There must be something awfully compelling about the restaurant business because here’s yet another chef who learned his craft literally at his mother’s knee.
Jimmy Boukas is a first generation American with extremely strong family ties to his parents’ homeland of Greece. As a matter of fact, when they came to America they settled in this country’s foremost Greek community, the one in Chicago, Illinois. And what to do to make a living in a new country? Why not do what you do best? The answer in this case is COOK. And cook they did, preparing all the traditional old world fare that would cure any case of homesickness that might occur.
While cooking for their own satisfaction (and happily earning a livelihood while doing it), they also managed to pass along the love of Greek tradition to their son Jimmy. He absorbed everything they had to teach him before catching the eye of the head chef at Chicago’s Greek Islands Restaurant (acknowledged to be the best of the genre), who then continued Jimmy’s education.
Finally tiring of the Windy City’s ever so glorious weather, Jimmy determined that sunnier climes might be a little gentler on the body (and more like that sun-baked land of his forefathers) and made the big move in 1984. For a short while he dabbled in the retail business with a couple of boutiques catering to the tourist trade. Not his cup of tea (or should that be glass of ouzo?).
In October 1985 he opened Zorba’s on Government Hill. It rapidly became known as the place to get really healthy and delicious food. Back in those days it was a toss up between fast food, burgers or “haute cuisine.” This was a total change. Jimmy himself has always been interested in exploring the various dietary regimes. He has sampled health food diets, studied macrobiotics, fasted on juice and water and even subsisted for a whole month on nothing but wheat grass. Ultimately he came full circle and rediscovered that his family’s traditional foods were just as healthful but, even more important, eminently palatable (more than can be said for those other things).
Zorba’s success led to expansion – Jimmy opened Bravo Cafe and S’gappo Restaurant on the far edges of Frenchtown. But after a year or so he decided that he was spreading himself too thin and, fearing a decline in quality, closed the 2 new ventures in order to concentrate his efforts. Today Zorba’s is as successful and good as ever. Jimmy has added new features such as a coffee bar, a wine cellar and a bakery to the premises so he still has plenty to keep him busy. But not too busy to close the whole shebang for a month each year while he hops off to Greece on a buying/refresher trip. He wants to be sure his restaurant stays the little Greek oasis it is – in the middle of the Caribbean instead of the Mediterranean.