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The united flavors of chef Geoff Patmides culinary journey

Hog And Tradition at The Local - Dominican BBQ special

When Geoff Patmides started pursuing culinary arts as a career, he never would have imagined that not only would he be cooking Greek food but also Dominican dishes. Having mastered such dishes as spicy roasted peppers stuffed with the spicy feta spread tirokafteri and a Dominican-style smoked chicken, Patmides epitomizes the experiences of growing up in a family of blended cultures. Curious to the point of obsessing about learning to cook dishes from food cultural traditions around the world, he continuously builds upon his half-Tongan and half-Greek roots, which also were joined with his wife’s Dominican background.

To experience how these cultures take their form side by side in Patmides’ cooking, the evidence is bountiful at his two restaurants in The Gateway’s HallPass in downtown Salt Lake City: Hog & Tradition BBQ and Lamb & Feta. The quality and taste of the food reflect the fact that his cooking is the result of accessing first-hand the intuitive knowledge of family members and relatives who prepare their culture’s dishes without stopping to think about measuring ingredients or the next step in the cooking process. At Lamb and Feta, even classic street food like the lamb gyro and chicken souvlaki evokes his organic sensitivity to accurately represent a familiar Greek festival classic. 

Then, there is zymarika theon (known as God’s pasta), which Patmides has learned to prepare just like his grandmother made it: fettuccine pasta tossed in a hearty but still light cream sauce flavored with lemon, fresh mint and capers, and topped with grilled chicken that is succulent and is seasoned according to the traditions of his Crete ancestral branch. Patmides says that this pasta offering combines two dishes, preserving intact the instincts his grandmother relied upon in her kitchen when she thought about which flavors to pair and made her pasta with semolina and eggs from the farm. “She never thought twice about how she should make any dish,” he adds. 

Grilling and barbecue also sprouted from Patmides’ Tongan heritage. His smoked brisket at Hog and Tradition is the stuff of barbecue competition medal winners, and it is incorporated into his most popular selling item at The Gateway location — a grilled cheese sandwich, which goes well with sweet plantains. His Cubano sandwich is nearly as popular. Last fall, for tailgate parties at University of Utah football games, Patmides offered a special barbecue package that sold out every home game.

Hog & Tradition - brisket sandwich (Les Roka)
Hog & Tradition – brisket sandwich (Les Roka)

Along with his ribs, a periodic special that is as popular as his smoked brisket, his chicken is a phenomenal protein choice (along with options of pulled pork, beef or chicharrones) in his Dominican plates, which have recently returned as a Sunday special (pictured top of page, served in the former location of The Local). Mixed plates draw upon his Tongan heritage, with teriyaki chicken, kalua pork, tempura fried shrimp, rice, and the essential staple of Hawaiian-style macaroni salad. He finds the right spots to inflect deep South classics with cultural background touches: purple yams are a worthy sibling to their sweet candied counterparts of the old South while cornbread is made with ube, which has a mild flavor to satisfy sweet cravings without overriding the palate and is popular in Filipino and Hawaiian cooking. 

Family culinary heritage

Patmides is vigilant about preserving the pillars of his Greek heritage. The core of his Greek family’s culinary background was in Xania, on the northwest corner of the Greek island of Crete, where Anna, his grandmother, was born. The olive oil from Crete, which represents more than 3,500 years of history in its production, is prized and is responsible for more than 30% of Greece’s entire olive oil industry. Some 30 food products and wines from the island have Protected Designation of Origin status.

From his relatives, Patmides watched aunts, grandparents, and other relatives make Greek salads that are unlike many diners might expect in the States. The salads are not overwhelmed by iceberg or romaine lettuce or carrots but instead feature tomato, onion, Kalamata olives, feta, cucumbers, fresh bell peppers, the highly valued olive oil from Crete, and fresh herbs. Relatives would offer a signature appetizer well known on Crete called dakos, made with hard barley rusk (paximadia) and baked twice and served to absorb olive oil and the juice of chopped tomatoes, which are sprinkled with Greek oregano and a salty white cheese called xinomyzithra. For dessert, they made galaktoboureko, a Greek custard that is baked in phyllo dough and he received hands-on instructions, a dish that has been offered at Lamb and Feta.

His grandparents, Anna and Konstantinos, came to the U.S. in 1966. His grandmother, who came from a family of tailors, started Anna’s Tailoring, a Salt Lake City business that operated for decades. His grandfather planted a garden filled with herbs and vegetables that were elemental in their culinary traditions. 

The family also were members of the congregation at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Salt Lake City, well known for its annual festival of food and cultural entertainment. To this day, Patmides still keeps one of his family’s most cherished Greek Easter traditions: ovelias, the process of roasting a freshly killed whole lamb on the spit. It comes from an ancient Greek mythological ritual when a giant outdoor rotisserie for meat was set up to pay tribute to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, warfare, and handicraft. 

The spit-roasting process is long but not necessarily complicated. First, the lamb is washed, seasoned, and tied on the spit the night before so that it has time to absorb the seasonings and herbs. Preparing and cooking the meal for the most important holiday of the year takes 16, 17, or more hours. Prior to roasting, the lamb is covered with cloth or napkins and it is left all night, positioned vertically on the spit, to drain while absorbing the flavors of the seasonings. 

Patmides recalls one of his fondest moments was helping to turn the lamb’s intestines inside out so they could be thoroughly washed and then rubbed with salt and immersed in lemon juice and water. The offal would then be roasted on the spit to make the accompanying dish of kokoretsi, a favorite for a feast on Crete. The meal also might include rice pilaf made with stock from the lamb, along with dolmades stuffed with seasoned ground meat. 

His grandmother would never make gyros for dinner at home but she made them for the street and church festivals. He observed every step of the process for achieving the prime quality in a gyro: the ideal pita for texture so that it holds up to its contents as well as the seasonings and marinade for the meat, as well as the tzatziki sauce made with native ingredients. Patmides says that he is constantly reminded about his grandmother, aunts, and relatives being so scrupulous about sourcing the right ingredients and never making compromises on substitutions. 

Lamb & Feta - zymarika theon (Les Roka)
Lamb & Feta – zymarika theon (Les Roka)

Built-in generational pattern

Patmides’ grandparents were central to his life. Patmides lost his father early in his childhood and his mother was frequently absent. “I remember she was always happy when she was cooking,” he recalls about his grandmother, “and she encouraged me to practice on my own.”  

Learning about the foods of his culture and how they are prepared, he was lucky enough to have a built-in generational pattern. More often than not, children and teens in many immigrant families usually decide to reconnect with or reinforce their culinary roots when they are well into adulthood or when they realize that they have to learn to cook for themselves.  

For Patmides, the kitchen experiences solidified the bonds and memories unique to his grandparents’ heritage. In many cases, the need to assimilate as soon as possible in new communities pressures immigrant families to downplay or even cut the culinary traditions and foods of their motherlands. Occasionally it might be easier for some to alienate themselves from their food culture temporarily because they are self-conscious that friends, social peers, or classmates may think their food customs are weird or, even worse, disgusting. 

And, then there are some who deliberately keep their culinary heritage private. They consciously protect it from any comments they could perceive as ruining the experience for them. Mindful of how challenging it can be to grow up with a strong sense of the culture that parents have while fitting in with friends and peers, Patmides and Mia, his wife of more than 16 years, have learned a good deal about how to pass on their knowledge and appreciation to the next generation, without them feeling awkward, uncomfortable or isolated.     

Geoff and Mia Patmides (Geoff Patmides)
Geoff and Mia Patmides (Geoff Patmides)

Enter the Dominican heritage

Early in his relationship with his soon-to-be spouse, Patmides introduced the Greek side of his family to Mia and the new family branch addition of Dominican relatives. Meanwhile, every Sunday at his mother-in-law’s home gave Patmides the opportunity for a cooking lesson. He practiced and perfected making such staples as rice and beans (arroz con habichuelas). The results speak for themselves at Hog and Tradition — certainly no afterthought or otherwise the chef would risk having to answer to the unsparing criticism of his mother-in-law.  

At first, his in-laws were skeptical about Patmides and were not enamored of him, he admitted. But, food quickly set up the gateway to ensure that the expanded family, with its blend of multiple cultures, would find their path to co-existing happily through food. The first Dominican dish he experienced was beef and peppers, served with arroz con habichuelas. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” he recalls. 

With his wife’s encouragement and the meticulous oversight embodied in his mother-in-law’s guidance, Patmides worked relentlessly on perfecting the sides and the meats central to his newfound embrace of Dominican culinary traditions. It also was a short leap to incorporate his natural instincts for barbecue, courtesy of his Polynesian and Tongan roots. The bottom line was that he pursued his Dominican culinary experiences with the same intensity, respect, and focus that he found in mastering Greek dishes. 

This created an appealing family environment where both sides enjoyed and respected each other’s culinary traditions, without worrying about ongoing debates about which cuisine is better. There is a wise lesson in that experience, given the brouhaha that erupts periodically in food circles about cultural appropriation and authenticity and preferred standards of preparation. “It has always been a labor of love for me,” Patmides says, “and I make sure that I would never be seen as someone stepping on someone else’s culture. To do any of these dishes right, you have to start by respecting the culture to begin with.” 

For those who do not have access to family members where food information has always been instinctive and intuitive, there is nothing wrong with going to an online source, even if it might not be the most authentic or if it is not steeped in someone’s family history. It is just taking it one step further, to be sure that a recipe source and the person offering it earnestly reflect the culture and the food they are highlighting and that it can be vouched for as a decent, acceptable representation.  

Obsessed with learning, experimenting

Patmides continues to expand his kitchen skills, venturing as broadly and comprehensively as possible. He says that he is obsessed whenever he watches a food show on television or reads about a dish that he has never tried in his life. In recreating recipes, he explains that he feels like a detective, diving into why they use specific ingredients and where he can source them. 

Some of his more recent experiments have included dishes from Korea and Syria. The process of these experiences circles home for him, paralleling how he learned to cook dishes of Greek and Dominican heritage. The 360-degree view of Patmides’ time in the kitchen demonstrates how a growing constellation of cultural touchstones has allowed him, his wife, and his family to see what unique identities are possible in the broad landscape of food, hospitality, and restaurants in the U.S. 

No question, the history of immigration has shaped the profound evolution of the foods we have learned to enjoy and the diverse spectrum of restaurants, groceries, bodegas, and specialty shops we patronize. With a distance spanning more than 10,850 miles, Patmides’ experiences that have seamlessly woven Tongan, Dominican, and Greek influences, along with many points in between, underscores that it is possible for a chef to identify as cosmopolitan, without sacrificing or shortchanging essential core components of one culinary tradition over another.

 

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