For our birthday, we decided to cough up the cash for a return visit to COOK. Last time, we got to check out four different chefs and learned a lot during our incredibly delicious (and entertaining) dinner. Even though prices have only gotten steeper, when we saw that Konstantinos Pitsillides from Kanella was going to be paying COOK a visit, it didn't take long for us to snag a couple of seats. Again, since we were trying to absorb every bit of information from one of our favorite chefs, I'll present what we learned in a
not very organized list.
1. Arrive at COOK 5-10 minutes before your class starts to grab the best seats in the house- front and center. You also get to see some prep work in action. Considering Konstantinos' stern and serious demeanor in the kitchen, we were a little nervous about how his personality would come out during the evening. The first words out of his mouth were actually "So.. I'm not going to talk..." which caught us off guard. Thankfully they were followed by "..until everybody gets here." Even more thankfully, he turned out to be an incredibly gracious, and at moments hilarious, "host" for the evening.
3. The word Cyprus actually translates to "copper" which explains all of the copper implements decorating Kanella's walls. In turn, Kanella is the Cypriot word for "cinnamon"... and Konstantinos has a fantastic way of pronouncing it with his somewhat sultry accent- the emphasis on the L's.
4. Our meal started out with a plate of olives, pickled vegetables, and "hummus"- which in this case, was actually a dip made with yellow lentils. He adds a few carrots to enhance the color of the dip.
5. Konstantinos' father still resides in Cyprus and regularly sends the chef fresh olives to use in a number of dishes at Kanella. Olives are marinated, or "cured," for two days before they're sent stateside. Konstantinos swears this is legal.
7. The meal was a reflection of what Konstantinos serves during his Sunday prix fixe "mezze" (a number of small dishes). He advertised this special meal, noting he always has both a vegetarian or meat/seafood option. However, restaurants don't get fresh seafood delivered on Sunday's, so he has to be creative. Note to self: Never order seafood on a Sunday.
8. Konstantinos actually has a degree in Tannery and Chemical Engineering, which he could have utilized to join his family's tannery business. However, he blames his transition to cooking on his ADD- working in a kitchen keeps his mind busy and challenged.
9. As part of the first course, we were served a fatoush salad: crispy pita, peppers, tomatoes, cukes, and a few crunchy pomegranate seeds for a bit of sweetness. The pita was dusted with sumac, a popular spice on an island where lemons are scarce. Sumac has a surprisingly pleasant lemon flavor and aromatic profile.. and he promised us this wasn't the poison sumac we're all accustomed to hearing about.
10. The sous chef that Konstantinos brought along did a lot of the cooking while the chef regaled us with jokes and cooking instructions. The sous single-handedly made us one of his "staff meal specials"- a verrry slow cooked scrambled egg dish filled with shredded zucchini, leeks, and kefalotyri cheese, which Chef compared to an aged Pecorino. The eggs were finished with Greek yogurt, and along with a handful of fresh dill, helped to make some of the world's best scrambled eggs.
12. The scramble we were served is a vital part of a mezze- it's not complete without one! I also need to reiterate how amazing this was. At one point, I turned to A and pointed out that we had paid $175 to eat scrambled eggs.. and I was totally OK with that.
14. Another attendee asked the chef the secret to knowing when octopus is ready to go- without undercooking or overcooking it. He looked thoughtful for a moment and then instructed her "Well, one thing you can do is to take a fork and a knife and cut off a piece and eat it..." Thanks, Chef.
15. We had a little break as the chefs prepared the third course. Konstantinos cooked a bulgar wheat as a starch to be served with braised chicken. He likes to experiment with grains, but stays true to what is native to Cyprus. Even though he's tempted by quinoa, he won't serve it in the restaurant.
16. Bulgar wheat was a new grain for some of the group, but he pointed out that you can easily find it at "that overpriced store called Whole Foods."
17. We were served a very traditional dish of lamb kafta and sausage with a thick tzatziki sauce. The kafta was made from ground lamb, dried apricots, and pistachios- yes, it was as good as it sounds. Actually, better. The sausages were made with veal, red wine, and peppercorn. Konstantinos has a special (and secret!) spice mix that he uses in a majority of his dishes at Kanella- it includes "cumin, fennel, coriander, and ...something else."
18. One question that came up was "Who is the most famous person to come from Cyprus?" Konstantinos' answered with the name of an Archbishop... I'm not sure anyone actually caught the name. Lily, one of COOK's fantastic servers, pointed something out to us. "Wait, aren't George Michael's parents from Cyprus? He's way more famous than Archbishop Blah-blah." Way to school the Chef, Lily. Sorry, Archbishop Blah-blah!
19. Our last dish was slow-braised chicken punched up with tons of flavor from the help of preserved lemon, olives, and mint (keeping the skin on doesn't hurt either!). Konstantinos braises meat at 500 degrees- quite high when most chefs consider a braise "low and slow." He claims the key is an extremely tight seal to lock in the moisture. He also claims to be an "arrogant shit."
21. For dessert, the chefs set up a deep fryer directly in front of us. We went home permeated in the smell of peanut oil.
24. Our second annual experience at COOK can only be described as incredible and certainly once-in-a-lifetime. It's so amazing to have your favorite chef cook what feels like a private meal directly in front of you- and become your new friend in the process! We're certainly even more enamored with Chef Pitsillides and his restaurant now. I wonder which session we'll end up at next year...
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