On the eve of opening the newest addition to his Avli Restaurant brand, Avli River North, Chef Louie Alexakis was at the National Hellenic Museum (NHM). The Museum’s annual food-focused fundraiser, Kouzina, in which Alexakis participates annually was held Nov. 7, and his commitment unwavering. Joined by chefs representing 15 additional Chicago-area restaurants, the culinary event drew hundreds of guests and raised thousands of dollars for the NHM which provides educational and cultural programming for the whole community.
An added feature to this year’s NHM Kouzina was an appearance by Diane Kochilas, author and star of the PBS television series, My Greek Table, who spoke about the food of Ikaria, a Greek island known as “The Island of Long Life.”
The full ensemble of chefs included Alexakis and Kochilas along with:
- Bobby’s Lincoln Park: Chef Augie Arifi
- Cedar Palace: Silvana Saro
- Che Figata: Executive Chef Austin Fausett
- CityGate Grille: Executive Chef Adam Tanner
- Grecian Delight Foods: Executive Chef Tom Leo
- Greek Islands: Chef Peter Kappos
- Inspired Catering and Events: Chef Elizabeth J. Tokarczyk
- Longman and Eagle: Executive Chef Max Robbins
- Portsmith: Chef Nate Henssler
- Saba Kitchen + Bar: Executive Chef Jesus Castillo
- Sinha Elegant Cuisine: Chef Jorgina Pereira
- Sweet Connections Bakery: Nikos Papademetriou
- Tavern on Rush: John Gatsos
- Taxim: Chef David Schneider
- The Clare: Hagop Hagopian
“We had an amazing group of chefs supporting us this year,” said NHM Director of Operations Kristi Athas. “Many were returning – some who’ve been here since Kouzina began about a decade ago – and several first-time participants who said they really enjoyed the experience and want to come back, and who definitely dazzled our guests.”
Together, this group of culinary experts introduced Kouzina guests to both classic and innovative Mediterranean flavors.
“Every cuisine in the world is the sum of its parts, its ingredients” it says on Kochilas’ website. Fausett, of Che Figata in suburban Naperville, agrees, “Even within a culture or ethnicity, there are regional ingredients that really drive the cuisine.
“In an ingredient-focused kitchen like ours in Naperville, where we often use vegetables and herbs grown right in our own Chefs’ Garden, we also import regional varietals of oils and seasonings to add authenticity to our cooking,” Fausett added.
Recognizing the impact of ingredients in preparing tasty, authentic cuisine, the Museum again offered an increasingly popular feature at Kouzina, olive oil tastings from Village Batch. And since what accompanies a great meal is nearly as important as what goes in it, Greek wine and beer importers Fantis and Fotis & Sons provided tastings while sommelier and historian Dr. Katherine Kelaidis educated and entertained Kouzina guests with a historical exploration of Greek wines and varietals.
“I’ve been coming to Kouzina at the National Hellenic Museum for years, and every year it just gets better and better,” said Martha Cannis, a Kouzina guest. “It’s a wonderful mix of restaurants—ones I know well and new places I was introduced to for the first time.”
Traditionally during Kouzina, and for other events held at the Museum such as wedding receptions and private parties, the NHM opens its Rooftop Terrace which offers panoramic views of downtown Chicago. However winter-like weather, with temperatures roughly 20-degrees cooler than average—and just a few degrees above the city’s historic record-low for the date—kept this year’s Kouzina inside the Museum’s modern three-story structure.
Kouzina 2019 Platinum Sponsors were the Calamos family and the Koudounis family. Gold Sponsors were John and Martha Cannis, and Grecian Delight Foods and the Parthenis families. Silver Sponsors were Dr. Christos and Patricia Giannoulias, Greek National Tourism Organization, John and Marisa Payiavlas/AVI Foodsystems, Inc. and SlingTV. Proceeds from the event support the ongoing expansion of educational offerings for the community and continued preservation of Greek history, art and culture.