The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) is pleased to bring to you this special interview with one of our Macedonian Diaspora 40 under 40 recipients and author of the cookbook MACEDONIA Recipes from the Balkans – Kat Nitsou.
Kat Nitsou was born in Toronto, Canada to Macedonian parents from Rula and Breznitsa, in Aegean Macedonia, current day northern Greece.
As she grew older, she was very lucky to have had the opportunity to work at a multitude of vocations and travel abroad. These experiences nurtured her creativity and opened her mind to different cultures and the world around her. Nitsou studied business in University, both in Toronto and in Los Angeles, where she currently lives with my husband Oliver and daughter Kalina.
When she graduated from University in 2008, it was a challenging time for many people with the economic downturn. She was fresh out of school and to pursue a career in business in Los Angeles was very difficult when many were losing their jobs. Nitsou then decided to embark on a new path for one of her great passions, which is food. She enrolled into culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu and followed with an internship at the Los Angeles Times in their test kitchen. She had the opportunity to learn about recipe writing, food styling, food photography, and really fell in love the process overall.
When she graduated, Nitsou started her own private chef and catering company. It was at that time that she also started writing a Macedonian cookbook. Nitsou wanted to start with the food she know best and the food she loved most. MACEDONIA Recipes from the Balkans features the most traditional and celebrated recipes of the country. The philosophy of the book combines traditional ingredients and cooking techniques while modernizing these classic recipes. She felt it was time for our culture to have an elegant and sophisticated representation of our cuisine so she set out to create it. Six years ago, she began writing this book, and her husband, Oliver, did the photography. He is a cinematographer who runs Schema Media, a full-service production company in Los Angeles, and with both of their skills, they were able to collaborate and create something they’re really proud of. This book was a passion project for both of them and certainly a labor of love. Currently, the book is only available for purchase online at www.macedoniacookbook.com.
Nitsou stopped cooking professionally for clients’ full time, and for the last four years has been working as a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty. She has gone back to “business” and loves working in real estate, particularly in Los Angeles because it’s such a diverse and vibrant city with infinite growth and such incredible architecture. She feels extraordinarily lucky that she can be immersed in industries that she loves and believes that a rich life comes from a variety of passions, whatever they may be.
Kat Nitsou’s Love of Macedonian Heritage
Growing up, there was a lot of pride in my Macedonian heritage. My parents and extended family were immersed in the Macedonian community in Toronto. My core values and work ethic – although not unique to Macedonians – are attributes that are revered and celebrated among Macedonians. Education was at the center of my upbringing and this gave me the confidence to refine my skills and start creative projects and businesses.
Macedonians feel a fierce pride towards their family and their food. Among Macedonians, there is commonly a deep devotion to strive for better lives and to work hard, but to also enjoy life and share that joy with the close people around them. As a new mother myself, I hope that my daughter has a similar connection to our family history, our traditions, and the sharing of good food which I truly believe is at the core of our culture. I think all nationalities are proud of their heritage, but personally I’m proud to be Macedonian because although I wasn’t born in Macedonia, I grew up in a community that really celebrated its heritage and embraced passing it on to future generations. I also had parents who encouraged both myself and my sister to be proud of our Macedonian roots and taught us to be educated, elegant and graceful women. My advice to young Macedonians is to first and foremost surround yourself with positive people and influences. I’m a firm believer that you can achieve anything if you have a solid foundation to step up from, and to be inspired by and proud of the close people around you.
Enjoy the interview with Kat
UMD: Tell us more about what inspires Kat Nitsou?
Kat: Family, food and travel is what really inspires me. There is nothing more rewarding to me than these three things. I love both my careers as a Realtor and as a Cookbook Author but my purpose for working hard at my businesses is to have the time and means to enjoy my family life. My husband, Oliver and I, along with our daughter Kalina, live in Los Angeles. My family is from Toronto and Oliver’s is from Melbourne so we try to see our families as much as possible. Abroad or at home in LA, food is always the center of our social life with great meals shared among family and friends.
UMD: How was it growing up as a Macedonian in Canada?
Kat: Growing up in Toronto was amazing. I’m so grateful to have been raised in such a wonderful, safe city that prides itself on diversity. There is a large Macedonian community in Toronto and my family is very immersed in the community. Although I wasn’t born or raised in Macedonia, having this community around me definitely nurtured my connection to my Macedonian heritage.
UMD: What role did your parents have in your upbringing?
Kat: My parents were very involved in our upbringing. Although both my parents worked full time, my sister Christina and I had really full and incredible childhoods. Education was very important in my family and I am grateful that my parents encouraged both my sister and I to be strong, educated and independent women.
UMD: What values/traditions do you want to instill in your own daughter, who is just over a year old?
Kat: Right now I’m just trying to give her nothing but love, fun and adventure. I try to expose her to everything. My hope for her is that she grows up to be a woman with the confidence to pursue her dreams and have compassion for the world around her. I want her to know that anything is possible if you are willing to work hard enough for it but to be a graceful and honest person along the way. I am also want to make her proud of her Macedonian heritage and culture. I want her to understand our rich history and the beauty of our traditions.
UMD: Have you been to Macedonia?
Kat: I’ve only been to my parents’ villages of Rula and Breznitsa in Aegean Macedonia to date, but my husband and I are planning to go to Macedonia on a family trip very soon.
UMD: What drew you to take up this Herculean task six years ago to publish this extraordinary high-quality Macedonia Cookbook?
Kat: To be honest, I wasn’t aware of how much intense effort was going to be required to create this book. However, I was always really driven to use my skills as a chef to showcase the Macedonian cuisine in an elegant and sophisticated way. I wanted the Macedonian people to have a cookbook that is on par with the high quality cookbooks that feature the cuisines of other countries. I also wanted to create a cookbook that non Macedonians can really connect to and enjoy cooking from while exploring Macedonian cuisine.
UMD: Who is your target audience with the cookbook? How has the response been?
Kat: I want this book to be for everyone to enjoy. It is designed for people who love to cook and who love to try new recipes. Whether they are dishes you grew up eating or dishes you’ve never tried before, the book is really easy to follow and the ingredients and recipes are not overly complicated. The response so far has been overwhelming. I try to reach out to everyone who has purchased a book personally and the feedback has been extremely positive. I have even gotten several emails about which recipes have been tried to date. It seems that people are really enjoying the book
UMD: What are your next steps to promote your cookbook? How can UMD and Macedonians around the world help you?
Kat: UMD has been absolutely amazing so far in helping me spread the word about the book. The support and excitement from the Macedonian community has been overwhelming and most heartwarming. The biggest compliment anyone could pay me is to share their excitement of this book with their friends, family and community
UMD: Do you encounter challenges cooking Macedonian food?
Kat: Macedonian food is mostly straight forward from a cooking technique perspective. Some of the baked goods and desserts are definitely more complex and can take years of experience to perfect, but my philosophy about Macedonian food is use really fresh, high-quality ingredients and let those ingredients be the star of the dish.
UMD: What advice would you give to those trying to cook Macedonian for the first time?
Kat: If you’re not familiar with any of the dishes and are trying a recipe for the first time, just have fun with it! I wrote all the recipes with really clear step-by-step instructions and many of the recipes have been tested five or six times to ensure the instructions are accurate.
UMD: Do you see yourself pursuing a Macedonian-themed restaurant?
Kat: No, unfortunately I don’t plan to open a restaurant at this point in my life. However, I would be happy to consult with anyone who might want to pursue such a venture. I think Macedonia is gaining incredible recognition in the US, Canada and Australia as a celebrated “foodie” destination, and of course, I would love nothing more then to see a dedicated Macedonian restaurant.
UMD: You are a successful realtor in Los Angeles, juggling a high-demand job, yet you still find time for your husband, daughter, family and friends. It definitely is not easy.
Kat: It’s all a balancing act and when you love what you do and enjoy the world around you, all of the demands are not as daunting. I am the type of person that thrives on a bit of chaos but I will always make time to nurture my family and my relationships.
UMD: What is your motto?
Kat: Work hard and play hard.
UMD: What advice would you give to young women in the Macedonian community?
Kat: Young women today represent a powerful force in our community as they have the skills and ability to do great things. I often think of how lucky I have been to be born in a generation where women have the opportunity to be educated and have identities and careers of their own. We live in a time where this is possible and very different to the time of many of our grandmothers. Don’t waste this opportunity. Strive to be strong, intelligent, elegant and graceful women in everything you do.
UMD: What does it mean to you to have been selected for the 2016 UMD Macedonian Diaspora 40 under 40 List?
Kat: It is a great honor to be selected. I have been aware of the award for a few years now and have always been inspired by the hard working Macedonian young people you have chosen and how talented each of them are in their respective fields. I am very proud to have been chosen to be among such a select group of under 40’s.
Kat will be back in Toronto on Sunday, April 30, 2017 for the official Toronto launch of the Cookbook organized by the Macedonian Film Festival at Montecito. Click HERE for more details.
To purchase the Cookbook, click HERE.