George Pagonis is executive chef and partner at Mike Isabella's first Greek restaurant, Kapnos, here in DC. The upscale restaurant put inland Greek cuisine, including daily whole animal roasting, on the map in the nation's capital when it opened in 2013. Before opening Kapnos, Pagonis served as chef de cuisine at Mike Isabella's Italian-inspired flagship, Graffiato. Prior to that, Chef Pagonis has cooked at Aureole in New York under Christophe Bellanca and Marcus Ware; at Jose Andres' Zaytinya; and at New York’s Le Cirque. Chef Pagonis attended the University of Mary Washington and though he followed that up with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, he first earned his kitchen stripes at The Four Seasons, a Greek diner owner by his father in Alexandria, Virginia.
Check out my Kolokithokeftedes recipe.
Chef Pagonis also served us a simple Greek Salad made of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, roasted red peppers, black olives, and topped with a vinaigrette of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and Greek oregano. He topped the salad with fresh chunks of Greek Feta cheese.
Chef Pagonis explained that the history of a Greek salad is simple because, in Greek, it means "from the village", and typically the country villages of Greece do not have much meat for everyday fare. They just eat whatever fresh vegetables on hand.
He cooked each piece of filet skin-down quickly in the pan before finishing in a 350 degree oven to cook through. He served the Pan Seared Branzino over a bed of xorta, and allowed us to add our own extra dollops of tzatziki. The fish was incredibly light and simple - as he did not add any oil or lemon juice. Just a hint of salt to allow the fish to speak for itself. I thought it tasted great, and is just like how they cook fish in Greece.
I had a great meal and learned so much from Chef Pagonis. I was expecting to participate more, or have a little more hands-on experience with the cooking, but being that this was Chef Pagonis' first class, he just did what he was most comfortable with and took the reigns. At $85 per person, the price was a bit high for just a demo-type class, but we got to eat a full meal that was cooked personally by a Top Chef cheftestant. The class lasted 3 hours long, and was informative as Chef Pagonis provided tips the entire time, and answered any and all questions.
Check out Chef Pagonis' food for yourself at Kapnos, or look out for his new restaurant, Kapnos Taverna, to open soon in Arlington. I also recommend you look out for other foodie events offered at the Hill Center.