Chef Maria Loi brings her passion for Greek cuisine into your home in the GBH cooking show The Life of Loi: Mediterranean Secrets.
Critically acclaimed chef Maria Loi, owner of Manhattan restaurant Loi Estiatorio, found her passion for Mediterranean cooking as a young child, learning alongside her family in her village in Greece.
Today, Maria is deeply passionate about sharing long-kept secrets of Greek cooking with the world on The Life of Loi, traveling across Greece to bring you delicious and simple recipes you can make at home.
Maria joined me to discuss her love for cooking, what makes Mediterranean food unique, and how her mindset helped launch her successful career. Maria’s charming personality and joy of food are evident in both the interview and her new TV show.
Becoming a Chef
Maya Capasso: How did you discover your love for cooking?
Maria Loi: It wasn’t me. My father discovered that I had a love for cooking. Let me tell you a story. I was six years old in my village. My mom was in the hospital, and the whole family was there, but I had to stay home with my cousin. So I made keftedes (meatballs).
When my father came back and smelled the beautiful smell of cooking meatballs, he said, “who made those meatballs? Your cousin?” and I said, “taste them!” I wanted to see what he thought.
He tried them, and then he said, “oh! They’re very nice!”
I said, “They’re good?” and he said, “Oh! The best keftedes ever!” so I said, “I made them!” and he said, “Well, you are the chef of the house now.”
That’s when I started cooking for everyone. My dad was the one who found the chef in me.
MC: What inspired you to share your love and knowledge of Mediterranean cuisine with the world?
ML: I’m Mediterranean. But it was twofold; I wanted to change myself. I was a lobbyist before. I wasn’t the same person before. At some point, I felt the need to reconnect with my roots.
So I did, by reading, writing, cooking, and chatting with my friends. Then, it grew organically because of people who were interested in my culture.
Exploring Mediterranean Cuisine
MC: What makes Mediterranean food one of the healthiest cuisines in the world?
ML: Everyone says that! First, I want to say that Mediterranean food is not a diet. It’s a cuisine. It’s life and culture.
So what makes Mediterranean food one of the healthiest? Fine, fresh produce like green beans, whole grains, seafood, and clean ingredients. And it’s simply prepared so you can taste the freshness.
But, above all, it’s olive oil. Olive oil is a cornerstone of Mediterranean cuisine and the ultimate pillar of health. For me, Mediterranean cuisine is all about balance and moderation.
The ancient Greeks said metron ariston, which means “everything in moderation.” Today, I say, “nothing in excess, except love, olive oil, and good deeds.”
MC: Could you tell me more about your critically acclaimed NYC restaurant, Loi Estiatorio?
ML: When guests walk into Loi Estiatorio, we want them to feel like it’s an extension of their home, their kitchen, and their dining room. I want them to enjoy a delicious, healthy meal and feel true Greek hospitality, which is known all over the world.
Also, our customers love that we only use organic produce. Grass-fed organic proteins. Sustainable and ethically sourced, like farmed fish. We are very selective in what we buy for our restaurant and for our people. For our friends.
The other thing is that we don’t fry anything. We don’t use any butter – only the extra virgin olive oil you love. On everything! Even for the desserts, we use extra virgin olive oil. You have to come and taste it! You will taste the difference.
The Life of Loi
MC: What is the premise of your new TV show on GBH, The Life of Loi: Mediterranean Secrets?
ML: I wanted to have the show on GBH. They’re great people who’ve created shows that I love and admire. Like Julia Child! I love her shows. Love!
In The Life of Loi, I want to showcase how to travel, cook, eat, and enjoy life. I want others to create tasty, healthy, and easy recipes and to spread my message throughout the world. The show gives me that opportunity. The access and the platform. But not just that! It’s GBH!
MC: What inspired you to create this show?
ML: I wanted to share my passion for Greece, the Mediterranean lifestyle, and its history with the world. I like to say that history always leads us back to Greece!
MC: The show bounces around between New York City and all across Greece. What was it like to film the show?
ML: That’s my life! That’s how I live: between New York City and Greece. And other places in the world, but those two are my home bases.
It was like a dream to film the show. I had so much fun with old friends, making new ones, and cooking all over my home country. If you go to those places, I don’t know if you’ll return home.
I love learning new tips and tricks from my chef friends in New York. I never stop learning. That’s something I want the viewers to do too.
MC: What was your favorite part of working on the show?
ML: The show is not “work.” I genuinely enjoy what I’m doing. In fact, I don’t ever work. I don’t need a day of vacation or a day off because I love what I do.
That being said, my favorite part was showing my people and my friends some of my favorite places in Greece and my favorite place in New York, my kitchen. And sharing recipes. So that’s what it is. It’s not work. It’s my life. It’s The Life of Loi.
MC: What can viewers hope to take away from the show?
ML: It’s not just the recipes that viewers will take away; no, let me tell you something else. Food is an international language, like music. food brings us all together.
Even if we don’t understand each other in our native languages, we all speak food when we sit at the table. That’s what I want them to take away.
Happiness Fuels Success
MC: Throughout your career, you’ve run restaurants & lifestyle brands, you’ve written many cookbooks, and you just released a national TV series. What about your mindset allowed you to find such success?
ML: It’s very easy. It’s about giving and never giving up. It sounds simple, but it is true. What I do brings me happiness. And happiness is my mindset. Simple.
I am a speaker at the World Happiness Summit. They invite me every year around the world. Because I know that food brings happiness.
MC: Who or what inspires you most in your career?
ML: My role models were my parents, my grandparents, and my teachers. They taught me to be strong, creative, and kind.
My siblings and I – we grew up with an ethos called philotimo. I don’t know if you know what that means. People say you have to be Greek to understand. In essence, it means love of honor. It’s really a very nice word. You should Google it. Learning about it will help you a lot in your life.
MC: Do you have any future plans, goals, or dreams that you’d like to share?
ML: I have a lot of dreams. And the good thing is that they don’t stay dreams! With the help of my team (because I believe it’s essential to have a good team next to you), my friends, and, of course, my family, I make them my realities.
But I will tell you one: it’s going to be very soon, I hope. I want to create a building for young adults to live in rent-free. The only requirement is community service. I want to help young people get a leg up in the world while they do good for the world at the same time.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Maya (she/they) is a professional freelance writer and editor. Her writing is featured in TransLash News & Narrative, Healthline’s Bezzy Depression, HorrorPress, the Episodes Newsletter, and more. They’re passionate about social justice, history, and entertainment journalism. In her free time, she loves binging horror movies, spending time with her girlfriend, and needle-felting monster sculptures.