod­ucts, pre­dom­i­nantly yogurt and cheese.

Compared with typ­i­cal Western diets, the Cretan diet con­tains lit­tle red meat – less than 50 grams per week, mainly lamb – and more fish. Extra vir­gin olive oil is the diet’s pri­mary fat source.

You can see this by the olive oil con­sump­tion in Crete, which is 23 kilo­grams per annum,” Peskesi owner Panagiotis Magganas told Olive Oil Times through a trans­la­tor, his nephew, Zacharias Magganas.


Panagiotis Magganas said he founded Peskesi to reintroduce urban Cretans to their traditional diet. (Photo: Peskesi)

By com­par­i­son, annual olive oil con­sump­tion is esti­mated to reach 12 kilo­grams per per­son in the rest of Greece.

The Cretan diet is one vari­a­tion of the Mediterranean diet and pri­mar­ily dif­fers from oth­ers due to its focus on local and sea­sonal fruits and veg­eta­bles. The other key ingre­di­ent in the Cretan diet is the more than 200 types of wild greens,” Panagiotis Magganas con­firmed.

We try to be the place where you can find the lost trea­sures’ of our land,” Zacharias Magganas added. A good exam­ple is the pro­mo­tion of man­aro­lia or biza, a Cretan legume that owes its exis­tence to our restau­rant. Its con­sump­tion has gone through the roof just a few years after we offered it in our restau­rant.”

Before found­ing the restau­rant, Panagiotis Magganas owned an organic farm. Initially, he wanted to cre­ate an acad­emy to teach locals and tourists about the Cretan diet.


The owner and managers of Peskesi source as much food for the restaurant as they can from their organic farm. (Photo: Peskesi)

But for bud­get rea­sons, we made the restau­rant, which is more acces­si­ble to peo­ple. From the start, we wanted to use the restau­rant for edu­ca­tional pur­poses, using the food to teach peo­ple about the Cretan diet and its ingre­di­ents,” Magganas said. Our goal is to serve tra­di­tional food in a mod­ern way.”

According to Magganas, very few Cretan restau­rants served tra­di­tional food when he opened Peskesi.

Since Peskesi was cre­ated, the con­cept of the Cretan diet has started to change, and as the years have gone by, more restau­rants have been try­ing to fol­low the idea of serv­ing tra­di­tional Cretan foods,” he said. People’s think­ing about Cretan food has changed a lot through the years.”

Magganas founded the farm 25 years ago, and Peskesi has fol­lowed bio­dy­namic and regen­er­a­tive agri­cul­tural prac­tices since.


We are a cer­ti­fied organic and sus­tain­able restau­rant, but we don’t do any­thing more than what Cretans used to do,” he said. The farm does not use fer­til­izer, phy­to­chem­i­cals or ani­mal feed. We also serve sea­son­ally avail­able foods.”

The restau­rant tries to source all its food from the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity. Whatever can­not be obtained locally is brought from other parts of Greece. Nothing is imported from out­side of Greece,” Magganas con­firmed.

Four types of extra vir­gin olive oil are used in the kitchen: one robust olive oil for the wild green salad, a milder oil for the Greek salad, one for cook­ing and one for fry­ing. No other type of edi­ble oil is used in the food prepa­ra­tion.

About half of the olive oil used in Peskesi’s kitchen comes from the company’s groves, and the rest is pur­chased from local pro­duc­ers.

For the last seven years, we’ve had an olive oil list with the same con­cept as a wine list: cus­tomers can choose from 10 extra vir­gin olive oils from Crete,” Magganas said. Customers can pair the olive oil with food or taste it on its own to expe­ri­ence their dif­fer­ences.”

The restau­rant uses three dif­fer­ent vari­etals: Koroneiki, Tsounati and Chondrolia. But we don’t look at the vari­eties; we look at the pro­file of the olive oil,” he said.

For exam­ple, for the Greek salad, we use olive oil with intense, pun­gent and bit­ter char­ac­ter­is­tics and intense fruiti­ness,” Magganas added. For green sal­ads, we use olive oil that is less pun­gent and bit­ter but also very har­mo­nious.”

Along with olive oil tast­ings at the restau­rant, Peskesi offers farm tours, cook­ing classes and tra­di­tional bread-bak­ing lessons. For the past four years, the farm has opened for sea­son since the first month of sum­mer when the weather is nice,” Magganas said.

Many restau­rant guests have returned to visit the farm. Magganas believes that guests are enthused by see­ing where the food they use to pre­pare their meals orig­i­nates and by the zero-waste phi­los­o­phy behind it all.

They love to see how we’re mak­ing com­post from the left­over food from the tables, how we use every­thing to enrich the soil for our veg­eta­bles, the ani­mals that live on the farm and the ecosys­tem,” said Agelos Bougias, who man­ages the farm.


Agelos Bougias (left) manages the farm at Peskesi, while Zacharias Magganas is in charge of the restaurant. (Photos: Angelos Bougais and Zacharias Magganas)

We try to make the land bet­ter, not worse,” he added. The soil is health­ier now than it was 25 years ago.”

However, Peskesi’s organic and regen­er­a­tive farm-to-table model has plenty of chal­lenges. Magganas said the tra­di­tional Cretan restau­rant con­cept is expen­sive to run.

Since the restau­rant only pur­chases locally-grown and pro­duced food, price is not the first con­sid­er­a­tion, and the restau­rant pur­chases more expen­sive ingre­di­ents to remain authen­tic.

Growing endemic veg­eta­bles and plant vari­eties at the farm often means the com­pany sac­ri­fices yield for authen­tic­ity. For exam­ple, Peskesi only uses a native Cretan tomato vari­ety that pro­duces smaller fruits than most com­mer­cial vari­eties.

As a result, the restau­rant earns lower mar­gins on each dish than a con­ven­tional restau­rant might, which Magganas said can be dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate to cus­tomers.

However, Bougias, Mangannas and his nephew believe the restau­rant is becom­ing a point of pride for Cretans. Mangannas points out that many tourists who visit the restau­rant come based on rec­om­men­da­tions from local peo­ple.

He believes some of this pride comes from nos­tal­gia, with cus­tomers say­ing the food is rem­i­nis­cent of what their grand­moth­ers cooked for them in their child­hood vil­lages.

All in all, the new model of liv­ing pushes our tra­di­tional recipes to the side, so our ulti­mate goal is to fight back and pro­mote our food his­tory from the Minoan times as much as pos­si­ble,” Zacharias Magganas con­cluded.


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