The small Greek island of Ikaria, which lies across the eastern Aegean Sea from the mainland and within sight of Sámos and Chios, is shaped like the gracefully outstretched wing of a bird. The image seems especially appropriate since Ikaria is named for Icarus, the mythological youth who flew too close to the sun and fell into the sea when the wax that attached the feathers to his wings melted from the heat.
Nearly untouched by tourism, Ikaria is a collection of fishing villages, ancient spas, hot springs and a few not terribly distinguished classical and Byzantine ruins. On the northern side of the island, the mountain village of Christos Rahon sits high up and far back from the sea. Three years ago, food writer Diane Kochilas and her husband, Vassili Stenos, a painter, established Villa Thanassi restaurant and the Glorious Greek Kitchen cooking school here. Kochilas supervises a kitchen that turns out spectacular renditions of dishes from all over Greece, and she teaches the various cuisines to her students—mostly Americans but also some English and a few Greeks who are curious about their culinary heritage. The restaurant and cooking school are open only in the summer, when Kochilas and her family are on Ikaria; the rest of the year, she teaches classes in her Athens apartment.
The village has a reputation as a place where everyone stays up all night, Kochilas told me when I visited. Strolling through Christos Rahon at close to 9 p.m., on my way to Villa Thanassi, I find I am pretty much alone—not because it's so late, but because it's so early. Shopkeepers, the pharmacist and the dry cleaner are just beginning to open their doors after the afternoon siesta, and at the outdoor cafés the sole patrons are a few tourists like me, begging ouzos from waiters who look like they've just gotten out of bed. But when I come back through the village after midnight, I see children playing tag, old folks having quiet after-dinner coffees with tsípouro, the traditional grappa-like liqueur of the Greek islands, and friends and neighbors greeting each other as if it were the middle of the day.