Interview With Michael Psilakis of Eos, Part Two

Here's Part Two of our interview with Eos at the Viceroy's Chef Michael Psilakis. You can read the first part of the interview here.

What did you gain from your travels that you'll bring back to your restaurants?

For me, there's no better way to expose yourself to food than to travel. For me, food is an imprint of a culture. It allows you to try to understand what that culture's all about. I really enjoy understanding the psyche of the people via food as the vehicle. I'm not going to a country to go to their most critically acclaimed restaurants to take food from there and translate it back to me. I'm going to, basically, try and see what the soul of their food is and try and translate that. I don't want to cook somebody else's food; I want to cook my own food. For me, it's really trying to capture an identity as opposed to getting a recipe. I'm not a very recipe-driven person to begin with.

So it must've been particularly tough to come up with an entire cookbook...

We wrote recipes down for the first time for the cookbook. We very much are sort of impulsive in terms of trying to become inspired by a food, or by an identity, or a situation or emotion, and then create based on that. It changes so frequently. We really don't have time to sit down and think about writing recipes. But when you try and convey a message to someone, especially in a cookbook type of format, you need some sort of medium to translate that. The cook at home really needs that outline.

Any new cookbooks coming soon?

No. That was a labor of love, but it was a lot of work. I never thought I was going to write a cookbook to begin with. Unfortunately the vehicle was my father's passing. It allowed me to think about food in a very different way. Even as cerebral as I am... I didn't realize the relevance of food in my life and the development of me as a person and a man. The book is composed of 11 chapters. Each one of the chapters is prefaced by a short story. The stories revolve around things that happened in my life and with my family.

Your parents weren't cooks though, correct?

No. My mother was a housewife. She wasn't classically trained. But I ate dinner every night from her hands until I was in my twenties. My mother used food as a vehicle to gather us. It was a gift for her that could get translated into her joy of seeing her family around her. I think that's pretty much true with most cooks. Even professional-level cooks. I've said this often: André Soltner, who is a great French chef... in the preface of his cookbook said that all true chefs are gift-givers by nature. And I think that's true.

For my father, food was a medium to communicate lessons in life. Food can be used to plant a seed. And that seed will bloom into a memory. And that memory could be revisited. It came to me at a really crazy time, right after my father had passed away. We were celebrating Easter at my mother's house and it was the first time that he was not with us. I was putting a lamb on a spit with my son and my brother. It was time to season it so, as my father had taught me, right before seasoning it we would wet it down with our hands. So we would take water in our hands and just rub it down. So I asked my son to come over and cup his hands so I could pour the water into [them]. What happened was, as I was pouring the water into my son's tiny hands, I saw my hands 30 years earlier with my father doing the pouring.

It was cool to know that I had made my father just as happy as my son was making me at that moment. And food was the catalyst. I started to, sort of, become different. It wasn't just cerebral exploration of how can I evolve a genre of food. It was more like, how can I communicate these messages?

Even though you had this incredible upbringing with food-related memories, you were an accountant who wanted to be a lawyer, correct?

I went to school for accounting, but I knew that wasn't for me as I was finishing school. So I went for more schooling because I really didn't know what I wanted to do. So I figured, let's try law. I started working as a waiter to pay my way through law school. Never made it to law school. I fell in love with the restaurant business. It was home.

You never received formal culinary training though, right? 

I went from the front of the house to the kitchen. I was working in the front 12 years as an owner when a chef left one day without notice. I fell in love with the back and just stayed. 

So would you tell a budding chef to go to culinary school? Do you regret not going?

I contemplated leaving and going to culinary school. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. I think it's important. To be able to develop a foundation in culinary school and take that to move on to real world experiences and get some traveling under your belt and expose yourself to different genres of food and different methodologies... it's not only important for us to recognize there are different genres of food... there's also different approaches to food. There's a huge difference in the philosophical approaches to food. And that's always the thing that interested me most.

Some chefs are artisans where they look at cooking as a craft to be studied. Some chefs are artists that look at food as a really free expression of an emotional reaction to whatever their environment is. Then there are those who combine the two. And those people--there are very few in the world--are really the people who change the way we look at food and are really the legends. 

And where do you fall in those categories?

I'm not nearly a legend. I've been fortunate in that I chose a genre of food that wasn't explored that much. But I was never classically trained. I have only been cooking professionally for about 8 years now. No one ever taught me how to make a terrine. I just kind of figured it out.

I read you and Donatella Arpaia have parted ways. What are your professional plans now?

We're still partners in Kefi and Eos. But our relationship was at a point where it was moving in different directions. 

I don't have anything specific I'm thinking about. Anything is possible. I don't even know for certainty that I'll be doing anything else this year.

Well certainly not soon; I hear you have a baby coming!

Yes, a couple months away. 

Anything else you'd like to mention? 

I'm very excited about Eos right now. We had a great year. Got a lot of attention through the press, but what I think is really wonderful is the reaction from the people who are coming to the restaurant. 

We bought some spits to roast animals. We're in the process of going through spring menus, which is always a tremendous amount of fun. I love thinking about spring and all that produce that's about to come out. The idea of constantly evolving the menu and playing with it is a lot of fun. The restaurant is getting better and better. 

A restaurant is like a child for me. The child's born and you have dreams for it, you start to mold it, but at a certain point its matured and it will go its own way. Eos is no different than any of my other restaurants; it started and it slowly has evolved into something that I think is really special. 

Eos at the Viceroy hotel
485 Brickell Ave., Miami
305-503-4400 or viceroymiami.com

Monday, Part Three: A recipe from the chef.

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