A Sanctuary of Love: Safeguarding Crete Food Traditions & Heritage

Long before the world (and Greece) understood the importance of culinary legacies, their impact on health and wellbeing, community prosperity and local economies, long before ‘buzz words’ like “sustainability”, “organic” and “green” filled the news and political agendas, a US-born dreamer made her way to Crete and set up a humble refuge. Her name: Nikki Rose. Her vision: protecting Greece’s cultural-culinary heritage. 

Traditional Cretan ‘lychnarakia’ made from local cheese.

And this was how Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries (CCS) was born evolving today into Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries Educational Network, which does two things: it works with local farmers, chefs and fishermen in programs aimed at protecting culinary heritage through sustainable and organic practices and shares the secrets of how this heritage can be protected with visitors through seminars and programs.

CCS programs initiate you into the wonderful world of Greek cuisine by offering participants a holistic experience of food and that because “food is not just what’s on the plate”, says Nikki, “It’s a way of life”.

Seminars include visits to organic farms, traditional kitchens, archaeological sites and hands-on cooking, of course.

And Nikki isn’t alone in this endeavor. Inspired by her dedication and commitment, archaeologists, historians, botanists, organic farmers, chefs, and artists have joined her network and every year they teach in the CCS programs.

Nikki Rose & the Crete Connection

Always happy faces: Nikki Rose in action preparing a traditional ‘briam’ (ratatouille) straight from farm to table.

So why Crete? Nikki’s maternal grandparents were from Greece. “My grandfather was from the Peloponnese and my grandmother from Crete,” she says. Two regions that hold a vast gastronomic wealth.

Her grandparents migrated to Chicago in the 1900s and as most Greek emigrants they did what Greeks know best: food… and opened a restaurant. 

Even as a child Nikki loved the kitchen, food and to cook what she calls “real food”. So it was only an matter of time before she attended the Culinary Institute of America and from there worked with some of the world’s best chefs.

When the Mediterranean Diet became big news, “chefs and nutritionists asked for my advice”. So decided to leave her corporate career behind and head to her grandmother’s native Crete, where she set up Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries Educational Network, which is now 24 years old.

➤ I should note that the Mediterranean Diet was included in 2013 on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Read more here. Also known as the Greek Diet, it made global headlines in the late 1960s, when scientists discovered a link between the foods eaten and long life expectancy. Learn more about the diet, its foods and recipes hereThe Greek Vibe is also proud to be a member of the Slow Food Movement. Learn more about the movement and about Greek food items at risk of extinction here.

Protecting Culture – Nature – Cuisine on Crete

One of the immersive experiences offered at Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries with Cretan lyra soloist Ross Daly.

Over 3,000 teachers, students and journalists have attended Nikki’s programs which aim to raise awareness about the importance of protecting food sources and the environment as well as about ways to support local producers and products. But these seminars are also about food culture.

For Nikki, cooking should be fun and eating should contribute to wellbeing. That’s why she decided to write a book – Crete: The Roots of the Mediterranean Diet – sharing all the experience she’s gained at CCS. 

However, Nikki’s work does not stop there. She believes that knowledge should be passed on to the next generations so that culinary and cultural heritage is safeguarded. Besides being a chef, journalist and writer, she also advises projects around the world on community-based sustainable tourism and preservation of culinary heritage.

As for Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries: it has won awards from National Geographic, the United Nations, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and is recommended by Agroecology Europe, IFOAM-Organics, National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations.

Always restless, Nikki is now working on an upcoming documentary titled Heritage Protectors, which she says “is a continuation of our work”. Learn more about the project and how to contribute here.

Touched by Greece!

Guests and friends tell us how they’ve been ‘Touched by Greece’

Nikki Rose captured by photographer Christos Tsoumplekas.

1) How were you ‘touched by Greece’?

The amazing natural landscape, fresh, local organic food, and the dedicated Heritage Protectors who have become dear friends along the way.

2) What does Greece mean to you?

It’s my home.

3) Your favorite place in Greece?

It’s too hard to choose – there are many wonderful places in Greece. But I love the mountains because nature is always changing and sharing her astounding beauty, colors, aroma, and sounds with us. 


Learn about Nikki’s book Crete: The Roots of the Mediterranean Diet here, about how to support her documentary Heritage Protectors here, or more about Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries here.

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