By: Markos Papadatos, Staff Reporter
Nick Katsoris, author of the children’s book Loukoumi series, took some time from his schedule to talk about his latest book in the series entitled Loukoumi’s Celebrity Cookbook, which features the favorite childhood recipes of over fifty celebrities. According to Nick Katsoris, he remarks, “The idea to do a children’s cookbook came about at the premiere of our last book.
When Loukoumi’s Gift came out we had a big event at Barnes and Noble in Lincoln Center, New York. It was one of the books that was narrated by Jennifer Aniston and her father, actor John Aniston. Cat Cora happened to be in New York, and said that she would love to come. We had just honored Cat Cora at the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund (HTSF) GALA the previous May. I told her that I would love for her to not only come by, but for her to participate. She ended up reading Jennifer Aniston’s parts from the book when we had the live reading at the premiere. Later on at the event, we were all signing books together at a book signing table, and Cat was next to me, and told me that she would love to be a part of the next Loukoumi book. Then I thought that the next book involving Loukoumi would have to be something culinary-related. I started writing the story, and I created a new character named Cat, who is illustrated as a cat, and I tied her in as the aunt of ‘Fistiki the Cat,’ who is an established character in the book. Then, Cat offers to cook the characters something and they start cooking her favorite childhood recipe. Then I thought to myself that it would be fun to get other people to share their favorite childhood recipes that would become favorites to other children. I got Cat’s recipe and started with people that I knew who had supported the books in the past such as Olympia Dukakis, Gloria Gaynor, Constantine Maroulis and Gilles Marini, and then I started reaching out. I think the final count is 58 recipes in the book, since several people have double recipes in it. It’s amazing how people open up their hearts and are willing to contribute. It is something that means a lot to each person that is featured in the book, since it is their favorite recipe, and it brings back memories from when they were kids. It reminds people of holidays and other great memories. My goal is to get kids in the kitchen with their parents, to cook these recipes, and to create new memories.
“On working with Iron Chef Cat Cora, who is also the president and founder of Chefs for Humanity, Katsoris states, “she is just amazing! She is a wonderful person with a big heart, and she is a very talented chef.”
“Chefs for Humanity is an amazing organization, founded by Cat Cora. She does so much internationally as far as healthy eating programs, she did a lot of work in Haiti, and there is so much that she does on a nutrition level and also on a human interest level. It is in line with the wonderful person that she is. I also have a soft spot for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This is all for the kids!” Katsoris acknowledges.
On approaching all of these popular celebrities to participate in his latest cookbook, Katsoris underscores, “My philosophy is: ‘you never know what you can accomplish until you try.’ I just started asking. People were so wonderful and so willing to participate in the project. We have Oprah Winfrey in the book! I’ll never forget the moment when I got an e-mail from her Communications Division that she wanted to participate in the book. We have Beyonce, Reese Witherspoon, Betty White, Nicole Kidman, Matt Lauer, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Paula Deen, Jay Leno, Mark Wahlberg, Melina Kanakaredes, and others. These recipes are their favorite childhood recipes. They selected the recipes, and they furnished the quotes as to why it is their favorite childhood recipes, as well as a headshot of themselves. At the bottom of each recipe, we have pictures of the characters of the book. The fact that they gave me the recipes themselves makes it that much more special!”
“Then I sat my son down, Dean, who is seven years old, and my niece and nephew, and I asked them who they wanted to see in the book, so they rattled off names of stars from the Disney Channel. These are celebrities that the kids can relate to and go crazy for! I just started asking and we got a majority of those celebrities. As a result, my son, niece and nephew were thrilled,” Katsoris adds.
Recalling one of his most memorable visits to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Katsoris shares, “I went down there and donated five hundred books to the hospital and I signed Loukoumi books for all the kids, and I did an event for them, and we had ‘Loukoumi the Lamb’ down there, and it changed my life! I saw these kids that were coming either to or from their cancer treatments, but what got me more than the kids were the parents, since they understood! I will never forget this one father put his hand on my shoulder after the event, and he said ‘Nick, thank you for distracting our children!’ I thought: ‘That’s what my purpose was for that day. It was to distract the kids with these books and to give them a little comfort and fun during their daily cancer treatments; not only for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, but for children everywhere. The purpose of the books is to teach children a lesson. In this book, the lesson is: ‘the secret ingredient is to never give up,’ not only in cooking but also in life; moreover, for children to do everything they can and be the best that they can be!”Yet another memorable moment for Nick Katsoris at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital took place two years ago.”There was one little girl that was nine months old, and I will never forget her. She is one of the sweetest little girls you are ever going to meet. She had a headband on with a huge daisy and she was sitting there in the front and took pictures with Big Loukoumi and I only had one of the Loukoumi stuffed animals with me that day as a prop, and gave it to her. Two years went by, and last week on Thursday about midnight, I was on the computer and I see a picture of her pop up on Facebook, and I couldn’t believe where this came from. Her grandmother was commenting on the picture and was filling me in on how her granddaughter just had surgery on her eyes and in order to save her vision, they did radioactive plaque surgery to save her eyes from the cancer. Then, her grandmother went on to tell me how important the Loukoumi books are to her granddaughter, and how much they meant to her over the last two years. Her mother chimed in and said that ‘not a night goes by where her daughter doesn’t ask to have one of the Loukoumi books read three times.’ Here is a grandmother whose granddaughter underwent surgery for cancer of the eye, and two days later, she is taking time to tell me the progress of her granddaughter and how much these books meant to her. It’s just amazing to me, that these books touched this girl in this way! That is what I am trying to do here: to touch people with my books. It means so much to me that these books meant so much to this little girl and her family,” Katsoris reveals.
Particularly impressive about Katsoris’ latest book, Loukoumi’s Celebrity Cookbook, is that a minimum of $2 from the sale of each book will go towards the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and to Chefs for Humanity.
Mr. Katsoris’ wife, Voula, also makes a cameo in this book, where along with Lori Sandler, the founder of Divvies, a dairy-free company, they both provide allergy-friendly substitutes for the baking ingredients in the recipes of his book. “Our son has a dairy allergy, so we have been challenged to find allergy-ingredient substitutes, since we didn’t want to exclude anybody with this book. You can substitute ingredients without losing taste. If you have a dairy allergy, you can put soy milk or rice milk. My son has his own Sundae recipe in the book! He got all excited to have his own recipe that we’re doing a recipe contest, where children ages four to twelve can submit their favorite recipes, and in ten words or less they can specify why it is their favorite, and we will select a winner, and subsequently, the winner will get a chance to cook that favorite recipe with Cat Cora,” Katsoris says.
“This is such an amazing group of people that have come together for this project. I feel a great sense of responsibility to do everything that I can to make this project as best as it can be. We have Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Jay Leno, Beyonce, Oprah Winfrey… I still can’t believe it sometimes when I look at the book and see everybody that has graciously contributed to this project,” Katsoris acknowledges.”We are having our New York premiere of Loukoumi’s Celebrity Cookbook, on November 27, 2011 at the Barnes and Noble on Lexington Avenue and 86th Street, New York at 2 PM. We will have a reading of the book, as well as a lot of people from the book,” he adds.”As long as the Greek-American community keeps reading these books, I’ll continue to write them. The support from the Greek community has been overwhelming. These books are for all kids, Greeks and non-Greeks alike, but it is the Greek community that inspired me with the first book on Loukoumi going to Greece on summer vacation. Loukoumi will always be first and foremost for the Greek-American community. Their support for these books is very touching and heart-warming!”