January 29, 2010 | 9:00am
Born to a party-loving traditional Greek family on Long Island, Psilakis credits his mom's love of Mediterranean flavors and his dad's love of the grill as his greatest influences. But he didn't go all C.I.A. like many great chefs. Nope, Psilakis earned a degree in accounting and finance and then began waiting tables at T.G.I.Friday's and working up through the front-of-the-house ranks. Soon he was fully bitten by the restaurateur bug, and he decided to take over a trattoria in Long Island, which he renamed Ecco. Two years into the gig, his chef didn't show one night, and Psilakis commandeered the kitchen. The rest, as they say, is culinary history. His restaurants Ecco, Onera, Dona, Mia Dona, and Kefi all received high accolades, and now you'll find him making succulent seafood flavors come to life at Eos. (By the way, don't forget about this place for Valentine's Day, South Beach Wine & Food Festival [Haute Holistic Dinner 2/27
], and even the Super Bowl. Lots of great stuff going on.)
Or you might find him silently prepping for spleen sauté with his electric slicer. Hmm. Read on to discover what lights his fire:
New Times: If you could serve a meal to any famous person, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you cook for him/her?
Michael Psilakis: I think it would have to be Jim Morrison. I'd cook everything that comes from the inside of an animal.
NT: If you came back in your next life as a food item, what would it be and how would you like to be served?
MP: A wild fish, any kind of wild fish -- and I'd definitely like to be roasted over an open flame.
NT: What was your most embarrassing cooking-related moment?
MP: It's not really a cooking moment, but it's still something embarrassing. I'm self-taught and never really went up the ranks in the kitchen like many chefs. So I never spent a tremendous amount of time butchering. When I look at my culinary abilities in that area compared to my colleagues, I definitely think I could be better. I guess that's something I'm embarrassed about.
NT: What food/utensil/technique still confounds you?
MP: The electric meat slicer. I love that thing. [Editor's note: His PR rep assured us he was being sarcastic.]
NT: What's your favorite soundtrack/song to cook to?
MP: I don't really listen to music when I cook. It's just the food and you, and that's it.
NT: Which famous chef, alive or dead, would you like to shadow for a day (assuming you haven't already had the chance)?
NT: What is your dream culinary trip?
MP: I am obsessed with authenticity. So for an ideal culinary trip, I'd go to a small village somewhere in the world and watch a local grandma cook traditional food in her kitchen.
NT: What's your favorite junk food, and where do you get it?
MP: Peanut M&M's. They're everywhere.
NT: Which chef, alive or dead, would you like to challenge in Iron Chef fashion? Why do you believe you could kick his or her ass in the kitchen?
MP: Having done Iron Chef a couple of times, for me it's always been more about representing Greek food to the American audience than it has revolved around the idea of winning or losing. So the best challenge would be battling another great Greek chef. That way we can both promote Greek food, and hopefully the public will embrace Greek the same way that they have with other cuisines, like Italian.
NT: Never trust a chef who...?
MP: Does not taste his own food before serving it.