Reviewed by Chris Nappa
Michael Psilakis has emerged in recent years as one of the celebrity chefs made famous primarily by expertise in Greek food. I get cookbooks for Christmas every year, and two years ago I got a copy of his How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking Like the best cookbooks, this one is chatty and talks about the author’s life at the same time as it gives excellent recipes and information on food and cooking.
On the strength of this book, I recently made reservations for a dinner at Kefi, the Upper West Side restaurant that Psilakis co-owns with Donatella Arpaia. There were five of us, all of whom have extensive experience with Greek food (not to mention eating in general). We ordered only starters, lots and lots of them. The weakest dish was excellent; the octopus was the best I’ve ever had, and I lived in Greece for a year. One of the other guests has spent a great deal more time in Greece than I have, and if the octopus had been all you can eat, the two of us would still be at our table. (This dinner, by the way, occurred in early March.)
In any case, back to the book. This book offers good Greek food and stories about it. I’ve only made a few things from it. The best thing so far is the chicken souvlaki. I’ve served this at a cookout; probably the best compliment I got was “I can cut this with a plastic fork and it’s perfectly seasoned and cooked.” (To be fair, I did the brining and marinating, but not the actual grilling.) Another keeper is the htipiti (titled in the book “Roasted Pepper and Feta Spread”), but I must admit that has always been a particular favorite of mine. (And yes, that’s h before t in the name.)
There are many recipes here, and everyone will find much more than a handful that he or she wants to try. I should also mention that this is a beautifully produced book with gorgeous pictures of both dishes and ingredients.
Even if you never cook, however, this is a good book. It records not only the experience of a particular Greek-American chef, who is currently a celebrity, but also the nature of Greek food and hospitality. Greeks, if you didn’t know, have a tradition of hospitality that started before the west’s first works of literature, the Iliad and Odyssey, well over 2,500 years ago. In my experience, they have more or less kept it up.