Top Chef’s George Pagonis Is Thankful for What Lies Ahead at Kapnos

Blog IMG_9941(F) copyGeorge Pagonis has always known Thanksgiving as a day of hard work. Growing up the son of Greek immigrants, he helped out in the kitchen alongside his parents and siblings at the family diner for most of the holiday. Only after the last customer was served would the family and a throng of visiting relatives sit down to eat. The table was loaded down with a mix of must-have, pilgrim-approved classics – roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing – and dishes favored in his parents’ homeland – dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), moussaka (a rich eggplant casserole), and roast lamb.

The Top Chef star and executive chef of the modern-minded Greek restaurant Kapnos still celebrates Thanksgiving with his family, who live in nearby Virginia. His mother, Mary, and his father, Tony, are first generation Greek immigrants. Both are from the small village of Skoura, just outside Sparta in the country’s southern reaches. “If you’ve seen movies set in Greece where the village has nothing but sheep, goats, chickens, and old ladies wearing black as church bells go off in the background, that’s what it is,” says Pagonis.

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However, Pagonis’ parents didn’t meet and get married until after they separately moved to New York City. Diners were a common business for Greek immigrants, so Tony got a job in one as a short order cook. When his brother opened a diner in Vienna, Virginia, Tony moved down to help him run it. He later opened his own in nearby Alexandria. The Four Seasons was a classic Greek diner. “The menu was an encyclopedia,” says Pagonis. “You could have a lobster tail, scrambled eggs, moussaka, baklava, and stuffed grape leaves.”

Starting around the time he was in middle school, Pagonis and his brother, Nicholas, worked as toast boys on the weekend breakfast shift. This was no small duty. The restaurant sat 300 people and there was a line out the door from 9AM until 2PM. Every egg dish came with toast, so the boys were putting out thousands of slices. Waiters would shout out orders, the boys would toss bread in the toaster, butter it up, cut it, and get the toasted triangles on the plates.

At the end of the shift, each server would tip them a few bucks. It added up. Pagonis would routinely take home $60, a small fortune for a sixth grader. “My parents took me to the mall and I bought whatever I wanted: video games, Starter jackets, Jordans,” he says. “Everyone else had to wait for their birthday to get that stuff, but I was like, ‘Eff it, I’ll buy it tomorrow.’”

Interested in learning more about cooking, he began standing on a milk crate by the chef, peeling carrots, chopping potatoes, whatever. “Anytime he needed anything, I did it,” says Pagonis. “I never said no.”

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Over the years, he learned how to make rice pudding, soups, and gravies, so, at age 14, he began working the line. When it came time to go to college, though, he left the diner behind, determined to pursue a career beyond the family business. He enrolled at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he earned a degree in business finance. Upon graduating, he applied for positions as a credit analyst. However, as he nervously sat outside one office waiting for an interview, supremely uncomfortable in his suit, he questioned his nascent career path. “I felt like an idiot,” he admits. “I thought, ‘This isn’t me.’”Continue Reading

Scenes from the OpenTable Aspen Food & Wine Classic Champagne + Sushi Party #FWClassic

The 2015 Aspen Food & Wine Classic was held this past weekend, and OpenTable was there to help celebrate the best in food and wine as curated by our friends at Food & Wine magazine. Since no celebration would be complete without bubbles, we were pleased to host our second annual Champagne-centric soiree at Matushisa Aspen with famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. ICYMI, we present a few scenes from the OpenTable Aspen Food & Wine Classic Champagne + Sushi party.

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Chef Nobu was in the house, which makes sense because he owns it, as was OpenTable’s Leela Srinivasan.

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There was sushi, obviously.

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And chef Eric Ripert, too.

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There were a lot of other fun food + wine people there also, but the Champagne never ran dry despite our efforts.

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PSA: Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls — unless they’re Krug waterfalls. Then by all means…

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It’s not a Food & Wine party without the mag’s editor-in-chief Dana Cowin and Maria Sinskey of Sinskey Winery (Do you see what I did there?).Continue Reading

The Ultimate 2015 Aspen Food & Wine Classic Dining Guide #FWClassic

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen starts tomorrow, running June 19-21, 2015. We’ve already rounded up three things to plan on doing ahead of the #FWClassic — including to visit OpenTable in the Grand Tasting tents to help us help you find a restaurant to dine at the end of your long, delicious days. Use the ultimate 2015 Aspen Food & Wine Classic dining guide to whet your appetite, and be sure to visit us between bites so we can book your restaurant reservations!

11x17-aspen-mapReady to find a restaurant reservation for the Aspen Food & Wine Classic now? Right this way.


Food & Wine Classic in Aspen 2015: Three Things to Do Ahead of the #FWClassic

MG_  007The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is happening June 19-21, 2015. Tickets are sold out, but if you’re headed there (as we are!), we’ve rounded up three things to do ahead of the #FWClassic before you arrive in Aspen. 

Plan to shop like a local foodie. The Aspen Saturday Market will be open for business on Saturday, June 20th. Carve out some open space in your pre-Classic calendar to sample Aspen’s locally grown and made food. The market runs from 8AM-3PM, from the corner of Galena and Hopkins, to Hunter and then again back to the intersection of Hyman and Galena.

Register to run a footrace. Before you start sampling all the fine food and wine that abounds at this unique festival, lace up your trainers and run a 5K to raise money for charity. On Friday morning, June 19th, you’ll scramble through the streets with culinary luminaries including race hosts and Top Chef alums Richard Blais and Stefanie Izard along with Tim Love, and Marcus Samuelsson. Remember the altitude difference when you’re training — Aspen is just under 8,000 feet above sea level.

Make a reservation. At the end of the day, you may wish to sit for a proper meal before making your way to one of the many parties that happen after hours at the festival. Plan ahead and book your tables now or look out for the OpenTable team in the Grand Tasting tents. We can help you make free, last-minute reservations in and around Aspen.Continue Reading