The Taste of Alchemy

Karen Orton
Santiago Rodriguez Tarditi

Global food culture is undergoing a radical shift towards hyper-local, sustainable food, nurturing a connection to the land and empowering communities. Leading the vanguard are visionaries incorporating indigenous healing cultures, plant-based elixirs, and communal rituals into this culinary transformation.

"On one side you have this nightlife where you go out from 2 a.m. until 8 a.m.," says Thomas Heyne, the owner of Scorpios. "On the other side, we have our meditation groups and tea ceremonies. Now all of these things are coming together more holistically. People are looking for balance. We saw this happening around the world, and wanted to bring this new musical influence and these alternative healing methods from Mexico, Peru, and Colombia, to Mykonos — a place that needed a new direction."

A focus on indigenous food cultures is a vital component in this wider shift. Peruvian star chef Virgilio Martinez and his wife, Pía León, run their kitchen turned food lab Mil, high in the Andes (11500 feet above sea level) as a place to collaborate with botanists, anthropologists, and artists to reinterpret indigenous ingredients. In a similar vein, leading Latin American-based female chef Kamilla Seidler's work with Gustu in La Paz has ignited a new interest in previously ignored indigenous food cultures. Elements within this growing movement are also taking inspiration from ancient peoples' relationship with the land, hosting traditional rituals and ceremonies that sustained communities spiritually and physically.

In Mykonos, Scorpios chef Alexis Zopas is reinvigorating elements of ancient Cycladic cuisine, sourcing simple, fresh, organic ingredients from the sea and surrounding islands. "Our food philosophy is Greek cuisine influenced by Turkey and Lebanon, with our North African neighbors," says Thomas. That's evident in everything from a signature dish like the tzatziki with avocado, to the Santorinian fava beans with slow-cooked onions, thyme pesto and pickled local kritamo (samphire).

"We have a hyper-local variety of food here, products like watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, and feta cheese. Our fish is outstanding, it's caught in the surrounding Aegean Sea, we buy tuna and barracudas from local fisherman."

Encouraging a spirit of radical togetherness, the food at Scorpios is eaten at large communal tables, with large bowls of fresh Mykonian salads with barley rusks, wild thyme and goats cheese brought out alongside communal platters of sea urchins and ceviche.

"Our concept around sharing is a very typically Greek concept, it's much homier I think," Thomas reflects. "You come with family and friends and before you know it you’re sitting there with people you haven’t met before, eating together. "These shared food rituals harken back to Ancient Greek culture, revitalizing the social, spiritual, and artistic life of the modern-day Agora as much as communal banquets did then.

Scorpios' culinary odyssey has links to the Ancient Greek "Mediterranean Triad" — grapes, grains, and olives — which made for a simple diet. Isolated Greek island populations primarily ate a Mediterranean diet, one that's still consistently proven to reduce illness. While Greece was never a particularly agriculturally prosperous civilization, the archeological remnants of ceramic amphorae show the diversity of ingredients that were transported throughout the empire.

The Manifesto Of Cycladic Cuisine (undoubtedly partly inspired by René Redzepi's New Nordic Food manifesto), evokes this history. The authors cite the "sea, scarce land, symmetry and Hellenic spirit" that defines Cycladic food, advocating the importance of sharing time-honored recipes and practices.

"People are looking for new ways to reach altered states naturally. They want to do something for their body and mind — and food and drinks are part of that."
greek food and drink culture cyclades

But, as Thomas explains, food and drinks culture is evolving in a new direction, as the nature of communal gatherings changes. He is helping usher in a move towards restorative plant-based natural elixirs. "This new direction is a move away from alcohol and drugs, to instead get a high from natural products," he says, adding, "the most interesting people I've met in the last couple years have all stopped drinking alcohol."

At Scorpios, the team prepares fresh elixirs and teas that serve a variety of needs — Thomas personally swears by his daily 'Mental' iced green tea, a blend of guarana and ginseng with fresh pineapple. "We see a very clear tendency with these elixirs," he says. "We are working with people worldwide to develop this. Several years ago everyone was laughing at them, now they're heroes.

"Integrating ancient plant medicine into music rituals and mind & body programming is happening at a range of forward-thinking gathering places around the world.

"It's been pretty profound with working with guests — when you're in these amazing places, like Tulum and La Granja, the vibration from the music combines with the plant's energy, so it's literally like you've taken ecstasy. It's an amazing euphoria, it changes your state," says Greg Seider. The New York-based alchemist and mixologist has been working in natural healing for over 20 years and has his own company, Seiderhouse. He's created the alchemy bar at The Assemblage in NYC and brought his elixirs to the Scorpios pop-up in Tulum and Further Ibiza. "It's an evolutionary drinking experience —  blissful energy and anti-anxiety, but without having to drink alcohol."  

Australian mixologist and former Soho House Berlin bartender Matt Boswell is devising a new elixir menu for Scorpios, using entirely local ingredients that grow on Mykonos. He wants to use local herbs, like throubi, "a local peppery plant that's completely different to anything I've tried before," which has been used as herbal medicine since ancient times and was even prescribed by the fathers of herbal pharmacology, Dioscorides and Theophrastus (a student of Aristotle).

This entire recent shift towards bioregionalism would be unimaginable without chef Dan Barber's farm-to-table mandate pioneered at Blue Hill Farm and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York. A new generation is extrapolating from these ideas; for example, in the case of Copenhagen-based chef and Noma alumnus Christian Puglisi—his Farm of Ideas hosts talks and festivals on a working ranch, bringing together global thought leaders to investigate new possibilities around seed exchange, biodiversity and beyond.

greek food preparation mediterranean cuisine ancient greek art and illustrations food culture
"Depending on the different plants I use, I can target different healing modalities"

Biodiversity is also crucial in the healing elixirs that Greg is creating. "The plants I use are wildcrafted, so they have those energetics without the stress of being cultivated. I structure the water with certain frequencies to add an energetic aspect, so it has the highest frequency." Greg's offerings range from teas like peach blossom rooibos and strawberry, hibiscus, cardamom, to heirloom cocoa incorporating MCT oil, with many of his elixirs using adaptogens, whether ashwagandha and Rhodiola, or reishi and lion's mane mushrooms.

"Depending on the different plants I use, I can target different healing modalities," he explains. Ancient detox practices have long relied on botanical wisdom—Ayurvedic traditions, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Native American cultures all use herbs, food, and elixirs to cleanse the body and its energetic fields.

As hyper-local, communal food rituals bring in traditional indigenous healing tonics, food culture is evolving into a new direction. Greg believes that at the end of the day, it's about connection. "This is a gateway to having people feel more open and trusting," he says. "These elixirs and plants truly bring about deeper, more connected friendships, and more creative relationships."

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