Interview With Michael Psilakis of Eos, Part One

Categories: Chef Interviews
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Is Chef Psilakis the most cerebral chef around?
​Somehow we sensed having chef Michael Psilakis'a stamp on Miami was going to change this city's culinary image for the better, and -- what do you know? -- we were spot on.

Our ten-question query with him in January was tongue-in-cheek, so we thought we'd get down to business this time and really get to the marrow of what he's all about.

This interview was conducted by telephone from one of his kitchens in New York. But there's no need for a lengthy introduction. (Be aware, however, you have to have a strong stomach to get through parts of this.) We'll let the man give you the dish. 

New Times: Congratulations on your second James Beard nomination. 

Michael Psilakis: Thanks.

It was well deserved. But I was sad to see you didn't make the rough cut

I've done that only once before with Anthos. [Editor's note: Psilakis recently left this restaurant, the spot where he earned a Michelin star.] But when you think about all the restaurants that open in a given year, it's amazing we were able to--in a hotel--even capture the long list, for Miami, for Eos, and for the Viceroy. It's a really great restaurant and it's doing really great food. Everybody down there was very excited about it.

When we first met, the ink wasn't even dried on your contract for Eos. Has the concept changed since then?

I came in there with something different than what we ended up doing. We were going to do a much more formal restaurant, then the powers over there sat me down one day and said, "Do you really think this is the concept we should do here?" Honestly, with the economy the way it was going and with everything in my heart telling me it would be great for me but not for the hotel and not necessarily for Miami, I felt I would be doing a disservice if I went forward with that. 

I feel the James Beard Award came because this was the right restaurant. Eos is a restaurant that really tries to get people to take on the same thought process that you have down there, which is "enjoy life." And not necessarily have to think about how you're sitting in a chair to have to do that. For me, anyway, I think that's part of the evolution of dining. The longer you have in the evolution of a city's dining scene, the more you see it moving toward that place where it allows you to feel comfortable in the environment, and yet the food is articulate in a very sophisticated way.

Are you saying Miami may be ahead of its time?

I think so. There's a lot of interesting food going on there. People would be very surprised at what's being accomplished. What happens is oftentimes we put a lot focus on major food cities, like New York.

What Miami offers you is a platform to really express yourself in a way that people will be very receptive to because they're very open-minded and very eager to eat new things and different things. That's part of the dynamic of what that city has to offer.

Granted, no one would call Eos a "Greek restaurant," but what's decidedly Greek about it?

Well, me, of course. [Laughs.] 

What's your favorite spice?

Cinnamon. When I'm making Bolognese sauce people ask me, "What's that flavor?" When I tell them "cinnamon," they look at me cross-eyed. But it's used a tremendous amount in Greek cooking and in the Mediterranean.

Most unusual food combination you've ever attempted?


Well, when I first starting cooking in New York City, I needed something to grab the attention of critical reviewers and writers and I put together a seven-course offal menu.

Did you say, "awful menu?"

Seven courses of organs. It started this craze of offal. I was written up in all these magazines, beyond food publications. This guy from BusinessWeek wanted to write an article and he brought Anthony Bourdain with him to do this tasting. After he wrote this article, I got a call from this group that was, like, an Offal Club, and they wanted me to do this tasting for them and they wanted me to try and shock them. I remember the first course was a soup that was a warm goat's head cheese served with roasted goat eyes...

YUCK! Is this stuff you grew up on?

No, but we used to eat the goat head a lot. 

Anyhow, we made a head cheese and we allowed the head cheese to sit on a plate with the eyes. Then we poured a goat consommé that had been clarified over the head cheese and the heat cheese melted and all the little bits that were in the head cheese burst into the soup.

It wasn't for the weak of stomach--let's leave it like that. 

Aside from the offal stuff, how would you describe your word in five words?

Taking someone on a journey

How would you describe yourself, as a person and as a chef?

As a person, I'm complicated in many ways and simple in others. I'm very black and white. As a chef, my motivation behind cooking is to spread the word of Greek food and hopefully get people excited about my dad's country and what we do over there. When I get to the hotel I'm a freaky, workaholic type.

Do you find Miami's palate different from New York's?

Miami has a very interesting food scene. It's very different from New York. Nowhere else in the world is like New York. It's such a different mecca of food because of all the different nationalities of food represented here. It's insane. Miami, to me, felt like a much more European style. New York is super fast, and super crazy. Miami is more like, live for the day, live for the moment. Savor the beauty of what food and life has to offer. You have people who get dressed up just to go food shopping. You'd never find that in New York. And the combination of sexy and healthy eating, which sort of rolls into that sexiness... was really what I was trying to do when we created Eos. 

We have waiters in jeans and sneakers and there's a reason for that. I wanted people to feel, like, completely unintimidated by the environment so they can really enjoy the beauty of what Kelly Wearstler did to create the platform of the painting we were trying to put together. Let the food be sophisticated in an environment that allowed you to feel comfortable. And we were able to do that successfully. 

I heard you just got back from Australia. What were you doing there?

I was asked a while back to participate in an annual food festival that they have in Melbourne. It has a really fantastic dining scene down there, especially with the genre of food that I particularly fall into, that Middle Eastern-slash-Mediterranean thing. They're actually very far ahead of us in terms of having educated the dining public there about this particular type of food. I mean, Lebanese is something they order in. You don't even get that in New York. 

Why do you think that is?

I think there's a lot of transplanted Middle Eastern and Mediterranean people there. As far as Greek is concerned, it's the second largest population in the entire world. The only other city in the world that has more Greeks in it is Athens.

I had no idea. Did you know that before you got there?
I did. Years ago... they weren't very forward thinking with their Greek food but there was a lot of it down there. 

Then there's a chef who had recently opened a couple of restaurants down there about two years ago, his name is George Calombaris, who also is doing modern Greek-type food. There's not a lot of us doing that. We actually did a dinner together. It was a Master Chef series. I did a couple of classes and did a combined tasting with George. That was a lot of fun. It was basically trying to open people's eyes up to what Greek food can be. 

Get out the Kleenex for Part Two of our Q&A with Michael Psilakis, as we chat about his family and plans for the future.

Eos at the Viceroy hotel
485 Brickell Ave., Miami
305-503-4400 or viceroymiami.com


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