It doesn’t take much to realize New Yorkers don’t eat to live they Live to Eat. And how could they feel any other way with all the acclaimed culinary institutions scattered throughout New York City and Long Island?
Chef Michael Psilakis, owner of Kefi, FishTag and MP Taverna, has made huge strides in putting modern Greek cuisine on New York’s culinary map. He’s been recognized as the Chef of the Year from Bon Appétit and Esquire. His former restaurant Anthos also received a Michelin star and a James Beard Award nomination.
In his newest book, Live to Eat: 7 Key Recipes, 125 Simple Meals, A Whole New Way to Cook, Chef Psilakis takes readers into the heart of his kitchen offering simple strategies for healthy cooking with an emphasis on the ease, deliciousness and proven benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
“Being Greek I was born and raised on the Mediterranean diet, but now as a busy restaurateur with two young sons, my wife and I need a way to divide and conquer throughout the week so we can give that same healthful lifestyle to our sons,” he said. “I basically took the mise en place concept that we use in the restaurant—where we prep everything in advance so when a customer orders we can pull a dish together in a flash—and applied that to the household.”
Psilakis devotes about two-three hours on the weekend to setting his wife up with what he calls the “Magnificent 7″—garlic confit, Greek yogurt, roasted cherry tomatoes, garden vegetables and fruits, sweet and sour peppers and onions, tomato sauce and red wine vinaigrette—that way during the busy week she has the tools at her disposal for quick and healthy meals.
Psilakis spoke to Pulse more about the healthy new book, his perspective on food and what types of restaurants he favors.
How has owning/cooking in numerous restaurants impacted your perspective on food?
I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to work with food, something I love, on a daily basis. Working as a professional chef for 20+ years now, I have a deeper appreciation for how hard farmers, artisans, fish mongers work to create their perfect product and I’d like to think I continue that respect for the ingredient on the plates in my restaurant.
How do these recipes preserve the Mediterranean lifestyle you and your wife grew up on?
I don’t go a day without consuming extra virgin olive oil or craving a piece of grilled fish with lemon. Feta cheese has surrounded me my whole life and salad could be found on every dinner table in my house growing up. All of these items can be found in Live to Eat. Some are featured quite traditionally and some with a more modern twist that my wife and I have come to enjoy throughout the years. Using tzatziki for a tuna melt instead of mayo gives it such an added boost of flavor and nutrition on a pretty standard American sandwich.
What is your viewpoint on cooking fresh verse preparing meals in advance?
I think both can have their advantages. There’s nothing wrong with making a large portion of something and making use of leftovers during the week. But that’s the key difference with the way I’ve set up my cookbook. It’s not about leftovers. It’s about having these versatile pantry items on hand so that you can still cook fresh in the week but not have to build in time to make a sauce or put together vinaigrette. Cutting those steps out during the week is the difference between a juicy, lean turkey burger with lemony tzatziki on a toasted whole-wheat English muffin and Burger King.
How did you come up with the recipes/cooking styles in this book?
A lot of these recipes have been at my restaurants for many years, like the bulgur wheat salad with vegetables. The garlic puree you’ll find on every line in my kitchens. It’s our secret weapon of flavor. But certainly in 2017 you’ll find things in this Mediterranean cookbook that my grandmother would have never thought of—like our Spicy Chicken Tacos. Tacos! But why not? The tortilla is just a vehicle for this amazing combination of lean ground chicken with my sweet and sour peppers and onions, a spicy mix and chipotle yogurt sauce.
What do you feel is the most valuable of the seven staples? Why?
To pick just one would be impossible, but if you could only find time for three of the seven staples this week, I’d say make sure you have a couple of blanched and shocked vegetables on hand, a container of full fat Greek yogurt and a jar of garlic confit.
What are the benefits to the Mediterranean diet?
All of these ingredients, in moderation, contribute to lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk for heart disease. They’re rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties and honestly so many more benefits I can’t even list. And for me, the best part about this “diet” is it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. You’re not restricting anything. You’re just swapping out bad fats for good ones, trading out empty calories for ones with high protein, vitamins, limited sugar, etc. It’s so simple.
When you go out to eat what types of restaurants do you favor?
Honestly I love all types of cuisine but my guilty pleasure is probably pizza or a hole in the wall joint with a ridiculously good burger. Sushi too; I’m a big sushi guy.