Severna Park’s Michael Costa Dishes Mediterranean Fare As Concept Chef At Renowned D.C. Restaurant


“Over the years, as Zaytinya’s ‘Greek Grandmother,’ I have had the privilege to work often with the wonderful kitchen team, led by concept chef Michael Costa. He is one of the rare people I know so obsessively dedicated to making everything as it should be, never cutting corners, on the contrary insisting, for example, that fresh chickpeas are used in the spring for the special green hommus although it is such a pain to peel the tiny pods. He makes sure that everything that comes out of the kitchen is absolutely as it should be, as José originally imagined it.”

  • Aglaia Kremezi, Foreword, “Zaytinya”

Long before he was named concept chef at José Andrés’ Washington, D.C.-based Mediterranean restaurant Zaytinya, Michael Costa found himself losing interest in his studies at the University of Virginia. A student of government and foreign affairs, the Virginia native would routinely ask his professors about their cookbooks that were on display rather than academic subject matter. During a government internship, between projects Costa daydreamed about what he would cook when he got home. Having loved cooking since childhood, he soon discovered his true passion was the art of food preparation.

Costa, who today resides in Severna Park with his wife and two school-age daughters, moved to Texas after college to be near his brother while Costa had aspirations to attend grad school. To make ends meet, he found work in restaurants. As he worked in better and better establishments, he said he became enthralled with service and the opportunity to spend his entire day thinking about what he truly loves – eating and drinking.

Costa attended culinary school in Dallas, where he studied under a Greek native who inspired his love for Mediterranean flavors. His career in the restaurant industry led him on an international journey from the Lone Star State to Washington, D.C, Paris, Baltimore, and ultimately back to the nation’s capital.

Fourteen years into his tenure at Zaytinya – many of them spent as head chef – Costa now serves as concept chef for the renowned restaurant, which is one of distinguished James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés’ original concepts opened in 2002. The restaurant offers an innovative mezze menu inspired by Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cuisines. Zaytinya also has locations in New York City and South Beach, Florida, and plans to expand to Las Vegas and Palo Alto, California, in the next year.

During Costa’s time at Zaytinya, the restaurant has earned two three-star reviews from the Washington Post, was named the No. 9 restaurant in D.C. by The Washingtonian, and was awarded a Bib Gourmand in the first Michelin Guide.

Emphasizing that working in restaurants is a team sport, Costa noted that everyone who works at Zaytinya makes important contributions and is talented in their own way. In his role as concept chef, he is responsible for coherence between the restaurants in terms of brand, food and personnel training. He also works on new menu development with Chef Andrés and the store-level teams.

Costa shared that he loves to cook fish more than anything, though “vegetables are up there too.” He expressed a deep appreciation for the seasonal nature of certain ingredients, citing a popular spring vegetable as an example. “At this time of year, asparagus is amazing, so I work with it as much as I can, and I generally don’t use it a whole lot the rest of the year,” he said.

Much of the last year of Costa’s life was devoted to the engrossing, collaborative undertaking of creating a new cookbook by Andrés that was released in March 2024. “Zaytinya: Delicious Mediterranean Dishes from Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon” features over 150 recipes that educate cooks of all abilities on how to create Zaytinya favorites right from home.

“The goal with the cookbook was to represent the food of the restaurant, but to adapt it just enough to where people at home could actually do it,” Costa explained. “Writing a cookbook that had a five-page recipe for hommus would have been a huge mistake, so there was a lot of really thoughtful editing that had to take place to make sure that the information was delivered in a way where it felt achievable.”

The authenticity of Zaytinya’s Mediterranean dishes is bolstered both by extensive travel by Andrés, Costa and others to the region, and an enduring relationship with acclaimed food writer Aglaia Kremezi, who resides on the Greek island of Kea.

“The farther away that food gets from the home and the heart, the weirder and less satisfying it tends to be. We like to keep that connection, and that’s why the relationship with Aglaia is so important – to make sure that even though we do like to be creative, we like to be forward-thinking, we like to balance that with a healthy respect for tradition and authenticity,” Costa said, noting that he talks with Kremezi every Wednesday morning.

“Some people think that innovation and tradition are somehow separate or exclusive, but I totally don’t,” he added. “I think that everything that is now traditional was once new at some point, and if you want to participate in the evolution of any kind of cooking style of food, you have to understand where the food comes from and why.”

Though he finds himself commuting to D.C. almost every day, Costa still makes time to prepare nutritious meals for his family a few times a week. A resident of Severna Park’s Oakleigh Forest, the chef shares his love of food preparation with his community by overseeing the annual neighborhood pig roast – one of his favorite moments of the year. He also gives back through a yearly staff appreciation for the teachers at Folger McKinsey Elementary School.

Costa’s hobbies include playing pickleball “as many days a week” as he can. And, of course, he collects cookbooks – an ongoing test of his wife Laura’s patience. “I’m a huge fan of cookbooks,” Costa emphasized, adding, “I made a commitment to my wife to buy more e-books, but I still do like paper a lot. But, we can’t eventually have our entire home consumed by books.”

To learn more about Costa’s role at Zaytinya, peruse the menu, or explore the cookbook, go to


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