The night I spent sipping and supping with Kathy Skinos Smith and her husband was pure magic. Perfectly grilled lamb chops, chicken melting from the bone, roasted potatoes redolent of garlic, oregano and lemon juice. Heaping bowls of nostalgia and wine hailing from her parents’ homeland with toasts to health, happiness and prosperity.
Kathy failed to tell me one thing when she invited me to her home. It’s not just dinner, it’s a party. And I don’t mean just a dinner party with eight people gathered around a table, candles flickering and empty bottles of wine collecting as fast as spent edamame pods during a sushi frenzy. Kathy’s dinner party is a big fat Greek celebration of food, friends and life.
Gracious entertaining is in Kathy’s Greek blood. And so is a fierce love of cooking authentic savory and sweet dishes brought by her parents from the Peloponnese region of Greek’s sun-dappled islands. Kathy hails from a long line of passionate Greek cooks whose recipe for sustenance is sublimely simple: food is life and life is food.
Kathy’s mother, Georgia, immigrated to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1946 and a decade later met her father, John, who traveled the world working as an engineer for shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. They were matched after John grabbed a haircut at a barbershop owned by Kathy’s grandfather, who took a shine to the gregarious and handsome young man. The love story that ensued following that fortuitous grooming session is the Hollywood stuff of Bogart and Bergman or Hepburn and Tracy. John attended services at Georgia’s Greek Orthodox church the next day, shared a Coca-Cola with her on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza on Monday, and on Friday, married the beauty.
The 43-year union produced two daughters and countless pans of moussaka and pastitsio and platters of spanakopita , tiropita, and honey-drenched baklava. A young Kathy—or Katina—spent hours perched on a stool in the fragrant kitchen of her childhood, attentively watching Georgia spin culinary magic for family, friends and gatherings at the church and holidays. No holiday was more significant for the Skinos family than the Greek Orthodox Easter, where the sheer number of dishes prepared was legendary and the consumption of handcrafted food lasted well into evening’s romantic dusk.
Georgia opened the popular Georgia’s Greek Restaurant in Kansas City in 1981. For 12 years she served handed-down recipes from a tiny kitchen to adoring customers who clamored for her chicken, lamb and fish dishes, finishing off meals with her pastries and cookies. When Georgia closed the restaurant in 1993 due to poor health, Kathy resolved to resurrect her mother’s cooking.
Katina’s Greek Café was born, and today Kathy‘s spanakopita and tiropita are sold in Dean & DeLuca’s catalog. The appetizers, which caught the attention of The New York Times and Oprah’s Web site, are re-creations of heirloom dishes that transport the imagination to the enchanting olive-oil rich Greek culture of Corinth, where Kathy’s parents grew up.
Despite prolific production, Katina’s Greek Café isn’t an assembly line of workers churning out appetizers. It’s a one-woman show—Kathy Skinos Smith—making artful triangles of spanakopita and tiropita the old-fashioned way. That’s 50,000 pieces a year, one at a time.
Next week when Kathy celebrates the Greek Orthodox Easter with her family, you can bet the meal will be one of celebration…of food and life, life and food.
That’s a big fat Greek tradition.
-Kimberly Winter Stern
From Greece, With Love
Kathy Skinos Smith has volumes of recipes from her mother—and her mother’s mother, and so on down the generational Greek lines. A trademark of Greek cuisine is simplicity, with flavors bursting freshness and depth. Here is a much-loved Skinos dish of chicken and potatoes perfect for a weekday meal or a dinner party. Kathy suggests taking care when choosing the chicken—for broiling or frying, buy fryers weighing 1 ½ to 4 pounds. For roasting, buy a plump young chicken weighing 3 pounds more. And beware—don’t be surprised if, following dessert and a few glasses of wine, you don’t find yourself in front of the computer, booking the next flight to Greece.
KOTA KE PATATES
(Chicken & Potatoes)
Serves 4 to 6
3 pounds chicken pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon paprika, sprinkled throughout the chicken and potatoes
Salt and pepper
2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)
Place chicken pieces in a large baking pan. Mix together remaining ingredients, except potatoes. Pour over chicken, cover with aluminum foil and marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Bake uncovered at 425° until lightly browned. Turn chicken pieces and baste. Add the potatoes, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 325° for 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Overland Park, Kan.-based freelance writer Kimberly Winter Stern writes travel, food, lifestyle and design. Also known as the gregarious and cuisine-informed Kim Dishes, listeners tune in weekly for her on-the-road segments on “LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen,” a popular Kansas City radio food show. Prolific in eating, writing and discovering, this foodie satisfies an innate desire to sample the world’s gastronomic rainbow by meeting food artisans and trendsetters, gaining insight into the culinary points-of-view of everyone from cheese makers, chocolatiers and chefs who set their city’s locavore pace to farmers who are passionate producers. Stern is a sought-after writer, with work appearing in Better Homes and Gardens, Unity, KANSAS! Magazine, 435 South magazine, KC Homes & Gardens, Generation Boom, Shawnee Magazine, KC Magazine, KC Home Design, KC Business and Midwest CEO. Stern is a national blogger for the Dean & DeLuca Gourmet Food Blog where she cooks, styles, shoots and writes about life and cooking … and loves to lick the bowl clean. This writer may have been given product and/or other compensation from Dean & DeLuca for this post.