A LOCAL LIFE: Alexandra Glekas, 99

A Local Life: Alexandra Glekas: She Brought Spartan Flair, Delights to Cathedral

Alexandra Glekas commanded St. Sophia's kitchen
Alexandra Glekas commanded St. Sophia's kitchen "like General Patton," son Louis Glekas said. (Courtesy Of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 26, 2009

Alexandra Glekas was a Spartan warrior in mind and heart, especially when it came to her kitchen.

At St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Massachusetts Avenue, where she'd been a parishioner for 81 years, Mrs. Glekas helped orchestrate three fundraising festivals a year for fall, winter and spring. During the three-day celebrations, she would work industriously in the cathedral's kitchen to churn out more than 600 half- and quarter-cut chickens baked to her specifications.

" 'I'm tough,' she'd say loudly in Greek," said Father John Tavlarides, dean of St. Sophia, describing Mrs. Glekas's somewhat-militaristic approach to cooking. "She was proud of her Spartan heritage."

Mrs. Glekas was born on Oct. 18, 1910, in Kastania, Greece, a mountainside town in the ancient region of Sparta. Spartan soldiers were revered for their superior toughness and tireless work ethic.

Mrs. Glekas had the same attributes.

"She ran that kitchen like General Patton," said her son, Dr. Louis Glekas, 75, of Falls Church. "She was a demon at being able to lift those large pans full of her chickens well into her 70s."

As devoted to her faith as she was to her palate, Mrs. Glekas emphasized both the subtlety and simplicity of her cooking.

"It was not what she used," said Tavlarides, who has been at St. Sophia for 53 years. "It was the way that her marinade would adhere to the chicken. It was a typical Greek recipe, but it was the certain way she cooked it -- that after you ate it, you always wanted more."

She used a secret combination -- not even her own son could say for sure -- of traditional Greek ingredients such as lemon juice, oregano and olive oil to season her famously delicious "Chicken a la Glekas."

At $16 for a half and $12 for a quarter, her addictive specialty helped raise thousands of dollars for the cathedral. Since she joined St. Sophia in 1928, she helped fund countless projects, including restorations of the cathedral's classic Byzantine mosaics, and raised contributions for the needy.

Tavlarides described her as the "chief chef" of the festivals. Besides her chicken dish, she also prepared roast lamb, a layered pastry called tiropita with a cheese and egg base, and spanakopita, another pastry filled with feta, onions and spinach.

While in her 70s and 80s, Mrs. Glekas lived in the Garfield House apartments on Wisconsin Avenue, just three blocks away from her church. She walked to the cathedral every day to pray from her usual seat on the left side, about five or six rows from the front pew.

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