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Thursday, 9 January 2014

New directions (Νέες κατευθύνσεις)

During my blogging break, I have the chance to view my blog retrospectively, to help me decide how and where I want to take it in the future, together with the next step, which is to go beyond the blog. Looking through the blog's statistics (the hits counter), I notice that they are still quite healthy, despite my blogging absence: they have dropped by only a quarter according to the various sites I use to monitor this. Regular readers are still clicking in (thank you!), either to check for updates, or to look up a recipe: most of the posts being clicked on clearly have a recipe title. Visitors (non-regular readers) are also clicking on recipe titles, mainly by looking up a food word/phrase, and clicking on the respective link. There are also a few readers who are clicking on the 'Older Post(s)' button (at the end of the post), which means that they see the last few posts I wrote (up to about 20); this probably means they are catching up on something they may have missed reading during the holidays. So I can surmise that the main point of interest in my blog is the food I present, namely Greek food, with some interest in other Greek topics.

snails cooked a la hania chania crete
While writing this post, a British visitor to my site was looking up something to do with cooked snails.

One direction I could go in is to start cooking food for people other than my family. I was recently pointed towards this direction by a friend, who recommended informal sites like this one, where you set a date to cook a meal in your own home. If you get any offers, you give a cut from the price (which you have set) to the site owner; if you do not get any bookings, it does not cost you anything, apart from the time and money you would have spent in preparing the meal and/or location. It sounds like an interesting venture that is cheap to set up; I'd be working from home and it would almost be like cooking for my own family, but I can already see the traps:
1. I don't need to have a trader's licence to cook for my family, but I would need one if I were cooking for other people and expecting to be paid for it. My family hasn't been poisoned by my cooking, but the risk remains of people making such a complaint to the relevant authorities. Certain sites 'certify' their cooks, but let's not forget that trading standards differ from country to country; I have no idea (but I highly doubt) whether my own kitchen would make the grade according to Greek standards.

2. Making money in Greece is a highly contentious issue. From the beginning of this year, everyone running a business in Greece is taxed on the first euro they make. I'd be a tax evader, if I didn't declare my side business. It makes no difference if I don't actually make any money form the business: I'd still be obliged to declare my extra income, and pay tax on that.

3. On a similar note, how do I issue a receipt to the customer? All businesses in Greece, including freelancers, need to issue receipts to clients for services/products provided. If my home-cooking business is based on demand and I work only when required, without the work or the business being declared to the authorities, I would be working illegally in this country. (I believe that this is not being monitored very well at the moment, but that's the thing: just when you thought you were going by unnoticed, you suddenly find yourself in deep shit.)

4. Setting a price for a meal is either quite easy: it's a free market and you can set any price you want; or quite difficult: if you want to be marketable, you need to be cheap, which often means you won't be making a huge profit. Sites like the one I linked to (above) take a 15% cut of the set price. I have to remember that I have already paid between 13-23% VAT already on what I am cooking (unless I produce all the food I cook with, which I clearly do not). If I try to get round the health/safety standards by cooking in a professional kitchen (eg using a restaurant's premises on the night that they don't open), I'd need to pay for its use, too.

5. Of course, you aren't advertising yourself as a chef in such a venture, but you need a food philosophy of some sort if you intend to cook for others apart from your immediate family, who you are  feeding rather than entertaining. If you aren't a professional cook (and I am definitely not a chef, I am just a home cook), what exactly are you? Someone asked me once what my 'food philosophy' is: food must be real (ie the primary ingredients must generally be as transparent and unprocessed as possible), it should be for everyone (I dislike food sounding elitist), and therefore it should not be over-priced. Even when there is a theme associated with the food, it should still be cheap enough for anyone to enjoy; just because someone puts a lot of thought into the menu doesn't necessarily mean that this will be reflected in the payment for the inspiration: decor, props and plating shouldn't make the food more costly to prepare, in my opinion. But if I am cooking for others, I need to make a profit, otherwise... I may as well invite people to my home as guests.

All these issues mean that you need to find ways to get round these problems, which goes back to the age-old practice of "wait and see": keep doing what you're doing until you get caught out, and take it from there - there is rarely a Plan B.

Pizza in a cone
Nevertheless, nifty novelties in the food sector are constantly making their way into even my own little town in a not-so-little Mediterranean island, eg the donut business, and the pizza-in-a-cone. I can envisage potential for setting up a home-based Asian-themed pop-up restaurant. The local population is ready to try new ideas, but the costs involved in running a formal business are still too high, now that the taxation and health/safety regulations have changed in Greece. Not only that, but the island lacks tourists during the winter, who are more likely to be able to afford such novelties. (Tourism remains a summer activity in Crete, due to the flight schedules: during the six-month summer period, approximately 6,000 flights were recorded - and that figure is just for Hania, it doesn't include the biggest city in Crete, Iraklio. Flights during the winter are reduced to just domestic connections mainly to/from Athens.)

Last night's dinner, whipped up on a whim, after work, when I simply 'felt like' some Chinese food: stir-fry veges with chicken, basmati rice and calamari-and-cabbage spring rolls, with dipping sauces. It's almost become second nature to me to cook Asian food at home from scratch, now that I have developed my skills in this direction and I have acquired some basic equipment, thanks to friends' gifts of ingredients, woks, books and demonstrations. Nearly all the vegetables used in the meal were grown in our garden, so it is actually quite a lot cheaper than eating out. Judging from my family's enthusiasm for eating Asian food, I believe that it will have wider appeal in the community. 

The whole concept of presenting something new in the food sector is problematic. Ideas that I really like the sound of (eg Ziferblat) may be considered too avant garde in my town. My ideal to is find a way to be creative with food, but such ideas may also rely on cultural norms and honest customers. Some things are not quite clear-cut in small Greek towns.

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