In his new cookbook, “Modern Greek Cooking: 100 Recipes for Meze, Entrees, and Desserts” (Rizzoli, $37.50), Atlanta chef Pano Karatassos presents the dishes he honed at Kyma, his critically acclaimed and much beloved Greek seafood restaurant.
Drawing from his training at the Culinary Institute of America and experiences working in the kitchens of three of the world’s greatest chefs — Eric Ripert, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Thomas Keller — Karatassos reaches back to his Greek roots and his family’s recipes to create food that is at once simple and sophisticated. In other words, modern Greek cooking.
“I learned three different styles from each of those three different chefs, and three different ways of running a kitchen and a business,” Karatassos said during a recent conversation. “I guess I never really made a bad choice when it came to working with great chefs.
“Eric whipped me into shape, as far as what New York fine dining was all about. Then I explored my mind a bit with Jean-Georges and Wylie Dufresne. And I headed over to French Laundry to put it all into place. It was just a perfect scenario for me.”
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But as the son of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group founder and CEO Ignatius Pano Karatassos, the younger Karatassos finally heeded his father’s call to return to Atlanta, and he soon opened the restaurant that would become Kyma.
“I got a phone call from my dad, like I wrote in the book,” Karatassos said. “And it was basically, ‘When are you going to be done?’ I always wanted to hear those words. I never wanted to be the chef who my father had to give a job to because I was the son.
“I thought it was extremely important to learn from the best, so that when I came back to Atlanta one day, my father would want to hire me because of my talent. Did I overdo it? No. But looking back now, as a young 20-year-old, I definitely went for it.”
At Kyma, Karatassos asked himself, “How can I take all my French training and make a Greek restaurant one of the best in the country.” And he sought to take the example of what Keller did at the French Laundry and it apply to the food of his family.
“Coming home to Atlanta, I really didn’t think that Kyma was going to be a restaurant that I would fall deeply in love with. I always envisioned that I’d open this restaurant, and set it up so I could hand it to another chef without a blink of an eye. Then I’d wind up being the chef at Pano’s and Paul’s and doing all this French food with all the techniques I’d learned.
“But I’m still here today. And I fell in love with that whole idea of bringing my family’s recipes to life in a restaurant. It started with the teachings my grandmother gave me. And it was about finding out how I was going to do that with modern cooking techniques. I was able to take all my experiences with my grandmother, and my aunts in Athens, and create food at Kyma that became classics for our guests.”
These recipes with introductions and wine pairings from Atlanta chef Pano Karatassos are from “Modern Greek Cooking” (Rizzoli, $37.50) and feature three dishes served at his celebrated Greek seafood restaurant, Kyma.
Roasted Beet Salad With Manouri Cream and Buttered Walnuts
Many chefs make a beet-and-cheese salad. I never wanted to join the club until one of my cooks presented me with an overabundance of manouri cheese. I placed it in the blender, heated some cream, and pureed the two. The result was an amazingly rich mixture with the texture of thick Greek yogurt. The upshot: a salad like no other, with three temperatures and four textures, including butter-toasted walnuts.
Make ahead: The roasted beets can be refrigerated in the vinaigrette for up to 5 days.
Wine pairing: Fruity, demi-sec Xinomavro from Macedonia or aromatic white Assyrtiko–Sauvignon Blanc blend from Drama.
Grilled Octopus With Olives, Capers and Marinated Red Onions
I’ll never forget the recipe-testing day before Kyma launched when Stratos Lambos, then my sous chef, now a Charlotte, North Carolina, restaurateur, nervously gave me my first bite of this meze. As soon as he saw me smile, he wrapped me in a hug and said, “Now we can open a Greek restaurant, my brother!” Accolades followed: “It’s the reason why Atlantans eat octopus.” This recipe, with just the right balance of salt, sugar, and tang, is my No. 1 menu item.
Make ahead: The vinaigrette can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. The marinated onions can be refrigerated in the vinaigrette for up to two days; they’re best after 24 hours.
Wine pairing: Crisp Robola from Cephalonia or Roditis from the Peloponnese or northern Greece.
Poached Halibut With Tomato Broth
This recipe owes a debt to my grandmother Athanasia’s baked fish plaki. But this rendition uses firm fish fillets poached in herb-infused olive oil, and the tomato broth, surprisingly, has roots in the classic Greek salad. Inspired by the deeply flavored juices that collect in the salad bowl from tossing batch after batch of tomatoes with onions and herbs during service, I employ a similar technique to make tomato broth.
Notes:Peeling the cherry tomatoes and grapes is optional. The tomato broth needs at least 6 hours to steep and tastes better the next day, so plan accordingly. Verjus is the pressed juice of unripe grapes. Its mild acidity heightens the flavor of marinades, dressings, and sauces. You can substitute 1/2 cup of white wine that’s been simmered for 2 minutes and cooled.
Instead of using a food mill, you can puree the tomato mixture in a food processor until smooth, then strain it through a medium sieve into the pan. At the restaurant, I’m particular about peeling the grapes and tomatoes, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Wine pairing: Medium-bodied, fruity Malagousia with stone-fruit aromas or citrusy Vidiano from Crete.
Vidalia Onion Stew
The trick to these sweet, melting onions is fully cooking them with salt and pepper in extra virgin olive oil, then whipping in fresh oil and lemon juice.
Makes about 2 cups