George Sarris talks to John-Bryan Hopkins about how a new restaurant gets its name.
“Do-di-yós. What does it mean? Quite a lot, actually. Let me explain,” says George Sarris
“My mother made the best chicken with orzo when I was growing up in my small Greek village. Here’s how she did it: First, she cut the chicken into eight pieces, making sure to keep some breast meat on the wings. She went to the garden for fresh onions and garlic; she took extra virgin olive oil from an urn in the kitchen. Then with these ingredients and some salt and black pepper, she braised the chicken until it was brown and the house smelled wonderful. Next, she added five chopped fresh tomatoes to the pot, along with five tablespoons of tomato paste; enough water to cover the chicken; two bay leaves; and fresh thyme, mint and oregano to taste. She slow-cooked everything for an hour. Finally, she would take the chicken out, add more water and cook the orzo.
“Once the orzo was done, she added the chicken back to the pot and told us to wait because the food ‘needed to rest a bit.’ But her chicken-and-orzo preparation wasn’t over just yet. She would put a piece of chicken and some orzo into a bowl. She placed the bowl under her apron to cover it, and she took it to a very old man who didn’t have family. He was the poorest among us poor in our village. I asked her once why she took food to someone else when she had five kids, two grandparents, and herself and my father to feed. Her answer was always, ‘It means more to give something when you don’t have enough for yourself.’ When she came back from the old man’s house, she would spoon the remaining meal onto our plates, adding little shavings of Mizithra cheese, which we made ourselves.
I still make this chicken and orzo dish exactly like my mother did—she is still with us, and she makes sure I do it correctly. My mother is 84. Her name is Theodoroula; in English this Greek name translates to Dorothy. So we start with ‘DO.’
“My father, he was a subsistence farmer. He has never been one to fuss too much about food—as long as it is fresh. He has always preferred simple dishes using just-picked ingredients from the backyard garden. His specialty is an easy dish that can be a side, a salad or a main dish, which is how we enjoyed it in our village.
“Here’s how he made his special dish when I was a young boy: He started with a large potato. He rubbed the potato with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled it with salt that was coarsely ground on our village’s communal grinding stone. He then cooked the potato in the ashes and coals of the fireplace for 40 minutes. Next, he took the potato out of the coals and rinsed it off a bit. Then he would cut it into pieces, drizzle it with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Finally, depending upon the time of the year, he would slice a green, red or white onion into the mixture and toss it a little. I promise you, you have never tasted a potato that good in your life.
“Today, my father comes to the Fish Market twice a week, and he wraps each potato in foil for baking. He is 88. His Greek name is Konstadinos; English-speaking friends call him Dinos. Hence, the ‘DI.’
“My grandfather passed away on January 30th of 1958. It was very cold and snowing in our little village the day we buried him. I was 7 years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I also remember my grandfather making a delicious Greek salad. During wheat harvesting time, he was always the one to do it. After cutting the wheat from the fields, people brought it to a central location for thrashing. They used thrashing boards—long wooden planks studded with small stones from the fields—that were pulled behind donkeys or horses. Always, we children liked to ride the thrashing boards around and around over the wheat. Meanwhile, my grandfather would make his salad under a nearby mulberry tree. First, he would cut up fresh tomatoes (I still remember his hands and his knife). He would take only part of the peel off the cucumbers, leaving dark green strips in place, and slice them. He would then cut an onion into medium slices and add the slices to a large bowl. Then he would sprinkle the salad with course salt and black pepper. Next—and this was my favorite part—he would take a sprig of dry oregano and rub it between his hands over the salad. Finally, he would drizzle extra virgin olive oil (harvested from our own olive trees) over it all, and he would tell us to wait 30 minutes until the tomatoes released all their juices so we children could dip our bread into it.
“I miss my grandfather very much, and I still make Greek salad like he did. My beloved grandfather’s name was Yorgos; it’s how we Greeks say George. That is where “YÓS” comes from.
“It is the custom in our culture to name our children after our parents and grandparents. I have a daughter named Dorothy; I have a son named Dinos; and I have another son named Yorgos. I hope they continue to live up to these names we’ve given them—names that, to me, symbolize perseverance, a hard-work ethic, kindness and love.
“I guess I probably chose the name dodiyós for this restaurant because I want it to be a real family place. But also, I saw this as an opportunity to honor both the people who have made me what I am today and my children who have enriched my life so much.
“Dodiyós might very well sound Greek to most people, but it’s much more than simply a name.”