Chef Talk: Maria Kaimakis Cypriana

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Maria Kaimakis and her husband, Vassos Yiannouris, launched the Cypriana food truck in 1991, followed by a shop situated in the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in 2004.
Maria Kaimakis and her husband, Vassos Yiannouris, launched the Cypriana food truck in 1991, followed by a shop situated in the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in 2004.

This spring, they plan to open a slightly more upscale Cypriana, specializing in Mediterranean comfort food, with a full bar, in the Tuscany-Canterbury space most recently occupied by La Famiglia. Kaimakis points out that free parking is available in a lot, which might be a game-changer.

How did you learn to cook? When I was 18, I went to live with my grandmother on the island of Chios. She taught me how to cook and eat like a Greek person. They eat vegetables, grilled fish, beans and rice.

You and your husband started Cypriana as a food truck? Our first location was the corner of Light Street and Water Street, outside of Mazer’s jewelry store. My husband and I went over there on the night before we opened, and we held hands, and said a little prayer, asked God to bless our little spot. We looked up, and Mr. Mazer’s store had all these signs; he was going bankrupt. We put our hands on his doorknob and prayed that God would bless him too. We took Mr. Mazer a chicken pita. A week later, he came out and said, ‘You guys need a phone to take phone orders.’ And he had a second line, for us, installed in his store. About two months after that, all his signs came down. People would line up outside the cart, all along his windows. Stanley Mazer, his son, told us they were never as busy as when the food cart was open.

What was the menu? We served chicken, lamb, beef and falafel. No fries, because once you fry your falafel in the fryer, everything tastes like falafel.

What will your new menu be like? It will be like how I cook for my family. For instance, I might do a variation of moussaka. But I’m not going to bake it in a casserole and cut you off a big square. Maybe I’ll grill the eggplants, make a béchamel sauce, and finish it off in the broiler so the sauce will be nice and toasty brown on top. Something people can eat a little bit of and not feel like they’re up to here. Since the Mediterranean has at least 50 different ports, I’d like to feature a different port each week, in addition to the core menu. My husband is from the northern tip of Cyprus. The wealth of the cuisine in Cyprus includes Greek, Turkish, Italian. The Phoenicians occupied Cypris for years. My husband’s mother’s family name is Florenzo. That’s so totally Italian.

 

Published in the April 2016 issue of STYLE.

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