From Kerkyra: A Sprinkle of This, a Dash of That, Marinated in Philoxenia

February 27, 2021

It’s 7:30 on a frozen Wednesday night. While Texans struggle through a historic weather calamity and disciples of Rush Limbaugh mourn his passing, some friends from church are meeting on Zoom. The event: Another edition of the monthly cooking classes sponsored by Saints Constantine and Helen in Silver Spring, Md.

The warm up had the texture and tone of a panigyri. It hardly mattered that my mute button was acting up and no one could hear me. I could hear them and that’s all that mattered. They were my window into my roots, our roots. I was part of an exclusive club, awash in a false sense of entitlement where `xeni’ were not welcomed.     

 “How’s everybody doing?”

“Hello, Koumbara!”

“Helen, you’re muted!”

“This is our eleventh class, so it’s been amazing!” enthused Effie Tiches, who oversees the ministry. “I feel like our church still has a lot of real Greeks from Greece who came over. They’re really good cooks and already know how to do everything.”

Where’d all the time go? The agreed-upon 7:30 start was drawing closer to 7:45. Greek time. The right time. Always.

Finally, the host of the evening, George Sourvinos took charge, poised to demonstrate a beloved dish from his native Corfu called beef sofrito. His sous chef, Maria Kafarakis, stars in her own show, `Yiayia Watch’ on YouTube and elsewhere. The camera operator, Charissa Kafarakis, turns in a professional quality job pointing the lens and following every step.

“This is a very traditional recipe,” he began. “It’s just beef, garlic, and vinegar. Use a bottom round roast or eye of round. You need to cut your meat into quarter-inch slices. I like to pound it.”

“What’s the reason for pounding it” came a disembodied voice out of the digital ether.

“It tenderizes it,” he explained.

Into the digital ether came this one: “Can we change the angle? All we see is the people.”

After moving onto the next steps, which include coating the beef in flour before delicately frying it, he warns viewers not to “crowd the meat” in the hot pan. “Four or five pieces at a time.”

There’s verbal ping pong regarding the role white balsamic vinegar from Modena plays in the recipe. It ends with someone commenting that it’s hard to find.  Tiches complains that there’s no Trader Joe’s near her home close to the mountains. Then another voice comes through the speakers saying TV chef Emeril Lagasse has nothing on Sourvinos, who looks relaxed in jeans and black T-shirt.

Let the rest of the world entertain itself with Zoom crocheting. Zoom yoga. Zoom baptisms. Zoom tutorials on how to Zoom.

I’m not taking anything away from one of our own here, but let’s face it. Accomplished author and cooking show host Diane Kochilas inhabits an ideally staged, color and appliance coordinated kitchen surrounded by a bevy of directors, lighting and sound types and makeup artists. It has its place, of course.   

Sourvinos had the last word. “If you think you have enough for six people, you don’t. People want second and thirds.”

I’m wrong. Tiches had the final word. “Would anyone like to host a Lenten class?”

Wrong again. Someone tossed this one in, directed at Sourvinos. “George was treasurer of the parish.”

“Thank you, Stamati,” said the chef, a one-time short-order cook turned senior consultant for a federal systems integrator. Do we really need to advertise that?”

Leave it to our people to take something that sounds so desperately mundane and turn it into, well, must see TV on a dark winter’s night.  Life, fully realized. Opa!


With the Mediterranean diet ranked the “Best Diet Overall” by U.

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