Restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias shares his take on an Easter supper that’s all about warmth, romance and abundance.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre | photography by Eamon Queeney
Dining with Giorgios Bakatsias is about more than just eating—it’s a feast for the senses.
It starts with the lamb. “We cook it with love and romance,” says Bakatsias. “The aroma awakens your spirit and ignites your senses.”
Add the visual of copious vegetables—tomatoes that range from golden yellow to a rich crimson, deeply-hued dandelion and radish greens freckled with pale hits of scallion, neon-green romesco and the palest yellow asparagus—displayed in a mix of handmade pottery and stainless-steel kitchen basics.
The sound of Greek music in the background, just loud enough to be energizing, quiet enough so no one raises a voice, trickles over the sear of vegetables in a skillet and bubble of sauce on the stove.
The feel of a still-sizzling kefi between your fingers as you swipe it through tzatziki and crunch through the outside crust into the juicy meat within.
And finally, the taste: Layered herbs and sauces, simple ingredients combined and rendered to their finest, each complementing the other in a meal that’s both rich and light.
Bakatsias has been building these experiences for over four decades. His stable of restaurants includes Bin 54 and KIPOS in Chapel Hill, Parizade and Vin Rouge in Durham, the recently-opened Rosewater in Raleigh, and others in the Triangle and beyond.
Bakatsias grew up in Karitsa, a small village in Greece. “In the village, everything came from the land,” he says. “There were no grocery stores, everything had to be gathered and harvested and loved and appreciated through the seasons.” And yet, Bakatsias says, they were “blessed with the greatest food and ingredients, and my mother was the most spectacular cook,” who did all the farming, as well. “She was a powerful woman.”
His father—“a true pioneer, an amazing human being”—lived in the United States, working, slowly earning enough to bring his family over, one by one. “I’m blessed with amazing parents and ancestors,” he says. Bakatsias moved from Greece to Burlington when he was 12, where he had passion for soccer, math, running, film… and work. “It was a great joy to work and collect money,” he says. He earned enough to send himself on his first trip to Paris when he was 16.
He opened his first restaurant in Durham when he was just 21. “I was attracted to the international influence that came from the universities in this area,” Bakatsias says. “Back then the food scene was basically non-existent, there was barbecue and there was Angus Barn.” His first restaurant, BC (for Bakatsias Cuisine) was a classical high-end restaurant in the European style—Steak Diane, Chateaubriand, duck carved tableside. “It was a time where you could deliver and expect a higher level of dining,” he says. “And imagine me, this village boy, to have this desire to create this opulence.”
After 10 years, Bakatsias decided to branch out, trying a variety of different restaurants over the decades, with continued success. “Quality food but more fun, without all the formality,” he says. “I try to find what the community longs for, to bring them something they don’t know they need but are delighted to have.” Each of his restaurants has the Giorgios Bakatsias touch, but some, like KIPOS (where his sister Olga Bakatsias serves as head chef) and his newest restaurant, Rosewater, are closer to how he dines day-to-day. “To be able to share what you believe in is a beautiful thing.”
At home, “I could each spinach and rustic bread all day long,” says Bakatsias. “I’ll cook a plate of vegetables from the garden, cabbage or arugula, and my body feels this connection to the vibrations of the vegetables.” He hosts 75 chickens and seven rarely-seen cats on his wooded, lakeside estate in Bahama. Here, places to dine abound: an ultra-long kitchen island, where guests can taste the creations as he makes them; a table set for 10; an expansive bar below the pool house; a secret wine cellar; a breakfast nook stacked with books. Bakatsias eats seasonally, lots of stews and soups, “dishes that bring you a certain comfort,” he says. “For me, food at home is another level of nourishing, and the older I get, the more I understand that the experience is about nourishing the body and soul.”
But when it’s time for a party, abundance abounds. “We put big lambs on the spit, we open the garden, we bathe in the aromas of rosemary and thyme and oregano,” he says. For this meal, he roasted a leg of lamb in the oven, then accompanied it with a mix of traditional Greek sides—Horiatiki, Spanikopita, Moussaka, Pastisio, Briam, spiced Kalamata olives—and others he just whipped up: roasted Romesco, white asparagus with pistachio and sautéed greens topped with golden beets.
“It’s a great joy, when we have the pleasure of having someone over,” says Bakatsias. “It’s a great gift.”
Here are the recipes for Giorgios Bakatsias’ Easter feast .