Giorgios Hospitality Group owner and chef Giorgios Bakatsias hosts a small dinner gathering at his breezy Bahama abode
By Hannah Lee | Photography by Beth Mann
Guests come up a winding, hidden driveway as they arrive at Giorgios Bakatsias’ home in Bahama on a mid-summer evening. The “treehouse,” as the chef and restaurateur calls it, is his own little treasure that blends into the landscape along the Little River.
As new and old friends excitedly scramble around the house’s lush vegetation, past the koi pond and through the vine-covered arbor, there’s a view – one that carries the beauty of Greece and the memories of Giorgios’ childhood and travels.
“I have different layers of gardens,” Giorgios says, overlooking it all from his porch. “It’s intimate. When you grow up in Europe, flowers [are everywhere], and flowers make you happy. Nature is kind of my escape.”
Giorgios admits school was not his forte when he was growing up in the small northern Grecian village of Karista. He’d rather help his mother cook, or more often run around their fields planting vegetables and climbing trees to watch as others made wine. To Giorgios, this was formal culinary training.
“Having a heroic mother like mine, through her food, you were enlightened,” Giorgios says. “You become healed, in a sense. [I learned] food should be medicine, and medicine should be food.”
This ideology shaped him into the award-winning restaurateur many Durhamites know him as today. Of his Durham restaurants, Parizade was voted one of our readers’ favorites this year for its Mediterranean dishes, and Vin Rouge Executive Chef Matt Kelly was also named a Readers’ Favorite Chef.
Like Giorgios’ restaurants, with their nuanced dining and design, the chef’s backyard gives off its own entrancing aura. Thousands of plant species line the property, from a rose trellis to wispy wisteria to Italian cypresses. It’s a romantic look, almost like a private resort. It took Giorgios, an avid art collector, more than two decades to craft this living masterpiece.
As he walks through the arbor leading to the pool, there’s a soothing silence. “It’s more to experience than to talk about it, but when you walk through it, you feel it,” Giorgios says. He steps off the path toward giant wind chimes hanging from the trees. Bong bong, bong bong bong. The sound echoes. It’s a place for him to escape from the fast-paced restaurant industry and find solitude for a few days.
“When I’m here, I close my eyes,” he says. “I can be anywhere. It gives me a sense of energy.”
That quietness rejuvenates him, allowing him to fully embrace his role – for the evening, at least – of Giorgios the entertainer. Toward the end of the arbor, Giorgios reaches his own outdoor kitchen and patio overlooking the river. A handful of people spread out around the pool, some sit at the bar and a few start up the wood-fired oven for grilled red snapper (click here for the recipe). He smiles. He laughs. He pops a bottle of Dom Pérignon.
“[His parties] are very theatrical, abundant,” says Marika Caraganis, who runs business development for Giorgios Hospitality Group. “Glamorous, but in a very approachable way. There’s always a very eclectic mix of people because George knows so many people.”
He met many of those people during his travels, which are reflected in the design of the space. Many details are salvaged from international adventures – like the overhead lights, made from Czech Republic airplane hangars, or the chicken baskets hovering over the bar nearest to the pool. “I found them on the road [in Vietnam],” Giorgios says. “I didn’t know what they were used for, but I later found a use for it.” Nearby, a fire pit from India waits to be lit on cooler evenings, when the days start getting shorter. “I was [in India] for a seven-day wedding. The party never stopped,” Giorgios laughs. He’s even writing a book that highlights these experiences with food and culture called “Nymphs in the Garden: A Journey of the Soul.”
As others arrive, Giorgios briefly disappears back inside “the treehouse.” “When you come down, it really feels like you’re in Greece,” guest Michelle Connolly says. “The look, the vibe – it’s peaceful, it’s warm, it’s just gorgeous to see what he’s created from nothing here.”
One couple drifts away to the cabana at the opposite corner of the pool for quiet views and conversation. Others flock back to one of two bars, where Giorgios has reappeared with spanakopita, a massive homemade spinach pie with vegetables from his personal garden, which is conveniently set between the bar and the river.
“Phyllo dough is like the master class, right?” Kai Caraganis says. “Because it’s very fine. Once you learn how to cook with phyllo, it’s like, OK, yeah, you’re Greek.”
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” says his wife, Courtney Caraganis. “Because the dishes take a while. Some of them are even prepped the night before. Like for Greek Easter, [Kai’s] cousins start cooking two days before.”
“So some food is just – there’s a lot of love,” Kai says. “I think that’s what you’re tasting.”
Giorgios, again, is nowhere to be seen. He disappeared once more back into his home to prepare more food, for more people. Always more, more, more. It’s as if he’s programmed to host; in some ways, he is.
“I love to see the joy of people around the table,” he says. “Everybody lets go and becomes their true self. I think they become more genuine about life. More in the moment, as they say.”