Chef’s Choice

Chef George Vutetakis and Sara Hill designed their Birmingham kitchen. Here they share their secrets and sources.


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After 18 years as chef and owner of Inn Season Café in Royal Oak, George Vutetakis knows his way around a kitchen. Whether he’s discussing vegetarian cultures and traditions (he studied in India as a teenager), the benefits of green papaya (it’s a great source for papain, a natural digestive enzyme), or countertops (the more, the better), for Vutetakis the bottom line is quality.

So when he and his wife, Sara Hill, began renovating a ’20s-era Birmingham home — one of a number of restoration projects they’ve undertaken — the kitchen became the heart of the house. We spent an afternoon discussing farmers markets, Detroit’s grand-old homes, under-counter refrigeration, and how to successfully combine culinary quality with discerning design.

Chef Vutetakis prepares Indian sweet-potato cakes with green-papaya and coriander-mint chutney. “100 years ago, all food was organic,” he says while discussing his preference for shopping at local farmers markets. “Quality ingredients are the secret to great food.” Vutetakis and wife, Sara Hill, worked as a design team on the kitchen. Information about George and Sara’s projects and the release of The Inn Season Café Cookbook is available at www.thevegetarianguy.com.

STEP 1

Sweet-potato cakes

(Mitha Alu Tikki)
Serves 4 to 6

    tablespoons cilantro stems, minced
½    teaspoons black mustard seeds
½    teaspoon cumin seeds
2     tablespoons cilantro stems, minced
1     cup sweet onions, minced
½    cup red bell peppers, minced
½    teaspoon dried green peppercorn, fresh ground
    tablespoons dried unsweetened macaroon coconut
4½  teaspoons garam massala
    cups yam or sweet potato, peeled and steamed until tender
    tablespoon lemon juice
½    teaspoon of sea salt
¼    cup fresh cilantro leaves, stemmed and coarsely chopped
    tablespoons canola oil for griddle

In a preheated sauté pan, cook oil, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds on medium high until mustard seeds start to pop. Add cilantro stems, onions, red peppers, green peppercorn, coconut, and garam massala one at a time, continually stirring in each time. After the onions are half cooked, add the yams, lemon juice, and sea salt. Mash together with a potato masher, turn down to a low simmer, and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently. Turn off heat and fold in the cilantro leaves. Make tikki patties using a 2 ounce ice-cream scoop. Make a round ball and flatten into a ¾-inch thick cake. Heat a sauté pan on medium high with one tablespoon of canola oil and brown the cakes on both sides, carefully turning with a spatula.

STEP 2

Coriander-mint chutney

(Dhanya podina chutney)
Serves 4 to 6

1     cup fresh spearmint leaves
1     cup fresh coriander leaves
¹⁄³    cup plain soy or low-fat yogurt
½    teaspoon cumin powder
3     tablespoons fresh lime juice
½    teaspoons sea salt
1½  teaspoons finger hot green chilies, minced

Using a blender or food processor, puree all ingredients. Transfer to a serving container. Serve at room temperature.

STEP 3

Green papaya chutney

(Papita chutney)
Serves 4 to 6

1    teaspoon canola oil
1    teaspoons black mustard seed
1    tablespoon finger hot green chilies, minced
¼   cup fresh peeled ginger root, minced
¼   teaspoon turmeric powder
3    tablespoons fresh lime juice
½   tablespoon sea salt
2    cups unripe green papaya, peeled, seeded, and grated

Heat oil in a sauce pan on medium high. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds. Wait until they pop, then immediately add chili, ginger, turmeric, lime juice, and sea salt. After a few seconds, add papaya and stir for a minute to meld flavors. Be careful not to overcook — the papaya should retain a crunchy freshness. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

STEP 4

Assembly: Place two small spoonfuls of coriander-mint chutney on a plate. Place a sweet-potato cake on top of each, then carefully mound papaya chutney on each cake. Serve immediately.

Most of the ingredients, including all spices, are available at Indian groceries. Vutetakis recommends India Grocers (Farmington Hills; 248-737-9909) and Patel Brothers (Farmington Hills; 248-851-7470).

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