Continuing with our SJ Hot Chef interviews this week, today we have an interview with Chef Sofia Karakasidou of Kuzina by Sofia in Cherry Hill. I had the pleasure of seeing Chef Sofia doing her thing at the Jersey Seafood Challenge at the Governor’s Mansion earlier this year, so I would expect that her dishes during Fall Harvest Week (and any other week, for that matter) will be wonderful.
EiSJ: Talk about your cooking experiences growing up in Greece .
Chef Sofia: Like any young girl growing up in a Greek household in Greece, I was very closely exposed to meal preparation in our mother’s cooking. Living in an area and era where everything had to be prepared from scratch (as they say), I spent uncountable hours beside my mother and grandmother helping and learning all aspects of food and meal preparation. Having discovered early on in life my knack and love of cooking, I followed closely and as I came of age, pursued a serious career in culinary arts before I met my husband and embarked for New Jersey.
EiSJ: What were your expectations about the US when you came here, and what surprised you?
Chef Sofia: I did not have any particular expectations, but I was surprised by the lack of exposure the people had in this area to Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. Till this day, I feel like Asian and pizza is all that rocks peoples’ boats around here.
EiSJ: Can you compare how people eat in Greece to what you have seen in the US?
Chef Sofia: People in the US, I have observed, eat because they have to. Very few are the ones who truly have a passion for cuisine and flavors. The flavors are all uniform and trendy. I have passionate customers, and I appreciate my clientele, but inside the box American diners are conservative.
EiSJ: What made you decide to open a restaurant in South Jersey?
Chef Sofia: I am passionate about my country and our culture, and I want to expose everyone I can to Greece – our food, our culture, our traditions and values. My restaurant is my kitchen to the world; thus I name it Kuzina.
EiSJ: When you first opened, did your customers need a little encouragement to try certain things on the menu that did not seem familiar?
Chef Sofia: A lot of encouragement; it’s a daily battle.
EiSJ: Is there a stereotype about Greek food that you want to dispel?
Chef Sofia: I had a young lady once tell me, ‘I love your food. When I first decided to come here, I thought I would be eating beans and lamb.’ People think Greek food is all about feta cheese and gyros.
EiSJ: What do you think of food blogs and the foodie culture in the area?
Chef Sofia: I think they are a terrific vehicle and ambassadors and I welcome them and follow them closely.
EiSJ: What have you been doing during these tough economic conditions to keep your customers?
Chef Sofia: Making them happy, welcome and comfortable – giving them more value for their spending.
EiSJ: If there was one ingredient more people should be cooking with at home, what would it be?
Chef Sofia: More vegetables, more fish and above all olive oil; ban butter.
EiSJ: Tell us about the menu you will be offering during Fall Harvest Week.
Chef Sofia: My menu will be Greek inspired and Greek all around. Pumpkins, squash and fall harvest vegetables are the same here as they are in Greece; after all, we come from the same planet. I am showcasing fall harvest vegetables, such as pumpkin, squashes and hearty leafy greens in my everyday cooking.