There’s going to be a food fight at this year’s Taste of WGBH Food & Wine Festival! No, not a sling-your-spaghetti-across-the-room kind of food fight. This “Head 2 Head Challenge” has 20 chefs competing in 10 categories – one of which is "Best Spanakopita". And who better to tackle this definitive Greek dish than the chef Boston Magazine said “kickstarted Boston’s modern Greek dining revival”? Chef Brendan Pelley was acclaimed for his 2016 Wink & Nod pop-up, Pelekasis, a personal tribute to the Greek food he grew up cooking with his family. The name: his grandfather’s original surname before shortening it to Pelley. “My grandfather on my dad’s side is Greek and he passed all of his family recipes to my mom when she married into the family, and she passed them on to me. I’ve been cooking Greek food since I was a kid.” That sounds like a ringing endorsement for some seriously authentic spanakopita.
In addition to his Greek family ties, Pelley has some experience with food competitions, having appeared on Hell’s Kitchen and Beat Bobby Flay, although the WGBH Food Fight might prove to be a much friendlier competition. The question is, will his Greek background and competitive experience stand up to the competition? In this case, it’s Chef Michele Ragussis, who also has Greek heritage and a background in food competitions. She appeared on several Food Network shows including Chopped, Next Food Network Star, and 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. When asked how he’s preparing for the competition, Pelley said, “I’m sticking to my guns with my family recipe. I’m not going to play around with it too much, I might dress it up a little bit but I’m not going to mess with something I think is already perfect. Most of my preparation is just to send [Michele] messages on Instagram to get in her head.” There’s nothing like a little friendly pre-competition smack talk! Follow Pelley and Ragussis on Instagram to see if the banter intensifies before the big day.
While Pelley certainly wants to win this battle, he also wants people to know about the remarkable new endeavor he’s involved in: Mill No. 5 in Lowell. Pelley recently became the culinary director for the café, market, and independent movie theater at Mill No. 5, a perfectly repurposed textile factory that also houses many locally owned businesses and artisan boutiques. The gorgeous exposed-wood café, Coffee and Cotton, is the cornerstone of Pelley’s operation. The café serves breakfast and lunch, but is open late with the lunch options continuing into the evening, along with beer and wine and live music on Friday and Saturday nights. “We’re open all the time,” Pelley says, “and have great food all the time. For us it’s a matter of getting people to come out of Boston. Once they see the space they’re usually enamored and they tell their friends.”
And there’s a lot to tell them about. All the pastries are made in house, and Pelley is constantly working on fun new things, like an in-house bread program and unique concessions for the Luna Theater. He also takes great pride in using predominantly local produce. “One of the best things about having a farmers’ market here every week is that we get the freshest produce coming right into our kitchen,” Pelley said. “We also work with Mill City Grows, a non-profit farm right here in Lowell, and we work with them on their actual growing plan. They’re given a piece of land that’s owned by the mill, so it’s right across the street.” Pelley is excited to be part of the community, and bring even more great food to the mill. Look for pop-up dinners and themed dinner-theater nights in the near future.
If you need any more incentive to head out to Lowell, there’s currently a pop-up arcade at The Flea Hosted by A Little Bazaar, with games set to free play and a different brewery featured every Saturday. Mill No. 5 is also still expanding, with a 160-seat event space and a new yoga studio under construction. The larger event space will increase Pelley’s catering program, which currently serves the beautiful café and theater for private events.
There are lots of reasons to visit Mill No. 5 and scope out Chef Pelley’s fare before the big food fight. But will Pelley win Best Spanakopita? There’s only one way to find out! Get your tickets to the Food Fight now.