A man of simple tastes, who ate his meals at the same time every day, could hold his drink, and was an avid smoker. That’s how Elpida Belogianni, who worked as a cook for the late writer from 2001 until his death in 2011, describes Patrick Leigh Fermor.
She approached Paddy, or “Kir Michalis” as he was known by everyone in Mani, about the job at his house in Kardamyli when she heard that the previous cook had left her position. Being an old acquaintance of her father, Giannis Belogiannis, Leigh Fermor hired her on the spot.
For health reasons, Leigh Fermor’s wife Joan made sure that he stuck to a strict diet, Elpida recalls. When she passed away however, he loosened the restrictions and made new rules, personalized to his tastes: he started eating a lot more meat, which he loved (particularly pork chops with butter and onions, and oven-roasted lamb with vegetables), as well as dishes like moussaka, baked gigantes beans, and eggs sunny-side up with bacon. He created his own dietary plan, which he then stuck to happily and religiously.
In the mornings, he would have one cup of Chinese tea, one orange, and three slices of toast: one with orange- or Seville orange marmalade, a second one with butter and marmite, and a third one with gentleman’s relish (a type of anchovy paste).
At 11.00, he would have a “medium-sweet” cup of Greek coffee. For lunch he ate whatever Elpida cooked. His afternoon snack consisted of another cup of tea with two Digestive biscuits. Then dinner.
He was never a fan of elaborate delicacies; he preferred simple meals, even when hosting large groups of people. He often declared that nothing could beat a plate of lentil stew drizzled with olive oil or a freshly fried fish, dipped briefly in seawater to achieve the perfect saltiness.
Famously gentle, he was always polite and good humored, never angry or irritated, and he showed no desire to try other types of food, so Elpida avoided experimenting with new dishes. “Any time I did cook something new, his response would either be: ‘Very tasty, I’d like to have this again’ or ‘Very tasty, but I don’t want to have it again’,” she laughs.
Asked if she remembers any moment in particular from cooking for Paddy, she ponders for a while, then enthusiastically recalls: “One evening – he was widowed by then – I had cooked him his favorite lamb in the oven, and I thought to recite the poem “The Lamb” by Alexandros Katakouzinos. He listened to it carefully, and it led to a discussion about Greek poetry that lasted all night, as we sat in front of the fire and had large amounts of wine.
“He was an experienced drinker, but I got really dizzy, and woke up in the morning with the worst headache. As we sat down for lunch that day, I couldn’t speak from the pain. He, on the other hand, was completely fine. Eating his meal in silence while reading a book, he looked up every now and again, shook his head with guilt, and muttered: ‘Poor Elpida, poor Elpida…'”
This article was first published in Greek in the April issue of Gastronomos magazine, which features a range of Easter dishes photographed in the home of Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor, which is now a writer’s retreat operated by the Benaki Museum.