Spyri Hitiris, a house painter from Rockville, figures to be much in demand these days. That's because Hitiris, from the island of Corfu, knows everything these is about roasting a spring lamb.
"I get 17 just last week, you know," he said Sunday, rolling his eyes in mock horror. "And this morning, if you believe, I do four."
The occasion was Greek Easter -- for which a whole lamb, turning on an outdoor spit, is an absolute necessity -- but Hitiris might be just as busy with more in coming weeks. Because for weddings and birthdays -- what with two dozens Greek, Russian and Serbian Orthodox churches in the area -- a lamb is just the thing.
"It's no business, it's for favor," he said, watching some of his handiwork revolve in the back yard of the Rev. Dr. George Papaioannou, pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bethesda. "I like to help my friends."
Crackling on the spit, cynosure in the shade, was a 25-pound lamb: milk-fed, two months old. Following the ancient ways, still very much alive in Washington's Greek community, Hitiris had selected the animal at a farm in Thurmont, Maryland, slaughtered and dressed it there -- rough going for a first-timer, but easy as breathing for a veteran -- and saved the intestines and liver of a tangy Mageritsa soup.
The animal itself, head and all, he had expertly skewered on dead center -- the enterprise doesn't allow for many misses -- and secured it to the spit with an intricate network or wires. The belly he had sewn with a string, but not before loading it up with pepper, salt and oregano -- "lots, lots," he said -- any employing a few patented Hitiris techniques. It had taken all of 15 minutes, though the browning lasted hours.
"I have secrets, sure," said Hitiris, who's been a student of the roasting arts since boyhood. "But they are family secrets."
Hitiris wasn't the only participant in Sunday's good-smelling vigil. Taking turns at the hand-powered cypress skewer and arguing over the lamb's proper distance from the coals -- "Just like in the 'old country,' "Father George grinne -- was an expectant mob of family and friends.
Bill Candrell, a lawyer for the Department of Energy, nursed the coals, appropriately, as well as a jigger of ouzo. Young Alex Papaioannou, the pastor's son, shared turning duties with several cousins and sisters. A visitor sitting idly by sipped a glass of Retsina, a wine that flaunts the turpentine used to make it. And Maria Papioannou, Alex's mother, fussed with the basting, ladeling on a clear mixture of vegetable oil and lemon.
"Spyri and I had quite a battle this morning," laughed Mrs. Papioannou, who is called "Pres" -- short for "Presbyteria," the respectful title given a priest's wife. "He didn't want to put any garlic in the lamb, but I said there must be garlic. It's not Greek if there's no garlic. Of course I won."
Barbeques of this sort will hit their stride in May, with lambs, suckling pigs and even goats the quarry. Luckily for the faint of heart, you needn't bother with slaughtering and skinning, so long as you place an early order with a meat-packing house. You can expect, though, to pay premium prices, up to $2 a pound for pork, and $4 a pound for lamb.
For the slack of arm, meanwhile, barbecues with motorized rotisseries can be had, at about $40 a day, from most rental companies around town -- though these, too, must usually be reserved a couple of weeks in advance. You need about four bags of charcoal.
The lamb at the Papaioannous' was six hours roasting before the shoulders started to separate and the tail turned cold -- "that's how you can tell it's really done," said Mrs. Papaioannou. Hitiris leaned the skewer against a picnic table and hacked away with a cleaver. It took but a second for everyone to gather 'round.