By Ginna Parsons
TUPELO – Tony Karaziotas, who was born and raised in Kozani, Greece, moved to Mississippi in 1991 for a better job and a better life.
“I have found the best hospitality is in Mississippi,” he said. “That’s why I stay here. I was in Germany in 1989 and the people there were very cold.”
Karaziotas, 48, worked first at Papa’s Pizza Steakhouse, his uncle’s restaurant in Houston.
“That’s where I first got in the cooking business,” he said. “But most of the training I got – proper temperatures and stuff, you know, don’t poison nobody – I learned at O’Charley’s.”
Tony the Greek, as he calls himself, is the kitchen manager at O’Charley’s restaurant in Tupelo.
“I’ve been here 15 years,” he said. “If you like something, you stay with it.”
Karaziotas spent a little time in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother in Greece, but most of what he knows he’s learned on his own
“My hobby is collecting recipes and trying new recipes every day,” he said. “I like to cook Greek food, Italian food. I like trying different things. I get inspired from things and make my own recipes. But I’m not as great as Emeril or Mario Batali.”
Karaziotas met his wife, Beverly, whom he calls Anastasia, at a New Year’s Eve party. They have been married 14 years and share two children and seven grandchildren.
“Sometimes I cook at home – Greek – and sometimes she makes Southern cuisine,” he said. “I have learned to make Southern fried chicken, cornbread and fried and boiled okra. One of my favorite things now is banana pudding – the first time I ever had that was in the States.”
Karaziotas is a firm believer in the health benefits of eating a largely Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, fish and healthy fats.
“We need to go back to baked stuff and grilled food and push away from the table if we want to get away from the obesity and diabetes problems we have here,” he said. “There’s too much fried food here. I’ve gotten hooked on it, but I don’t agree with it. I’ve gained almost 100 pounds since I moved here. Instead of frying vegetables, you can put them in the oven and bake them and it’s just as good. It’s all about how you eat it and how much you eat of it.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.