CHICAGO – The National Hellenic Museum celebrated the art of cuisine and Greek tradition at its annual Kouzina fundraiser, drawing in a crowd of some 400 guests. A much-anticipated event for the Greek-American community, Kouzina this year featured 17 Chicago-area restaurants and chefs who cooked up Greek dishes with a twist on the classics. The event’s $100 ticket included various meze-style dishes and an open bar, to benefit the National Hellenic Museum.
This year, NHM resident scholar Katherine Kelaidis joined a lecture with celebrity chef Diane Kochilas, who discussed her cooking and met with attendees to sign her best-selling cookbooks Ikaria, and My Greek Table. Among Kouzina’s featured chefs and culinary experts were a few veterans, but also first-time participants including Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery, Village Batch, and Augie Arifi, chef and owner at Bobby’s Restaurant.
“I have been spending the last four years traveling all over Greece, and I really enjoyed the kouzina there,” said Arifi, who served up a shawarma braised lamb served with cerita hummus and whipped tzatziki, microgreens, pickled red onion and olive oil. “I was able to see the Mediterranean and Middle East...the influences that are coming to Greece and showing through the food, and I wanted to show what I think that modern Greek cuisine is becoming with this dish,” he said.
Guests flocked to Kouzina on a Thursday night not only to meet chefs and get a taste of their custom dishes, but also to meet friends and mingle. “I’ve run into some people that I have not seen in years,” said Alex Mazarakos, a first-time Kouzina attendee. “The food here is great,” he said.
Kouzina 2019 featured chefs included Louie Alexakis of Avli Taverna, Augie Arifi of Bobby’s Lincoln Park, George Bournas of Psistaria, Jesus Castillo of Saba Italian Bar + Kitchen, Austin Fausett of Che Figata, John Gatsos of Tavern on Rush, Hagop Hagopian of The Clare, Peter Kappos of Greek Islands Restaurant, Sean M. Kelly of Inspired Catering & Events, Tom Leo of Grecian Delight Foods, Nikos Papademetriou of Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery, Jorgina Pereira of Sinha Elegant Cuisine, Max Robbins of Longman & Eagle, Silvana Saro of Cedar Palace, David Schneider of Taxim, and Adam Tanner of Citygate Grille.
“We’re stunned. We’re blown away. We’re in great company,” said Alex Boutsikakis of Village Batch, an importer of Greek olive oil and other products including olives and balsamic vinegar.
Popular dishes for the evening included Polpo All Greco by chef Jesus Castillo, an octopus-based dish with garbanzo puree and Greek toppings of olives, olive oil, salt and oregano, as well as Taxim owner and chef David Schnieder’s ‘politika’, ie. Constantinopolitan fired mussel meze.
“It’s something they serve on the street...the Greek merchants along the Galata Bridge on the Bosphorus would catch the mussels, fry them in hot oil, and serve them in a newspaper with toothpicks,” Schnieder said.
At the end of the night guests were handed a take-home calendar including recipes for dishes featured at Kouzina 2019. The NHM’s next large event is Chicagoland’s anticipated Trial Series, which will this year focus on a mock trial of Helen of Troy in March of 2020.