Coast natives who ate at the old Gus Stevens restaurant in Biloxi may remember the greek salad dressing Gus and Irene Stevens served there. Well, now 81-year old Irene is testing the food market to see if it's ready for the zesty concoction. Thursday, she held a taste test.
The 81-year old firecracker laughs at the notion of becoming the next overnight cooking sensation. Irene prefers just to dabble in her kitchen and share her delicious salad dressing with those who remember it from the supper club Irene owned with her late husband Gus, and to introduce new fans to Ya Ya Irene's. That's why she hosted this taste test at Andrea's Annex in downtown Gulfport. "First we've gotta see if people like it then we'll find a place to manufacture it then we'll have to have a distributor for it and then we'll just take it one step at a time," she says.
Olive oil and oregano along with some Stevens secret ingredients make up the dressing. Irene hopes her concoction will tempt a lot of taste buds. "Is it good?" she asks some customers. She doesn't have to worry. Richard Dubey says, "It's a little bit tangy and it's not overpowering, it's not too bitter, it tastes very good." And Emmy Reynolds likes it too. "It's got the flavoring of different things together and it just blends with whatever you have."
Irene's friend Andrea Yeager will help start making the dressing to have it ready to put on the shelves in Yeager's food shop this fall. With some egging on from Yeager and Irene's daughter, Elaine, Yeager says Irene can't go wrong. "This is so versatile, it's so good and people need to know it," Yeager says.
The plan is to go regional with the dressing next year. And when it hits the stores, it will be packaged in a bottle bearing one of Irene's favorite sayings. "Shake what YaYa gave ya, shake what YaYa gave ya," Irene says, laughing and shaking.
If Ya Ya Irene's is a success, Irene is already thinking about marketing another of the restaurant's favorites, a crabmeat and shrimp dish with a remoulade type dressing.
By the way, YaYa means grandmother in Greek.