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My grandfather Alexander Velis (the man I'm named after) and his family left Greece during a time of war and unrest to come to the United States and achieve the American dream. They started working on the railroad, as this was one of the only jobs they were allowed to do.
My grandfather Alexander met my grandmother, Georgia Senes, in Ely, Nevada, where there was a community of Greek immigrants. They married, had my father soon after, and moved to Ogden, Utah, and opened several businesses.
My father's first job after returning from Vietnam was bartending at his uncle Spero's nightclub, The Volume One. That's where he met my mother, who was a cocktail waitress. She wasn't Greek but loved the culture, and after they married, they opened our family's restaurant, The 27th Street Grill, which is where they created their souvlaki recipe. The recipe is a bit unorthodox because my mom wouldn’t make it with beef, but rather elk and deer—whatever hunter-patrons would bring in from their recent kill. My mom gained the reputation of being one of the best grill cooks in town.
The business closed in 1995, but our family’s souvlaki recipe has lived on; we have served it at weddings, holidays, Thanksgivings, catering jobs, fundraisers, birthdays... you name it. I used a variation of it and won the 2008 Utah State Fair Beef Cook-Off!
This souvlaki is the quintessential food that fuels my passion for cooking and family. It is a connection to my heritage, and I give a little bit of my heart with every skewer I serve. It has been there through every stage of my life.
- 2 pounds cubed sirloin beef, pork, or chicken breasts
- 1/4 cup good-quality soy sauce
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Juice from 1 to 2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic, or two fresh cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, or herbs de Provence
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley
What family recipe connects you most to your heritage? Tell us in the comments below.