Top Cooks: Chris Jelepsis uses mom as role model

Jelepis makes his own vegetable stock for Carrot Soup.
Jelepis makes his own vegetable stock for Carrot Soup.
Posted: September 20, 2012

THEY SAY that good cooks are born one of two of ways: They either had a great role model growing up or they learned out of self-defense.

Chris Jelepis of South Philly is one of the former.

"My mom was a wonderful traditional cook," Jelepis said. "She came from a Polish background, but when she married my dad she became the best Polish-Greek cook."

Jelepis now cooks for his wife, 8-month-old son, and 3-year-old daughter, a super-picky eater.

Cooking is a family affair in their kitchen. Even the 3-year-old helps out; Jelepis believes her involvement makes her much more likely to try new foods.

Jelepis recently lost 30 pounds, so he brings a healthful approach to the family table. "I've always thought of preparing meals by focusing on the traditional plate: half the plate is a meat, a quarter of the plate is a starch, and a quarter of the plate is a vegetable."

Now meat is an occasional add-on, he said. "We went mostly vegetarian, so a big change was moving portions to lots of vegetables, whole grains such as quinoa, farro and brown rice."

Jelepis found the Internet a big help as he modified the family diet. He often turns to for recipes and nutritional information.

Although his mom never used cookbooks much, she did pass along a book that has become his favorite, On Cooking: A Textbook of Fundamentals. It has recently been revised in a fifth edition by Labensky, Martel and Hause.

Jelepis's biggest tip to other home cooks is to invest in a really good chef's knife.

"I liked learning how to make stock the right way," said Jelepis. "By building up on fundamentals, I think you are really able to understand the cooking methods."

The following recipe is very adaptable. Jelepis suggests substituting sweet potato for the carrot - or take inspiration from what's in your refrigerator. He makes his own vegetable stock so he can control the amount of salt in the dish.


1 large white or yellow onion, cut into medium dice

1 teaspoon butter

1 clove garlic

1 to 1 1/2 pounds carrots, unpeeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

3 stalks celery with leaves, cut into small dice

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Cinnamon, a pinch or to taste

Allspice, a pinch or to taste

Ground ginger, a pinch or to taste

3 cups vegetable stock

1/2 cup 2 percent milk

Salt and pepper, to taste

In large pot, sauté onions in butter on medium heat until they are translucent, about 5 minutes. Do not brown.

Add garlic and sauté another minute.

Add carrots, potatoes, celery, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice and ginger. Sauté for another 3-5 minutes.

Add vegetable stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until carrots are tender, about 20-30 minutes.

Puree using a hand blender or carefully transfer to a stand blender.

Add milk, and salt and pepper, to taste.

Garnish with julienned red pepper or fresh cilantro, if desired. Serves 4.

Lari Robling is the author of the cookbook, Endangered Recipes: Too Good to Be Forgotten. . Follow her on Twitter @larirobling.

Every month, "Top Cooks" spotlights a home-cooking whiz and one of their recipes. To nominate a cook, email, or write: My Top Cook, Philadelphia Daily News, 801 Market St., Suite 300, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Include your name and a daytime phone number.

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