Some of the best things in life appear to happen by chance. Though some would say there’s no such thing as chance and it was all meant to be. But something out of the ordinary was definitely going on last Sunday for I unusually headed a little further down the riverside at Richmond than I normally do. I was with Rachael, waiting to meet up with Nicola, and she wanted to see the riverside. I remembered that I’d been told of a wonderful potter on the riverside by Tinello – who have some of Christina Gascoigne‘s beautiful plates and dishes in their restaurant. I suggested we took a look. And as we moved along the river from Richmond bridge, past The White Cross pub to a series of caves where I knew the pottery was, we passed Liquid Gold Cave and couldn’t resist going in.
Wow! It was an Aladdin’s cave of nature’s treasures that reminded me so much of Yiannis’s cave in Kardamyli. There were bottles of wonderful olive oil, packets of herbs promising natural remedies, gorgeous honey flavoured with thyme and pine; there were soaps and creams, teas and olives. We soon got talking to Dr Stavia Blunt about the shop and Liquid Gold Products. I was so intrigued and excited by it all, I asked if I could return at a quieter time (than a sunny Sunday afternoon!) to talk to her about what she does.
By happy chance the sun was making its way through a cloudy sky this afternoon to bring brightness to the world as I crossed Richmond bridge to head to Liquid Gold Cave. The cave is pretty much right in the middle of the photo above, but for a closer look:
What a fantastic location. It was so nice to see Stavia again and she made me some tea and we sat down to talk. Stavia’s background to setting up Liquid Gold is very interesting. She worked as a doctor and then consultant neurologist for 20 years but, she told me, became increasingly disillusioned by the lack of an holistic approach in traditional medicine. People were coming to see her far down the path of disease and she felt that an earlier intervention with nutrition and lifestyle changes could have made a difference. More and more she wanted to get away from the use of drugs where possible (although she’s aware they are sometimes necessary) and look at the importance of things like diet, sleep and exercise. She moved from the NHS to private work and found a lot of people were being referred to her – particularly women – with things like chronic fatigue and she realised that a lot of disease was related in a complex way to lifestyle. She wanted to move into doing something health-based and holistic that reached a large number of people and took a big leap and gave up medicine completely.
Stavia is half Greek and was intrigued to find out more about the ‘healthy Mediterranean diet’. She realised that it was not just about what people ate but their lifestyle too: living with the rhythm of life and seasons, the light of the day. She studied the work of the renowned American scientist Ancel Keyes who studied the effect of diet on health. His work narrowed the healthy Mediterranean diet down to Crete being the most healthy place to live. And by more chance – you see how ‘chance’ works! – Stavia’s Greek teacher, Alex Lazou, is half Cretan. Together they talked through a plan to bring olive oil and other Cretan products to UK and with Alex’s connections in Crete, Stavia’s research and both women’s passion for their subject, Liquid Gold Products was born.
I was keen to find out whether Liquid Gold Products was some large company that Stavia worked for when I arrived, but was delighted to discover it involves just her and Alex and a small number of dedicated people whose help they’ve enlisted. I got totally caught up in Stavia’s enthusiasm. Olive oil is the key to what they’re doing and the shop is named after Homer’s liquid gold in The Odyssey. Odysseus was given olive oil to bathe in after his shipwreck.
Stavia told me the preparation of olive oil – the whole process from picking the olives to pressing and bottling – is very important to its final quality and health benefits. Liquid Gold’s olive oils are high quality with very low acidity and high in polyphenols and bursting with antioxidants. Apparently a lot of Greek olive oil goes to Italy to be re-labelled and Stavia wanted to bring this ‘gold’ from Crete direct to UK. Provenance is important to them; making sure that the oil is Fair Trade and the people who grow the trees and produce the olives get the money they should. I asked Stavia about the controversial issue of whether you can cook with olive oil and she said yes, definitely, but it should be a good quality EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). She told me it has a higher flash point than any other oil apart from avocado. They are also now working with a guy in the Peloponnese who has just been awarded the first Fair Trade certification for olive oil in Europe. Stavia also works closely with Charles Quest-Ritson who was the first Englishman to qualify as an official olive taster in accordance with EU Standards at the International Organisation for Olive Oil (ONAOO). He’s written articles and books and his palate is so good that Stavia told me a story of him tasting some oil that had been sent to her to sample and telling her (correctly as it turned out) that it was the previous year’s harvest, not the new one. They’ll be running a workshop about spotting fake oils and identifying exceptional ones in May (contact Stavia via www.liquidgoldproducts.co.uk).
Apart from the oil, there are packets of wonderful herbs. Stavia told me how important herbs like rosemary, oregano and thyme were for health.
Their honeys are raw and unprocessed and have a natural antibacterial activity.
There are soaps and creams and other natural beauty products.
It’s a wonderful shop and not only can you get the very best products there, but you can get the very best advice from Stavia about what to use and what may help you.
There are great things to buy for yourself but lovely things for gifts too. And a bonus is that it’s also just one of the prettiest parts of London and the Thames to go wandering!