Long Island–raised Psilakis, son of first-generation Greek immigrants—started his culinary career as a waiter at TGI Fridays, then moved on to long, grueling days at other restaurants as waiter, manager, restaurateur, and finally, because his chef didn’t show up for work one day, self-taught chef. This is a book by an extremely likable guy; you instinctively trust everything he says. And he writes recipes for the home cook, conceding, for example, that water can be the base for many dishes rather than a long-cooked stock. “It’s more important to me that you begin to cook Greek food than it is for you to spend hours making a stock,” he reasons. All throughout are helpful tips about ingredients, make-ahead instructions, and substitution suggestions.
Pastitsio, a sort of Greek lasagna, is one of the more labor-intensive dishes in the book but a huge success and well worth the time spent making it. A simpler recipe of Cucumber Salad, Celery, Leek, and Tsakistes Olives with Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette had folks asking for the recipe; the bowl was empty in a flash. Both of these dishes rely on subrecipes (Greek Béchamel, Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette), but Psilakis makes sure they are building blocks of several dishes. Many recipes include an autobiographical note, tying the dish to a part of Psilakis’ life; you feel that you are being taken to dinner with him and his family, while also learning about Greek food. It’s a lovely approach in a book of truly inspiring food.
GIVE THIS TO: Cooks who enjoy zippy flavors and a personal touch. —Tiffany Vickers Davis