Photograph by Michael Harlan Turkell
Got a minute? The chef behind New York's Mia Dona, the newly expanded Kefi, and Anthos—the second Greek restaurant in the world to be awarded a Michelin star—talks about cooking for the holidays and recession-time dining.
Q: You just reopened your Upper West Side restaurant Kefi on Monday. How's it going?
A: Restaurants are always chaotic in the beginning. The restaurant is about three times the size of the original, so there's a lot of new staff. It's kind of like a new baby. But it's like a 3-year-old instead of an infant.
Q: You've elevated Greek food to new levels with Anthos and Kefi. What else are you trying to do with the genre?
A: My whole goal when I came to the city five years ago was to show the world that Greek food could be taken beyond its peasant roots and into the haute world. Now the ultimate goal is to make it one of those cuisines that you choose once a week to eat, like Italian, American, and Chinese. I want Greek food to follow the path that Italian food took in the States.
Q: Have you felt the pinch of the recession?
A: I've been expecting this economic downturn for a while, but I didn't anticipate it being this bad. Over the last couple of years we've opened restaurants that moved towards more affordable food and more comfort food. In times of despair you find yourself moving towards things that are comforting, and food is one of them. We're moving towards a more homey or rustic feel, where you're familiar with the dishes.
Q: What do you look for when you go out to eat?
A: I work six days a week from 9 A.M. to midnight, so, unfortunately, I probably go out to dinner in a restaurant five to six times a year at most, which is a little bit embarrassing to say. When I do go out, I'm not necessarily looking for comfort. I want to be challenged, and I love cerebral interaction with food.
Q: What are your holiday meals like?
A: I grew up in a very traditional Greek family. Both my parents emigrated from Greece. For Thanksgiving we'll always have turkey, but we'll have lamb as well. For Christmas and Easter we'll also have lamb.
Q: Are you forced to make it all?
A: My mother can't not cook. It's interesting, because she won't cook in another person's kitchen, but she'll cook in her kitchen and bring things over. She'll always bring three or four things. But she's really a baker, and I'm not. Pastry people and savory people are two different animals. The thought of measuring and weighing and tempering to me is like the thought of shooting my foot. Katie Hintz