Michael Psilakis doesn’t actually blindfold his mother for tastings of smoked octopus with baby fennel and lemon confit, but he considers it. He knows that doing so would deliver the definitive judgment he requires. “When I first began cooking professionally, my mother’s palate became my measure,” Psilakis says. “If she could recognize the flavors, I hadn’t strayed too far.”
Psilakis learned to cook at his mother’s side, in a first-generation Greek home in East Northport, Long Island. He became an accountant with sights on a law career, then took a break to work at a local restaurant. When the chef failed to show up one night, Psilakis grabbed an apron and dug in.
Psilakis began cooking professionally the only way he knew how–from his roots and from his heart. And though diners at his glorious Manhattan temple of Greek cuisine, Anthos, grow rapturous over dishes like yellowtail crudo with fennel pollen and pickled cherries, Psilakis himself gets swoony over earthier fare. He offers dishes in that spirit at his more casual restaurant, Kefi, and at home, where wife, Anna, and their 4-year-old son, Gabriel, get to enjoy a sublime dessert like Greek yogurt with pears and toasted walnuts as the family breakfast. He’s compiled many of these recipes in his new cookbook, How to Roast a Lamb, due out this month.
Story by Laraine Perri, a food writer in New York City.
Recipes courtesy of Michael Psilakis. Broiled Feta with Roasted Peppers and Olive Salad Soutsoukakia