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Greek Food Stealing the Hearts of Locals in the Adirondacks
by Elena Kefalogianni
Every place has its own culinary treasures, a lesson chef, Evangelos Karagiannopoulos learned early in life. Unlike the common belief that “Greek food” is similar across the country, Evangelos explains how each village has its own traditional food. For example, Aegina has a special way of producing pistachios unique to its soil. “It’s been proven that taking pistachio trees from Aegina and planting them in another Greek terrain results in the death of the trees. The sun, mud and geographic location are what makes each product unique,” said Evagelos.
There are myriads of examples displaying the gastronomic diversity each region of Greece has to offer. It’s for this reason, that he decided to take long journeys visiting different locations and tasting their culinary treasures. “When I spent a year in Crete, I discovered that the meats of free-range chickens and lambs taste differently than other areas in Greece because the grass they eat is in a soil that is heavy in salt water,” he explained.
Evangelos also described the nuances of Spetzofai, a traditional food made with sausage, onions, tomatoes and peppers that originates from Pelion. “Spetzofai’s fame made me travel to Volos and then Pelion; I went as a tourist and discovered that in every tavern spetsofai had a different flavor, spicy, sweet, etc. So, I started inquiring about differences and discovered that even the name was created in Pelion from a pepper variety that started springing because of the presence of many waterfalls, and canyons in the area. Whoever had that part of land, and found peppers started using them,” said Evangelos.
He further explained that Spentza is the name of the local pepper, but each pepper tasted differently and every villager claims they have the best peppers, so as a result they make better spetzofai.
Evangelos graduated Le Mont cooking school in 2000 and IEK Xini in 2001. He first practiced at Intercontinental Hotel and later worked at Avra restaurant in Hilton Hotel, in Athens. But his love for food and cooking started when he was only a child. “My father who owned a patsatzidiko inspired me to cook,” he said.
After completing his cooking training, Evangelos continued traveling in Greece exploring islands first and then moving to northern Greece until he reached the borders of Bulgaria and Turkey, where he encountered many Greek-speaking Turkish villages. “I then continued going north,” he said.
Upon his return back to Athens, and the loss of both of his parents, the 2008 financial crisis hit him hard. Evangelos found himself unable to afford rent or other expenses to start his own restaurant, so he decided to take a leap of faith; he took a flight to the United States to start a new life. “I wasn’t afraid to leave Greece even if it was forever…. I had done it so many times in the past to explore new places.”
Six months ago, Evangelos and his wife, Agnes, moved from Long Island to Lake Placid and opened the only Greek eatery in town, The Greeks ADK. Tourists from all over the world, including athletes who come to train for the winter Olympics, enjoy Greek delicacies like homemade gyro, moussaka, Greek fries… “I make the gyro every morning from scratch, so that it tastes as close to home as possible,” said Evangelos.
Evangelos recognizes that some flavors are impossible to replicate outside of Greece; this is why he imports bougatsa (cream pie) and spanakopita (spinach pie) directly from Thessaloniki.
“The goal is for the non Greeks to taste bougatsa as it should be, with the cream and phyllo that our great grandfathers learned to make and passed down the generations.”
Evangelos explained that the art of making phyllo is a closed profession only taught to those who wish to dedicate their lives to it. “When I was in Thessaloniki working at a bougatsa bakery, they only allowed me to cut the bougatsa. It was only after 6 months of hard work and dedication that they let me see the process of making it. I knew then that bougatsa can’t be made by anyone at any place; it’s a true art passed down generations and generations,” he explained.
With his eatery Evangelos hopes to teach the non-Greeks about Greek food and its nuances.
He also strives to give a taste of “home” to the Greeks of the Omogenia and reinstate food as a connection to Greek heritage, traditions and history. “I didn’t open the restaurant to become rich; I opened it to exercise my passion and give people authentic flavors. That’s why I brought the bougatsa, spanakopita and baklava directly from Greece; it’s my way of life.”