Most nights, you can catch Executive Chef George Zappas dishing out mouth-watering culinary creations at downtown Cincinnati’s four-star restaurant Orchids at Palm Court. But what diners don’t get to see is the time and passion Zappas spends making meals with his wife and daughters. We talked to the celebrated chef about the importance of cooking at home with his family and how together they’re able to bring heart and soul to a recipe. Plus, he shares his tried-and-true homemade Bolognese sauce recipe featuring Laura’s 92% Lean Ground Beef.
What is it like cooking with your daughters, 4-year-old Ruby and 8-year-old Carmen? Do you have a future chef or two on your hands?
They are a trip! My oldest has always been into it; my youngest is really into it now. [Ruby] has her play kitchen and she makes her creations. It’s spectacular to see.
Is there a favorite meal Ruby and Carmen love to cook with you?
Someone asked, What’s your favorite dish to cook? [The answer]: whatever my daughters will eat. My oldest is 8; up until she was 4, she literally ate everything we put in front of her. Then all of the sudden she switched. Now it’s like pulling teeth. They love being a part of pancakes, pizza, and rolling out the pasta. We’ll make some breakfast for dinner and they go ballistic over it. We’ll make pizza from scratch and they have a ball.
Do you have your daughters try new foods often?
I will try through trial and error, but I just know they are going to be squeamish about things. Once I mentioned a lamb dish, and my daughter asked, You eat lamb? My wife said, Don’t tell them about the rabbit dish, honey.
In the Zappas household, what does cooking and eating together mean to you and your family?
I always try to have the kids cooking with me if I can. Growing up, we always ate together as family. My mom was insistent on having dinnertime with the family. My time at home during dinnertime is not always as abundant as we want, so we make it really important to us. I really want my kids to understand how to make a meal. The more you look at grocery stores you have prepared food and quick meals. I think there’s something lost in it that I want to make sure they understand.
How do you take the passion you have for cooking professionally and translate it to your own kitchen when cooking with your daughters?
I really try to make it an experience for them. My youngest doesn’t reach the counter very well, so I sit her on the counter. I want her to be engaged, and we’ll weigh the ingredients and talk about numbers. I let them have fun. I am a bit of a control and neat freak, and they are going to make a mess so I have to be able to embrace that.
Tell me about the homemade pasta and Bolognese sauce you often make at home.
I’ve been making pasta for a long time. It’s something we’ve developed and we make in our restaurant—it’s a tried-and-true recipe. The Bolognese I started working on five or six years ago and it’s something that evolved over time. There’s classic Bolognese where you have to use beef and pork—forget all that. I use ground beef and sometimes Italian sausage that I make. So it’s done with care and love. That sounds a little cheesy, but it’s just a recipe that has evolved. I guarantee someone is going to look at the recipe and say, That’s not the true Bolognese sauce, and my response to them is, Who cares? It’s about cooking the dish and making it good.
Cook George Zappas’s Bolognese sauce at home using Laura’s 92% Lean Ground Beef:
- 1 pound Laura’s 92% Lean Ground Beef
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 medium Spanish onion
- 2 celery ribs
- 2 medium carrots
- 3 garlic cloves
- ¼ teaspoon red chili flake
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 cups beef broth
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (San Marzano–style)
- 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons chopped basil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel and rough chop the onion, carrots, and celery and pulse in a food processer until it is a coarse texture, about the size of a grain of rice.
- Peel and slice the garlic very thin from top to bottom.
- In a heavy bottom pot/pan heat the olive oil until it simmers on medium high heat. Add processed onions, carrots, and celery and cook over medium heat until ingredients caramelize. Move mixture to the outer edge of the pan and brown the meat in the center of the pan. Then mix the meat with the onions, carrots, and celery. Add garlic, bay leaf, and chili flake. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant.
- Add the red wine and cook until it reduces by half.
- Add the beef broth and cook until it reduces by half.
- Add the tomatoes and simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally for about one hour. Keep checking to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan and check the seasoning for salt and pepper.
- Finally, add the chopped parsley and basil and check seasoning one more time. Add to any pasta of choice and top with cheese if desired.