Get to Know Kouzzina by Cat Cora’s Chef Dee Foundoukis

Kouzzina by Cat Cora Chef Dee Foundoukis (Photo: Disney)Hometown: Bronx, N.Y

Education: Graduated from New York Restaurant School, New York City

Years with Walt Disney World Resort: 18

Years as a chef: 25

Other notable restaurants where you have worked: Before coming to Disney, I worked at the New York Hilton and the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. In my 18 years at Walt Disney World Resort, I have worked everywhere in the theme parks from Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano and The Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Cinderella’s Royal Table, Tony’s Town Square and Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom.  In Disney resorts, I’ve worked at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, Shutters at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, and Chef Mickey’s and Contempo Cafe at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

Your biggest inspiration? My mom taught me everything I know about respecting food, flavors and tradition.

Describe your culinary style: Uncomplicated with big flavors from fresh ingredients.  Live simply, eat big!

What do you enjoy most about being a chef? The incomparable emotion of being in a kitchen entertaining guests.  And also leading a passionate culinary team to orchestrate a great meal.

What are some of your favorite dishes to prepare? Slow-cooked dishes that take time and love, such as braised meats and stews.

Favorite spice? Oregano, both fresh and dried. I love the earthy smell and flavor it infuses.  Mom always had a jar of mountain Greek oregano in the cupboard.  It’s so versatile and marries so well with meat, fish, vegetables and salad dressings.

Favorite kitchen gadget? My mini-mixer, the Bullet, which I use to create wonderful dressings, pestos and sauces with ease.

Favorite junk food? Halvah, a dense sweet confection with ground sesame seeds and sugar.  Plain, pistachio or chocolate fit the bill for that warm feeling in the pit of my tummy that says “happiness.”

You run a restaurant, but what do you cook for your family and friends? I cook a variety of cuisines in one meal: Greek, Italian, Indian and Asian; the common link is the passion for flavors.  It’s always a buffet. My family and friends never ask for a menu, just a seat at the table.

What food holds childhood memories for you? When I was young and my mom and grandmother would be in the kitchen cooking, the smells were not yet defined for me, but I always knew from the aromas that the experience was going to be phenomenal.  As I grew older, these aromas of homemade spinach pies, yiouvetsi (oven-baked meat casserole), giouvarlakia (tiny meatballs cooked in lemony avgolemono sauce), garlic-rubbed leg of lamb with lemon-oregano potatoes . . . Any vegetables growing in the backyard were stuffed: tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, squash, zucchini blossoms.  They were all an anticipated gift waiting to be indulged.  I learned to cook with my mom and grandmother and to share their passion.  I loved tasting as we cooked.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy? Spending time with my family, enjoying the simple pleasures of gardening, long days at the beach and, of course, eating.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be? Being a chef is my destiny.  With such a huge influence from my family’s Mediterranean roots, it would be hard to imagine another profession that would offer me such passion and desire.

Your secret culinary indulgence? Chocolate in any shape, form or combination.

Name three things that are always in the fridge at home. Halvah, Greek yogurt and that jar of marinated olives (a great late-night snack).

(courtesy of the Walt Disney World resort)

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