CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified chef Lloyd George's mentor. Her name is spelled Doris Schomberg.
Lloyd George, a native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has been a chef at Acropolis Mediterranean Grill since 1996 and has seen some remarkable changes over the past few years.
The original menu was heavily influenced by Teddy Kyriakidis, who opened the restaurant as Little Athens in 1982 in East Ridge. Thirteen years later, the restaurant moved to Hamilton Place and was renamed. As Kyriakidis aged and became less involved in day-to-day operations, the menu evolved, with an American twist added to many of its Mediterranean dishes.
Not only has George seen the restaurant change, he's seen a change in the Chattanooga dining scene.
"It's funny. When we first opened, Chattanooga was a different city," he says. "But I've seen Chattanooga follow the national trend in its diversity of cuisines offered. As we welcome more international companies and we, in general, become more connected to the world through traveling and technology, this trend makes sense. Greek salads are a mainstay now on even fast-casual menus. Spanakopita, you'll find a lot of it on catered buffets. And as game has gained popularity on menus, people are seeking lamb dishes. I think it's great that our American palate has, like our country, absorbed the richness of all the heritages that our citizens offer."
Q: When did your interest in cooking begin?
A: When I was 12 years old. One of my best friends' dad owned a restaurant, where we both started working.
Q: Do you come from a family of cooks?
A: No, but I married into one. I married into the Kyriakidis family.
Q: Whom do you consider your mentor?
A: I went to Alamance Community College in Haw River, North Carolina, and had Doris Schomberg as a teacher. She was my favorite instructor in culinary school.
Q: What's the most-popular item on the menu at Acropolis?
A: Overall, I'd say it's the strawberry cake. My mother-in-law put that on the menu almost 40 years ago while they were in East Ridge. But the most-popular entree would be our Greek lemon chicken, which is one of our Greek-inspired dishes with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and feta cheese.
Q: Is there a dish no longer being served at Acropolis that you'd like to bring back?
A: Chicken Adriatic was one of my favorites — bow-tie pasta tossed in a lemon sauce with artichokes, snap peas and sun-dried tomatoes finished with crumbled feta and diced Kalamata olives.
Q: What's your personal favorite on the menu?
A: Our pot roast. I like its simplicity and rustic, rich flavors.
Q: What do you do to stay current on trends? Describe one or two of the most interesting you're seeing used by chefs today.
A: I think with food — and even cocktails — the trend is to go back to the classics with slight twists. What once was considered a dying trend, such as butchering and charcuterie, are being sought again as we return to an Old World way of cooking.
Q: When are you happiest at work?
A: When you're having a really hectic, busy day that's exhausting, and a guest will send a compliment back to the kitchen letting us know that all that work is appreciated ... That is what makes a difficult job worth working.
Q: Do you think being an independently owned restaurant in a sea of chain eateries like you see at Hamilton Place gives you an advantage?
A: Yes, without a doubt. We're a family-owned restaurant with deep ties to our community. People know us, and we know them. We've seen and been with so many of our guests that experienced life changes from getting married, births of children and, sadly, deaths. All this has occurred in our family as well, and we've shared this with many of them. In 24 years, we've shared a lot.
Q: What's the one ingredient you couldn't do without?
A: After salt and black pepper, it would be garlic. It adds so much to dishes, and its health benefits are still being discovered.
Q: Is there a chef you admire the most?
A: That's a hard question. Over the years, there've been so many chefs — from my late father-in-law to my early mentors who helped me fine-tune my cooking. It's a never-ending evolution. If I had to pick a famous chef, two come to my mind. I really admire Thomas Keller, whose traditional style has truly elevated American cuisine, and another I like is Mario Batali because his cooking tells the story of the rich Italian culture. The way we eat really tells so much about who we are. That is why it's good to see so many chefs return to old ways where we know what we eat comes from and how it's grown.
Q: What's something people don't know about you?
A: I take taiji to keep my center and sanity in a tough industry.
Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?
A: Ice cream. It always seems satisfying after a long shift.
Q: Complete this sentence: If I hadn't become a chef, I would ...
A: ... be a park ranger. Growing up in North Carolina with the mountains and coastal areas gave me a great appreciation for the outdoors and would be in contrast to being in the kitchen all day.
Q: What's one of your favorite family dishes?
A: My pot roast. It's a classic, rustic dish. On a busy week, it makes for a good comfort food that's simple and great for family dinner.
Classic Pot Roast
1 (3- to 5-pound) chuck roll (needs good marbling)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 whole yellow onions, roughly sliced
6 to 8 whole carrots, sliced into batons
1 whole celery stalk, bottom removed, cut into batons
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef broth
2 or 3 sprigs fresh rosemary (tied in bouquet)
2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme (tied in bouquet)
1 small can crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
1/4 cup chopped garlic
Cut chuck roll into 1-pound chunks, and season liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. In a Dutch oven on stovetop, coat bottom with olive oil at medium to high heat. Add onions, carrots and celery, and brown vegetables. Move vegetables to one side or remove if not enough room. Brown beef on all sides. Deglaze with red wine, and add broth, fresh herb bouquet (submerge), crushed tomatoes and paste, and garlic. Place lid on Dutch oven, and bake in 275-degree oven for 3-4 hours or until beef is fork-tender. Serve over roasted red potato or mashed potatoes, if desired.
Note: If you cannot find a chuck roll, choose a chuck roast with good marbling.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.