When we first met Maria Loi at DeGustibus Cooking School in NYC, it became obvious why her cooking show, the first of its kind in Greece, was so popular. Her infectious smile and jovial personality are bonuses – with her profound knowledge of how to make the simplest things deeply delicious, we knew her recipes would be Plated perfect!
Before becoming a chef, Loi traveled around the globe as a lobbyist. Her job provided her with a world of inspiration, leading her to explore a variety of cuisines. Keep reading for more about Loi and a culinary secret that she says she shared for the first time – with us!
Q: What made you want to become a chef? Was there an element of your family life that led you to this career choice?
A: Of course! I made my first meatballs when I was 7 years old, and my father loved them. And, after that, I was named the chef of the house. I cooked almost every day in the house, from age 7. Can you imagine?
Cooking is my passion. I think that I was born to become a chef.
Q: What’s behind your culinary inspiration?
A: Before I became a chef, I was a lobbyist. I traveled throughout the world, actually. This gave me the opportunity to learn not just the Greek cuisine – which I believe is the best in the Mediterranean region. I learned how to cook Chinese, Japanese (which I love), Italian – which is really easy for me, because I have some Italian in my blood. My great grandparents come from Sardinia. That’s why my last name is Loi – not Loi-opolous as in Greek; I didn’t cut my last name. It’s authentic!
Q: What is the best dish you’ve ever made?
A: It hasn’t happened yet! I always create new things. I don’t think that I have made my best dish yet.
Q: What’s the first thing you ever learned to cook on your own?
Besides the meatballs, I made something that didn’t turn out very good – Kourabiedes, which are tiny cookies that we would make for Christmas – but my grandmother would make them all the time. I would eat 5 at a time!
Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give to an amateur chef?
A: [She laughs]. Who am I to give advice to other people? I’d say – to do whatever they like. To make their own recipes – to create. Then, they will love cooking. That’s it!
Q: Can you share a cooking secret or two with us?
A: My secret to delicious roasted tomatoes: grapes. I cut them and add them into the cored, halved tomatoes. (You are the only ones – the first ones, to know the secret about my tomatoes!)
Also, I never add the garlic at the beginning – I always add it at the end whenever I make tomato sauce. Usually people add the garlic at the beginning with the onion, but I don’t want to add it then because when the onions are caramelizing, it burns. And burnt garlic is the worst thing you can have on your plate!
I always use olive oil, and it has to be Greek – no other olive oil in the world is like the Greek olive oil. The flavor, the clear color, cold-pressed – this olive oil comes from the best olives!
Did you know? Oregano comes from the Greek words oros and ganos – oros means the mountain in Greek, and ganos is the part of the mountain that receives the most sunshine. Wherever that is, the oregano becomes the best.
Chef Challenge: You have to cook with olive oil. Please don’t use butter! Take care of your and your family’s health.
– Pareesha Narang