Chef Kody Harris speaks Greek, cooks Greek and feels the Greek in her soul.
Her recently opened Fresko in Ahwatukee celebrates that with authentic Mediterranean cooking she learned as a child from her chef grandfather.
Opened last November at 5033 E. Elliot Road, the restaurant is named after the Greek word for “fresh.”
“Food and cooking have been a part of my life since I could remember. Working in restaurants is the only thing that I have ever felt in my skin as a passion,” said Harris, a Valley resident for eight years, the last three in South Phoenix.
“I just knew I wanted to be a chef, so while all my high school friends were headed to college, I was working two cook jobs and never looked back,” she added.
She’s worked in 22 states, lived in Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Colorado and has opened 24 high-volume restaurants with annual revenues of $4 million to $21 million. Her prior employer, Thirsty Lion, has three Valley locations.
“Freshness, passion and the highest quality ingredients are what we bring to Fresko every day,” she explained.
This includes favorite and lesser-known Greek dishes as well as other Mediterranean foods prepared by her and the Fresko crew of four: Greek salads, dolmades, keftedes, spanakopita, moussaka, baklava, bougatsa and more.
For those on the Mediterranean Diet – focusing on fish, fresh vegetables, grains and nuts – or those looking for light summer-friendly food, Fresko focuses on meals to keep you cool and healthy.
Her father’s side of the family is from Nestani, in the southern Peloponnesus of Greece, close to the larger city of Tripoli. Phillip II of Macedon, whose son was Alexander the Great, probably camped in the area, and visitors can visit the ruins of an acropolis and a spring named for the father.
They immigrated to Portland, Oregon, in 1945.
“My grandfather came first with his older brother, then sent for my grandmother and the kids,” she said.
Her mother’s side is from northern Greece, but they left for Yugoslavia and Turkey to escape the Nazi occupation in World War II. They later moved to Chicago’s famous restaurant area, the South Side.
“They owned taverns, but my grandfather yearned to go west and finally settled in a small town in Oregon called Sweet Home,” she added. Her mother moved to Portland as an adult, where she met Harris’ father.
Born in Portland, Harris grew up with her father, whose family owned restaurants where grandfather Spyridon was a chef. Her Fresko recipes are from him as well as others on both sides of the family.
She graduated from the Western Culinary Institute, where she received an associate’s degree in culinary arts in 1987 and moved on to a three-decade culinary career. After leaving Thirsty Lion a year ago – she said she got tired of corporate life and constantly traveling – she consulted for corporations and owners.
“Some of this work was food-development projects, some fixing operations of the restaurants as a whole,” said Harris, who continues to provide this expertise through BOH Consulting when she’s not preparing envisioning and creating food for Fresko.
She and wife Janna enjoy the laid-back life at the base of South Mountain.
“We love to be near the mountain but close enough to the city where everything is right there,” said Harris, who particularly enjoys walking her dogs along the trails.
“Janna does just about everything, so she makes my job look easy being the chef,” she said. “She is both an IT specialist and a pastry chef. She runs the front, creates the desserts, does all the computer work and accounting, social media and goes to a bunch of networking groups we belong to.”
Janna also created the house decor.
“We wanted it to be rustic, celebrating authentic Greek home life, but modern at the same time. The reclaimed barn wood, the tile work, family pictures, my grandfather’s Greek fisherman’s cap and my Greek school book all reflect my family’s home in Greece as well as showing a little of my Greek heritage,” Harris explained.
Fresko is fast casual food, incorporating the freshest ingredients, consistent with chef’s mission: “Great food doesn’t have to be unhealthy food.”
From a family recipe, the traditional Dolmades, grape leaves stuffed with rice, dill mint, parsley and seasonings and cooked in olive oil and lemon, are served cold.
Spanakopita, a spinach and feta pie, is layered with phyllo and slathered with butter. “It’s my own recipe,” Harris said. “I kicked it up a notch on the herbs and seasonings from my grandmother’s recipe.
“Souvlaki is all about the marinade,” she said of her version, from her mother’s recipe. “It’s very simple: olive oil, lemon garlic, salt and pepper, plus lots of dried oregano and dried basil and Aleppo pepper flakes.”
The Moussaka is from her grandfather: “It’s all about the eggplant and making the béchamel sauce with egg yolks and Kefalotyri cheese, which is like a Greek parmesan.”
The Bougatsa dessert is a northern-Greece specialty and is typically made at home as a mid-morning snack or sold by street vendors, chef said. “It uses lemon, vanilla, and semolina custard, all layered between phyllo and then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.”
The restaurant is open Monday−Thursday 11 a.m.−8 p.m., Friday−Saturday 11 a.m.−9 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.−5 p.m. Patrons can bring beer, wine and spirits; no corkage fee.
To see the menu: freskokitchen.com. For delivery in Ahwatukee, order by phone.