Our first order of business today is to announce the winner of our Greenwich Wine + Food Festival Contest...
Thanks to all who entered!
Congratulations, Stephanie Slifer! You are the Grand Prize Winner!
Stephanie wins 2 Saturday General Admission Tickets to the 2017 Greenwich Wine and Food Festival - a $310 Prize Package!
If you didn't win this time - stay tuned for more exciting contest opportunities from Living Greenwich in the very near future...and in the meantime, enjoy this related article about a talented local chef who will be represented and honored at the 2017 Greenwich Wine + Food Festival!
As soon as the leaves in our local trees begin to show the faintest hint of the colors of Autumn, we know it's almost time for one of the MAJOR highlights of the culinary and social year: The Greenwich Wine + Food Festival!
This exceedingly popular two-day event (9/22-23 at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park) kicks off with a Master Chef Dinner on Friday evening, this year honoring celebrity chef Scott Conant and the 2017 Most Innovative Chefs. Adam Richman will again be in attendance, and the night will be capped off with a performance by Big Head Todd & The Monsters.
One of those 'Most Innovative Chefs' for 2017 is Stavros Karapides, head chef at the Famous Greek Kitchen - and, above and beyond being honored along with 7 other local chefs, Stavros will also be cooking and serving some unique and delicious food for guests of this always memorable event.
Living Greenwich decided to make a visit to Stavros (and his sister Maria) to hear their story, learn more about the history of the Famous Greek Kitchen, and ask about the secret to this restaurant's long life in Byram.
This is our conversation:
Your father, John Karapides, opened a restaurant here called Famous Pizza and Souvlaki. What was his menu like?
Stavros: It started with basic food. Pizza and sandwiches that kind of thing. He battled and worked hard for the better part of 30 years. The menu slowly evolved. But at the time he opened the restaurant cooking was not as refined as it is now. And more and more pizza and sandwich establishments started opening. So about 5 years ago he had had enough and I stepped in.
You went from High School to the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating, did you come back to Byram?
Stavros: No, I spent 10 years working. I worked in small restaurants and high-end restaurants. I worked at a country club to learn catering. I wanted to learn as much as I could about different cuisines. I spent that time applying myself and really learning as much as I could. For instance I worked in Napa Valley and learned about wines, cheeses and vinegars and working with ingredients in their natural form. I worked in some Greek restaurants in New York city.
Was there ever a time in those 10 years where you thought you might branch out into Italian or French cuisine?
Stavros: I have worked with some really great chefs and have taken influences from them – not necessarily their food but the way they worked. Every Chef has their own organizational style, how they manage people. You don’t just learn the food but also what makes a restaurant kitchen work well.
Maria, it’s nice to meet you. Tell us what you do at the Famous Greek Kitchen.
Maria: I run things. I do the back end stuff, the marketing, pretty much everything. Stavros cooks and I do everything else. We have another sister who comes in and helps. She’s a designer and responsible for the new décor at the restaurant.
When you took over 5 years ago, is that when you changed everything?
Stavros: Yes, we changed the menu, the interior and the name.
How is your menu different from when your father ran the restaurant?
Maria: Night and day – When my father ran the restaurant, it was more of a diner style restaurant. We wanted to elevate the cuisine and let Stavros be creative.
How did your father manage to stay in business for almost 30 years?
Maria: He didn’t stay in business for 30 years due to his food. His success was due to his love for people and the community.
What ultimately made you come back and cook Greek cuisine in the restaurant where you grew up?
Stavros: When my father wanted to retire, Maria and I decided to do this together. We had the same vision and wanted to take the restaurant in the same direction. We rebuilt it from the ground up.
Maria: This restaurant is our home. We were raised upstairs. We were never going to give that up. As children, we all sat at a table in the restaurant and ate our dinner together at 10 o’clock because we were all working during dinner. We thought, let’s try it and see where it goes.
It appears to have worked out well for you two.
Stavros: I think we are both still surprised by the success of the restaurant.
Maria: Stavros and I will be walking around on a Friday or Saturday night and we will see the line of people waiting for a table. We still give each other that look that says ‘can you believe this!’ We do not take anything for granted. There is no ego here. At our core we are the same children that were raised in this restaurant.
We printed your menu and there are pages and pages here. How do you come up with your menu selections?
Stavros: It’s trial and error. We start a dish with an ingredient, add to it, take something out. After about of a month of tweaking, the dish materializes into what I think it should be. We are always changing, always inventing. The food here is not stagnant.
What are the top ingredients used in Greek cuisine?
Stavros: Tomatoes, olive oil, salt, organic dandelion greens. We buy an extremely high level of raw ingredients.
We love the Greenwich Wine + Food Festival - not only because the proceeds benefit local and national charities (including, this year, the James Beard Foundation, the Greenwich Parks & Recreation Fund, and the Mario Batali Foundation) - but also because it celebrates the very deserving culinary culture of Greenwich. How does it feel to be named as one of the Most Innovative Chefs at this year’s Wine + Food Festival?
Stavros: It’s definitely exciting and very important to me. We feel very honored to be recognized. A lot of good things are coming our way, but we work hard at it. We care and are here every day grinding. They are recognizing me, but they are also recognizing our restaurant.
Maria: Being recognized at the Wine + Food Festival is very exciting and it means a lot to us. We are very grateful.
You will be honored this Friday night along with 7 other elite local chefs and cooking and serving food for the guests. What will you prepare?
Stavros: I am going to prepare a lamb tenderloin on a wood fire, char it really well and serve it with lentils, orzo, some jus and smoked feta. For some crunch I will make a pickled cabbage salad. And for desert, I will prepare an infused yogurt. I want my meal to be memorable.
For More Information:
Famous Greek Kitchen
10 North Water Street
Greenwich, CT 06830
Tickets are now on sale for the Greenwich Wine + Food Festival: greenwichwineandfood.com
Interview/Writing by Pam Grunow