Steven Petusevsky Remembers Culinary Cultural Epiphanies


I first met Sara and Dun almost 25 years ago. The reason I remember this so well is because our kids were all toddlers and the introductory project involved creating a healthy future for our kids through food.  Sara had children the same age and we commiserated on how we could make our children’s lives better through diet.

Our kids are now adults and little did I realize the next few decades would be filled with incredible moments through both the personal and culinary relationships that were formed through Oldways. Sara and Dun, along with the Oldways team, became somewhat of a second family for me. We traveled to parts of the world I had only read about or seen photos of. There are so many images that are indelibly imprinted in my mind which I will never forget. These were “food first” moments and culinary cultural epiphanies that changed my professional path as well as my personal friendships, many built around fellow food- and ingredient-obsessed adventurers.

The many visual images while traveling were astounding.  Arriving in an ancient Greek village, vivid whitewashed walls with thousands of intense red sun

dried tomatoes hanging everywhere against a cerulean blue ocean still capture my memory. Piles of just picked jade green, long stemmed artichokes protruding from a beat up blue pickup truck in a primitive market or barrels of every pickled vegetable known to man swimming in a wine- and spice-infused liquid that I can still smell and taste. Not to mention the first bite of a scalding hot chick pea pancake fried in pure olive oil or  chunk of char-grilled octopus just beaten on a rock at the Aegean water’s edge before it was thrown on the grill.  The beauty of eating “just whipped” ricotta on a Sicilian mountain top or treading on ruins that have been around for centuries are only some of the images my relationship with Oldways and the Mediterranean culture conjures.

But there is also the deep emotional component of meeting incredibly wonderful people, forming long term friendships and sharing meaningful ideas with others whom I have met through the years. I thought I knew so much about food because I have been a chef my entire life and grew up in my parent’s restaurants. It really wasn’t until I witnessed the heritage roots cooking of so many Mediterranean countries that the notion of global food really came together for me. To stand where pesto was created or pomegranates were first plucked is meaningful in so many ways. All of these worldly jaunts made me not only a better chef, but a better person. I am more well rounded and open to new ideas from ancient roots cooking, but above all I constantly crave more. With that said, it’s time to pack another bag and seek another great dish that I have not experienced… just yet.

This remains one of my all time favorite recipes from an Oldways trip to the Ligurian region of Italy. Throughout the course of time, tens of thousands of people have enjoyed this authentic recipe here at home in the many supermarkets where I have since offered this dish. 

Serves 4

3 potatoes, peeled, diced
2 cups kale, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 each scallions, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 large onion, sliced
1 large tomato, chopped
4 6-ounce chicken breasts, skinless, pounded lightly
1 lemon sliced
2 cups water or low-sodium chicken stock
1 bunch fresh mint, washed well on the branch
½ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepot and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes until just tender.

Add the kale and garlic to the water and allow to sit in hot water for 2 minutes. Drain well and place vegetables in a medium mixing bowl. Add scallions, olive oil and parmesan cheese. Mash lightly with a fork or masher. Allow to cool completely in refrigerator before stuffing chicken.

Scatter onions and tomatoes on the bottom of a 9 X 12 baking pan. Place mint leaves over vegetables.

Divide stuffing among the 4 chicken breasts and gently fold breast round the stuffing. Place the stuffed breasts over the onion and tomato.

Place the lemon slices over the chicken, season with the crushed red chili flakes. Pour the stock over the breasts. Lightly cover with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes until chicken breasts are completely cooked through. Serve with pan juices.

-Steven Petusevsky

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