Chef Pano in the News

Pano the Younger teaches dining legend father: A cookbook can be done

  Posted: 12:01 a.m. Thursday, January 26, 2017

In the 1980s and ’90s, Pano I. Karatassos watched his father, Pano Karatassos, founder and CEO of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, trailblaze the Atlanta culinary scene. Pano’s & Paul’s, 103 West, Buckhead Diner, Chops, Pricci, Atlanta Fish Market, Lobster Bar. The younger Pano followed in his elder’s footsteps. He chose a culinary path, one that began when he was 16 years old and working in his father’s kitchens. It continued with formal schooling: a degree in hospitality management from Florida International University in 1993 and one from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., in 1996. It meant getting put to the test at renowned restaurants like the French Laundry, Jean-Georges and Le Bernardin under the eyes of some of the world’s most influential chefs: Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Eric Ripert, respectively. In 2001, he opened the Greek restaurant Kyma, and continues to hold a leadership position within the family-owned business that has since expanded south, into the Florida cities of Boca Raton, Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Now, though, Pano the Younger is doing something his father has never done: He’s writing a cookbook. Karatassos recently announced his first book, to be released by Rizzoli Publishing in the winter of 2018. The unnamed title (although look for the name Pano in it somewhere) will focus on Greek cuisine, and include many recipes popular at Kyma. “The project came about from years of people at Kyma saying, ‘You need to do a book,’” he said. The Younger assumed that a book project would be an endeavor that his father would be the one to take on. “I always wanted my dad to do a book.” Dad wasn’t interested. “My father is a chef, but he never saw a book as something that would be necessary for the success of a restaurant. He would do a cookbook in a heartbeat for patrons, but it takes time. “He’s not totally into it. My dad has his little ways. So I said, ‘I’ll do one to show you it can be done.’” We’re at Kyma. The lights are off in the dining area behind the restaurant’s Octopus Lounge and the room is cast in shadows. Tables, pushed to one side, are strewn with wooden and porcelain servingware and other props needed for the four-day photo shoot. On the ground in the center of the room, an ensemble of dishes has been arranged on a wooden board painted blue. It has the appearance of a rustic Mediterranean table al fresco. Lighting umbrellas lean over everything, like a hungry diner hovering over a full plate of food. A light flashes. The space goes white for a quick moment. Then all is dark again. Photographer Francesco Tonelli steps over to the computer screen. Does the meze capture the composition he’s looking for? If not, he’ll go back to styling the meze itself, perhaps ask Karatassos to tweezer-fix a few green herbs on one of the seafood plates. Tonelli is sought after for his talents. The native Italian has photographed cookbooks like Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s “I Love New York,” “The NoMad Cookbook” and “Eleven Madison Park.” The New York Times is one of his clients. A chef turned photographer, he has shot multiple cooking titles by the Culinary Institute of America, where he was an instructor for eight years. “When you have someone like Francesco — he captures food in a way that normal food photography I’ve done does not,” Karatassos said. But while the photos will be coffee table-worthy, this book is not intended to sit and collect dust. “It is being written in the most simplest of ways,” Karatassos said. “We picked dishes and recipes you can make in a very conventional kitchen and with very conventional tools.” Read: No immersion circulators necessary. “We’re taking the time to rework recipes so they can be followed by the home cook.” Kyma devotees will find recipes for many dishes they’ve come to love at the now 15-year-old restaurant: the eggplant stew, the halibut inspired by Karatassos’ grandmother’s recipe, the marinade for the three-day marinated lamb chops, the lemon vinaigrette for whole fish, and yes, the octopus. Besides recipes, there will be tips, such as for improving knife skills or techniques to simplify processes, like “how to take a ratio of beans, stock, olive oil and lemon juice, put it in a blender and once you’ve done so, you have a beautiful little sauce you can foam or use as is,” he said. While the book will house traditional Greek recipes, many hailing from Karatassos’ family and others that are Greek-inspired, the heart of the book is also the heart of Kyma. “To document Kyma” is among Karatassos’ primary motivations for producing the cookbook. “When you’re putting your life into your work, cookbooks are a way to document it. It’s the same way of someone putting together a journal. It’s a documentation of a lot of hard work and drive.” The project has been in the works since last spring, and when it finally hits bookshelves a year from now, Karatassos will join a growing list of contemporary Atlanta chefs with cookbooks to their names: Kevin Gillespie,Hugh Acheson,Steven Satterfield and Asha Gomez, to name a few. Is a cookbook a necessity these days for a chef to stay in the national spotlight? “Whatever comes from a publicity standpoint for a book, so be it,” he replied. “At the end of the day, I’m doing it to document wonderful recipes to make at home that I can share with all my guests. When I’m getting this much support, it tells you how needed it is.” If you scroll through the Facebook comments of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s behind-the-scenes video of the making of this cookbook, support for Karatassos is evident. “Looking forward to the cookbook! How about a teaser recipe?!” Wrote one person. “Ask Pano when cod fritters will be back on the menu,” wrote another. “When are you going to have another cooking class at Kyma? I thoroughly enjoyed my last one!” “What is the process that makes your octopus so tender?” To which Karatassos typed out a personal response: “We can’t tell you the secret just yet, but we can say the method is inspired by Greek fishermen who have been cooking octopus this way for centuries!” While the two Panos might go about things differently, they both know how to keep guests happy. Watch a behind-the-scenes video of the making of Pano Karatassos’ new Greek cookbook: