Nick Geftos, the executive chef of Tallulah Wine Bar and Bistro in Birmingham, always knew he wanted to be a chef.
And his career choice came as no surprise to his parents.
“From the age of 7, Nick started driving me crazy about wanting to cook,” his mother, Sue Geftos said.
“I never have had any other kind of job,” he said. “I remember cooking with my dad when I was 7 or 8, roasting lamb on a little tripod grill in our backyard.”
While attending high school, Geftos worked at an Italian restaurant called Quatros in Monroe where “he did a little bit of everything.” In 2007, two months after graduating from Monroe High School, the chef moved to Las Vegas to attend the Le Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts from which he received an associate degree 15 months later. And it was also there that he met his future wife, Laura.
“While still in culinary school, I also wanted to work in a really good restaurant, so I got a Michelin Guide, called all of their one-star Las Vegas restaurants and ended up getting a job at the garde manager station at the DJT restaurant in the Trump International Hotel and Tower,” the chef said. (And just in case you are wondering, he never met Donald, but did meet Eric Trump, the president-elect’s son, once while making an omelet for him at the omelet bar.)
That was followed by posts at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and Cut restaurants.
“I was intrigued by the Puck Group and thought his whole concept was incredible,” he said. “But in 2011, at the age of 22, I knew I wanted to come back home.”
Once in Detroit, Geftos delivered resumes to six different restaurants, including one in Birmingham.
“And just as I was about to leave Birmingham, I saw Tallulah’s sign in my rear view mirror. I got out of my car, walked in and immediately felt it was the kind of restaurant I wanted to work at. I got a job offer and started out at the roast station. Two weeks later, I became the sous chef and I stayed there for two years.”
In 2013, after stints at the Raven’s Club in Ann Arbor and helping out at Local in Ferndale, as well as Roast in Detroit, Mario Camaj, Tallulah’s former house manager, bought Tallulah and asked him to come back to become the executive chef, Geftos explained.
The chef, now 27, said whenever he has time to do home cooking, he likes to do it at his parents’ home in Brownstown Township. And the recipes he chooses usually reflect either his Greek heritage or his wife Laura’s Mexican roots.
For example, Pozole, the delicious thick, hearty soup that is usually eaten as a main course, originated in Jalisco, Mexico, and is traditionally served at Christmastime. And, of course, grilled lamb accompanied by tzatziki sauce is a classic Greek favorite.
“It’s best to buy your dried chiles at a Mexican market where they frequently replenish their stock,” he said. “If they’re old and dry and crunchy, they are not as good.”
For the tzatziki he suggests grating your cucumber on the same side of the grater that you would use to shred cheddar cheese because the resulting chunky cucumber gives the dip a great texture.
Added Geftos: “The Abuelita chocolate called for in the mole recipe can be found in the Mexican section of most markets. It’s like a solid hot chocolate. Little kids, and I, drink this whenever we want the best hot chocolate there is.”
Mole de Rez
5 pounds short ribs
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup canola oil
1 yellow onion, julienned
3 tomatoes, peeled and diced
3 tomatillos, peeled and diced
8 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
6 cloves (the spice)
1 tablespoon peppercorns
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 gallon water
3 ounces pasilla chiles, toasted
3 ounces ancho chiles, toasted
1/2 loaf bolillo (the Mexican white bread used for tortas. Crusty French or Italian bread would also be fine)
1 1/2 pucks of Abuelita Mexican chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove stems and seed chili peppers. Lightly toast in oven until they are fragrant. Set aside.
Season short ribs with salt and pepper and sear in an oven-safe braising pot on the stove with a little canola oil. Do this on medium heat so you develop a good crust. Remove short ribs from pan and dab off oil. In the same pan add julienne onion and cook until fairly caramelized. Add tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic and cumin and simmer until well reduced and concentrated. Add cloves, peppercorns and sesame seeds and cook for one minute. Return short ribs and toasted chiles to pot and cover with water. Braise in oven covered for 3-4 hours until short ribs are very tender. Pull short ribs back out and cut into 1-2 inch chunks.
Note: You will need to do this step in multiple batches in the blender.
Fill a blender 1/2 way up with the braising sauce and everything that is in it. Tear up the bolillo into smaller pieces and break the chocolate into small chunks. Add a little chocolate and bolillo to the blender with each batch until it is all incorporated. Add sauce back to pot you were using. Add chunks of short ribs back to pot, as well. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt to taste. Lightly simmer another 15 minutes.
Serve with warm corn or flour tortillas, fresh lime wedges, and Mexican rice. Serves 8.
Per serving: 530 calories; 29 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 49 percent calories from fat); 28 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 100 mg cholesterol; 410 mg sodium; 38 g protein; 3 g fiber.
2 gallons chicken stock or water
3 ounces ancho chiles
3 ounces pasilla chiles
8 cloves garlic, chopped rough
3 pounds pork shoulder cut in 2-inch cubes (ask butcher to leave shin on if possible)
3 pigs feet cut in quarters (if you don’t like pigs feet, compensate with more shoulder and shank)
2 pork shanks cut in sixths (butcher will be able to cut feet and shank on saw)
2 yellow onions, diced large
6 bay leaves
1 large can of white hominy, drained and rinsed
Salt to taste
Note: These garnishes do not have to be measured. Use as much or as little as you like.
Onion, diced fine
Tomato, diced fine
Radishes, diced or sliced
Valentina or Tapatio hot sauce
Place pork parts, onion and bay leaves in large sauce pot and add chicken stock or water. Bring to a boil and lower to a light simmer for 3 approximately hours. Lightly season with salt.
Bring oven to 350 degrees. Remove stems and seed chili peppers. Toast in the oven on a cookie sheet until they are fragrant.
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Place toasted chiles and garlic in a bowl and pour in water, mix and cover for 15 minutes. Put in blender and pulverize until smooth, then incorporate into the pot of simmering pork. (Only add 1/2 of the chili purée first and let it simmer for a few minutes and taste it before adding the rest to ensure your Pozole doesn’t get too spicy or bitter from the chiles)
You will want to simmer pork until all parts are nice and tender, approximately three hours. Skim off the layer of fat that floats to the top. Once pork is tender enough to almost shred with a fork, add in hominy and simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Scoop a generous portion of soup into a good size bowl. Make sure you have plenty of broth. Top with the garnishes. Squeeze in fresh lime, shake in some hot sauce and eat with tostadas. Makes 12 servings.
Per serving: 355 calories; 16 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 41 percent calories from fat); 16 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 106 mg cholesterol; 317 mg sodium; 34 g protein; 2 g fiber.
Grilled Lamb Chops with Tzatziki
1 whole Australian or Colorado lamb rack (two 9-bone half racks)
1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, crushed
6 sprigs of oregano
6 sprigs of rosemary
Kosher salt, black pepper to taste
3 lemons, halved
1 pound Fage whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup grated cucumber (using the side of a box grater)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup dill, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
To prep the lamb, Chef Geftos likes to first pull off the thick outer fat cap.
“I like to cut single chops between each bone because when I cook them at home I don’t shoot for medium rare or medium. I shoot for crisp flavorful charred lamb chops,” he said. “This is how they are done on the mountainsides in Greece. I also never ‘French’ the bones when I cook them at home. But feel free to do the same preparation with double cut and Frenched chops cooked to your desired temperature (medium rare), which is how I would always serve them in a restaurant setting.”
Once chops are cut, place them in a disposable pan or mixing bowl and season appropriately with salt and pepper. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the chops. Beat your whole herb sprigs with the back of a chef’s knife and toss them into the pan/bowl. Add in your crushed garlic and olive oil. Mix around well, massaging the meat as you mix. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but please note they are the best if marinated starting the day before you cook them.
Preheat grill almost as high as it goes. Pull lamb chops out of marinade and try to remove herbs and garlic. When grill is really hot, place chops on grill and cook until both sides are nicely charred and crisp. Then, right before you take chops off the grill, pile them up in the center of the grill. Squeeze the two lemons over the lamb chops and let them cook one or two more minutes.
For the tzatziki, in a large mixing bowl, add all the ingredients and stir to incorporate well. Then season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the sauce to the finished lamb.
Per serving: 619 calories; 44 g fat (13 g saturated fat; 63 percent calories from fat); 8 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 134 mg cholesterol; 540 mg sodium; 49 g protein; 1 g fiber.