What, exactly, is Zoi Antonisas's role at Madison Park Conservatory? Co-owner Cormac Mahoney isn't much for titles, but these days he refers to himself as the owner-chef, and points to Antonitsas as "the one who's doing all the work." The two have been buddies since their days working together at Etta's, keeping in touch through Mahoney's Tako Truk days and Antonitsas's stint on Top Chef. When she decided to move back to Seattle from the Bay Area in 2010, the fact that her old friend just happened to have a restaurant in the works was a fortuitious coincidence, indeed.
Since then, Antonitsas has essentially stepped into the chef de cuisine role, delivering food that continues enthralling both locals and national food media types, while preserving the just-this-side-of-rowdy feel with special Monday night meals (her dad's even coming in to roast a whole goat on September 10).
Here, a few of Zoi Antonitsas's favorite things:
Dish to make at home: Braised lamb shank youvetsi. It's a very traditional greek braised lamb dish. I like making it with shanks, tomato, white wine, aromatics, and a little cinnamon, and finished with orzo pasta and feta. It's the most rich and satisfying dish, and the smell as it cooks fills the house. I love that.
Dish to impress guests: This Fourth of July we made paella in a pan that was almost five feet in diameter. We had tons of seafood and fresh fava beans. People just started gathering around it, as the dish was gurgling over the firepit. It was really awesome.
First dish ever made: Simple roasted chicken with roasted garlic and lemon.
First kitchen job: Summer prep cook at the Dahlia Lounge when I was 16. I cut myself every day. But I learned a lot, quickly, and everyone was so supportive.
Favorite dish at MPC: Hhhmmmm. there are so many dishes (we change the menu daily). I think my favorite staple dish is the grilled beef tongue. but I also really love my lamb tartar with spruce aioli....or squash blossom flatbread...or octopus bolognese....
Cormac is . . . : Someone I've known for 15 years. We started working together at Etta's Seafood in the Pike Place Market in our early twenties. It's crazy how things end up. I remember making blueberry pancakes at his families cabin when we were just getting started cooking. This year we went to Aspen [for the Food and Wine Classic].
Secret ingredient: Lemon and anchovy.
Banned from MPC: Children's menus. we like to encourage new and exciting food experiences. that includes young people's experiences as well as their parents'.
Guilty pleasure: Too many tacos and mulitas from El Asadero taco truck on Rainier Ave.
Hangover remedy: Beef pho with the everything at Pho Bac, or Smith for a cheeseburger and a Bloody Mary.
Recently splurged on: Some Australian finger limes. They are expensive, but so, so cool...I couldn't resist.
On the wish list: A trip to a tropical paradise. And everything that goes along with that.
Can't live without: My dog Prune.
Completely overrated dining trend: New hipster, "casual service". I like professional service. it doesn't have to be stuffy at all, but I can't stand incompetence being masked as coolness.
Work outfit: Dark jeans, black top, argyle socks.
Breakfast dish: Bagel and gravlax with traditional garnish (yes, that includes a vodka cocktail).
Lunch spot: Cafe Presse for a sardine sandwich
Cookbook: Noma. It's totally beautiful, and I love the simplicity of ingredients.
People I’d like to cook with: Victor Arguinzoniz of Etxebarri in the Basque village of Axpe. His restaurant seems like a dream. He cooks everything over custom-made wood burning grills...including caviar. I would also like to go back to Venice and cook a seafood dinner with Marcella Hazan. She's an amazing woman and an inspiration.
Best local Greek food: My dad's. He makes the best avgolemono soup and spanakopia around.
Music in the kitchen? Definitely. We listen to a lot of Beach House, Empire of the Sun, Little Dragon, Gil Scot Heron, and this French radio station called Bolz. I love music. And food and music go great together.
Craziest MPC story that can be committed to print: This is very PG, but a couple weeks ago we had Emeril Lagasse and Hugh Acheson in for dinner, and the next night, Gail Simmons. I got to sit upstairs on the deck with Gail after she finished dinner and we chatted and caught up. That was crazy and great for me.