NEW YORK – Celebrity chef, cookbook author, and host of My Greek Table on PBS, Diane Kochilas presented a Greek cooking demonstration at this year’s New York Times Travel Show at the Javits Center in Manhattan on January 25. Kochilas was present all three days at the event, promoting tourism to Greece, and especially the delicious and varied cuisine of the homeland that has made her TV series so popular among Greeks and non-Greeks alike. The Greek National Tourism Board and Celestyal Cruises Inc. are among her show’s sponsors. She also signed copies of her latest cookbook, My Greek Table, following the cooking demonstration
Fans of Kochilas and of Greece and Greek food crowded into the seats by the Taste of the World stage area for the cooking demonstration and applauded enthusiastically when the chef appeared on stage. Kochilas made melitzanosalata, the well-known eggplant meze spread typical throughout Greece, but made with regional variations, while sharing her vast knowledge of Greek cuisine in her usual engaging way. She explained the meze tradition of small plates which are sometimes the meal itself, meant to be shared, and served with wine, ouzo, or tsipouro.
Kochilas began by preparing the eggplant for grilling as the base of the “mother” spread with Greek extra virgin olive oil, Greek sea salt, and a little bit of sugar. “Greeks can’t live without olive oil,” Kochilas said, “it’s more important than water.”
The second version typical of Northern Greece used some of the “mother” spread placed in the food processor with some walnuts and garlic, processed with a bit more olive oil and some red wine vinegar, until smooth. Kochilas noted that the amount of garlic can be adjusted to taste. She also pointed out that other versions incorporate ingredients readily available in a specific region, for example, a type from the area of Mount Athos includes sweet and hot peppers because the region is known for its peppers.
The third version, chunkier than the other version, is typical in the Aegean Islands, and is “Greek summer” Kochilas said. Beginning with the “mother” spread as a base again, the island recipe includes diced tomatoes, chopped red onion, capers, minced garlic, chopped fresh mint, parsley, and a little more olive oil.
Kochilas noted that the flavors of Greece go back at least 2,500-3,000 years and probably even further back into prehistory. The whole story of a region can be told through a recipe like the melitzanosalata, which she pointed out, spread through Greece about a century ago with the Asia Minor Greeks. The eggplant is also a great option for moving towards a more plant-based diet since it is “meaty.”
Audience members enjoyed samples of the melitzanosalata and a Q&A session which followed the cooking demonstration.
Of the quality of Greek fruits and vegetables, Kochilas noted that the unique soil, dry climate, the Greek sun, and the Greek farmers not overwatering crops makes Greek produce so distinct and so flavorful. The flavors are concentrated, she noted, recalling how tasting a tomato at the age of ten on her first visit to Ikaria was “a food epiphany” for her. Kochilas also spoke about spending 4-5 months every year in Ikaria which is “amazing” and paraphrasing Tom Hanks about Greece, “is good for the soul.”
When asked when the next season of My Greek Table will be airing on PBS, Kochilas said in May. The islands and coastal areas of Greece are featured in the upcoming season and many are looking forward to it and to visiting Greece and enjoying its flavors.
More information about Diane Kochilas and My Greek Table is available online: dianekochilas.com.
Diane Kochilas prepared melitzanosalata three ways during the cooking demonstration and then signed copies of her book for her many fans at the New York Times Travel Show at the Javits Center. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
Diane Kochilas prepared melitzanosalata three ways during the cooking demonstration at the New York Times Travel Show at the Javits Center. Photo by Eleni Sakellis