If you haven't had a chance to visit the Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center and experience Lunch & Learn at the Culinary Café, you're missing out.
It is a lunch like you won't find anywhere else, delicious food, in a fun environment, along with a cooking demonstration put on by a professional chef.
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House Chef Cheri Hiers runs herd on the fast-paced program, keeping a good variety of menus on the books, from local restaurant chefs, a few big-name casino chefs, and the occasional advanced home cook.
The kitchen is a professionally designed Viking teaching kitchen, with every appliance, pot and pan, and utensil you ever dreamed of. You have to see the place.
The kitchen is primarily used for the Lunch & Learn program, but there also are evening cooking classes, kids programs, and it is used to support other events, such as opening receptions for the art gallery, or shows at the theater.
Drop by and take a look.
Chef Hristos Drakopoulos
Every class I have attended has been interesting, but recently Chef Hristos Drakopoulos of Sicilian II restaurant in Biloxi held a pizza-making demo, and it was nothing short of sensational. He will be back there from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. today for another class, and it should be just as much fun as the last.
Drakopoulos made a name for himself over the past year by putting out a great pizza. His small restaurant on Pass Road also offers a full Italian menu, but the pizza really stands out.
His secret, you might ask? He makes everything from scratch, from his long-simmered red sauce, to his Italian sausage and ricotta cheese.
Greek and Sicilian
Drakopoulos is Greek, although of Sicilian descent, and he moved to the U.S. from Greece when he was just a kid, without knowing a word of English, and landed in Chicago.
He likes to tell the story of being stopped by someone on the street and asked what time it was. To his shame, he says, he could not answer in English.
Later he removed his watch and did not put it back on until he could give the proper response.
Visit Sicilian II and chances are Drakopoulos will stop by your table and ask, "How is my food?"
He calls it his food, because he prepares it the way he likes it and is proud of everything that comes out of his kitchen. I asked him once if he would like to make a deep-dish pizza, and he shouted back, "No! I don't like deep dish, and I don't cook what I don't like."
Recipe for good food, fun
The Sicilian II is a great little mom and pop sort of place, with delicious food, including the aforementioned legendary pizza, baked pastas, Mediterranean-style salads and even roasted lamb shanks.
Combine the food with a chef who is brimming with personality and the public setting of the Mary C's Culinary Kitchen, and you have a recipe for a great Lunch N Learn experience. Call 818-2878 in advance for reservations, seating is limited.
Drakopoulos is secretive about all of his recipes, but I can make a pretty good guess about these two salads that are on his menu.
Crumbled feta cheese
Ripe, fragrant tomatoes
Best quality olive oil
Dice the tomatoes and add to a large bowl that will hold all the greens. Use salt-packed anchovies if you can find them; otherwise, oil packed are just fine. Rinse them off, or drain off the oil. Add the peppers whole on stem and de-seed them, if you like. Add the feta and the greens, and give the salad a good toss.
In a separate container, add olive oil. Add just a teaspoon or so of balsamic vinegar and then give the mixture a good whisk. Taste and add more balsamic if it is needed. Pour gingerly over the salad, toss again and serve chilled.
1 cup diced, fragrant tomatoes
1 cup diced cucumber
1 cup shredded lettuce
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup thin sliced Italian salami
1/4 cup thin sliced hot sopressata
Best quality olive oil
Please make sure to smell the tomatoes you buy, they should be fragrant with that lovely tomato smell. No smell, no flavor.
Combine the ingredients, toss and then drizzle with just a smooch of your best quality olive oil. The oil should have the same smell test as the tomatoes. Your oil should be robust and fragrant. Serve this salad slightly chilled.
Julian Brunt, who comes from a family with deep Southern roots, writes Coast Cooking in Wednesday's Sun Herald and has a blog at sunherald.com. He is a food writer and photographer with columns in magazines.