It was a tough few weeks there for celebrated New York chef Michael Psilakis. First his partnership with restaurateur Donatella Arpaia took a hit when they decided to dissolve their deal at Mia Dona, the 3-year-old restaurant on 55th street (they currently still own Anthos and Kefi together). Then his newly opened gastro pub on the Upper West Side, Gus and Gabriel’s, received a less than favorable review from The New York Times. To be honest, the review was a blood bath: The reviewer, Pete Wells, wondered in print if Psilakis had invented a new technology that stripped food of flavor.
Having greatly enjoyed eating at both Anthos and Mia Dona, I was certainly surprised. The meal I had at Anthos last year was one I won’t soon forget. In fact, I have been itching to get back there ever since. I was quickly sold on the talent and expertise that Psilakis possesses. The dishes were subtle and delicate.
Things might turn around quickly for Psilakis, if they ever really went south. His first cookbook How to Roast a Lamb was recently released. In a time when celebrity chefs are a dime a dozen, its comforting to have one who you know is more than just a spokesman for products or the Food Network. Psilakis’ message, his goal, is to tell stories through food, to create memories and history—and more definitively, to share his own. While his book does have plenty of Greek inflected recipes like Shellfish Youvetsi, Poached Goat Avgolemono or Lamb Shanks with Orzo, it is more than a typical cookbook. Alongside pictures of Psilakis and his family, he tells stories that show the rich tradition that informs his menus. This is more than cooking for him, they are origins, memories that he clearly cherishes greatly.
The launch party for his book hosted at Saveur magazine’s test kitchen was also a family affair. His son ran around while Saveur’s publisher and staff gushed with love and enthusiasm. He spent most of his time in the open kitchen preparing small bites like roasted figs wrapped in pancetta, lamb sausages, and scallops with olive oil and juniper berries. When it was time for the chef himself to step out from the kitchen and address the audience, it came as no surprise that his speech also centered around family and friends. He thanked his family for letting him get away with not being around, missing weddings and birthday parties. He said that the book is a testament to them.
On my way out, I happened to share the elevator with Psilakis’ mother-in-law. She reached into the gift bag anxious to see if her copy of the book was signed. It was, as was every copy, with the transcription, “To a lifetime of memorable meals.”