Q&A with Chef Michael Psilakis

Lobster cake with summer squash and tzatziki.

Since bursting on the scene in Manhattan in 2008 with his Michelin-starred restaurant, Anthos, chef Michael Psilakis has been constantly reinventing and refining Greek cuisine for a modern audience. He currently operates Kefi and Fishtag in New York, as well as four locations of MP Taverna, his version of a classic Greek tavern. Earlier this year he partnered with Brien Spina to create Teatro, an Italian eatery in Bonita Spring’s Southwest Performing Arts Center. With all his success, it may come as a surprise that the self-taught Psilakis is an accidental chef. His debut at the stove occurred early in his restaurant career when he was managing the front of the house and his chef didn’t show up for work one night. He quickly realized that’s what he was meant to do—and he hasn’t come out of the kitchen since.

Smoked mozzarella tower with prosciutto di Parma, roasted peppers, zucchini, summer squash, and basil.

Biggest influences: My parents raised me with the traditions and culture of their native Greece. I remember working with my mother as a little kid, stirring a pot, helping her make cookies or cherry preserves. My father was a big outdoorsman, and I’d go hunting and fishing with him. That’s where I learned to spit-roast a lamb.

If he weren’t a chef: I’m a writer at heart. I love poetry, and I take a very soulful and philosophical approach to food. For me, it’s an exploration of feelings, emotions, or experience.

What he cooks at home: We never have complex, multi-course meals. I didn’t grow up that way, so I cook to create moments with the people I love. We’ll put a selection of dishes in the center of the table: a simple grilled meat or fish, salad, brown rice, grilled or roasted vegetables.

Pet peeve: I like silence in the kitchen, so the cooks can focus. Once service starts and we have guests in the dining room, all the background music and chatter has to stop.

His role at Teatro: I spent a month in the kitchen when we opened, and I come down at least every month. Brien is Italian, and he’s old school—we’re very similar. It’s a real family operation with his mom, dad, and kids working there. When I’m not around, the chef has the right to interpret the recipe as he sees fit. There may be differences in nuance, but the dish will be the same.

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