My parents are both immigrants from Greece and settled in Atlanta where I was born. My father was a restaurant owner and I grew up around food and cooking my whole life. As with many Greek-American communities around the world, the Greeks of the city realized that there was interest in our food, music, dancing and culture in general. So several people got together to organize a festival and asked my father to help by cooking a whole lamb on a spit. This is something we did at home to celebrate Easter every year, so it was natural to do this at a festival for others to enjoy.
As a young boy I would help out my father and would baste the lamb with a lemon-oil sauce as it turned over the hot coals. It was a family affair with my mother, aunts, uncles and cousin all helping out. I always would look forward to that every year. Once cooked the lamb would be carved and served on bread as lamb sandwiches.
Tell me more about your role at the festival and what you cook.
As we got older my cousin and I took on greater responsibilities in the preparation of the lamb and overall managing that part of the food experience. The Atlanta Greek Festival continued to grow and we started roasting legs of lamb in larger quantities to feed the thousands of people that now attend the event each year. Today, my father still helps out, but I’ve taken on the role of “chairman” of the lamb sandwich tent along with my cousin.
We serve about 7,000 lamb sandwiches over the course of a weekend. It is a very popular item on a menu that also includes gyros, Greek salads, moussaka, pastichio and other authentic dishes. They are all cooked by volunteer members of our community. Our festival is held at the Hellenic Community Center next to the Greek cathedral in Atlanta. That center has a professional grade kitchen and we roast up to 1,800 pounds of lamb each year.
Does volunteering at the Greek Festival help you in your job in any way?
Yes, it gives me a much greater appreciation and understanding of the role we play in the success of our customers. The Atlanta Greek Festival proudly serves Coca-Cola products. Cooking and selling food to people and interacting with them at an event like this has given me hands on experience of what it means to have a good beverage program. There’s nothing better with a good lamb sandwich than an ice-cold
What is your favorite part or most memorable experience from the Greek Festival?
It is really about the visitors to our community and making sure they have a good time. I get asked all the time what goes into a lamb sandwich, what cut of meat is it, how do I prepare it. I never get tired of sharing that with people.
Do you cook often outside of the Greek Festival? If so, is this a hobby of yours and why?
Absolutely. Growing up, food was always a big part of family gatherings at our home. Both of my parents love to cook and still do, so I was in the kitchen from an early age. One of my wife and I's favorite pastimes is to find a new recipe and shop for good ingredients. Then we put on some music and spend time creating a meal together. It is the best way to relax and you get to enjoy the fruit of your labor when it’s done.
So does that mean you can share a recipe?
Start with a good sized roast – I like a bone-in leg of lamb. Rub it with salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic. That is all you need for a good Greek-style roast. Roast it in an oven at 400 degrees for about an hour. Then turn the lamb over and pour some water in the pan. Continue to cook until an instant read thermometer hits about 145 degrees for medium. By that time the natural juices of the cooking meat will combine with the water, turning it into a delicious “au jus” that can then be strained and used to pour over the sliced lamb. As we say in Greek - “Kali Orexi”.
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