EiSJ Interview with…Chef Sofia Karakasidou of Kuzina by Sofia

 

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.

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