Chef Q&A: Maria Loi, Loi

By Channaly Oum
Channaly Oum
Channaly Oum
August 2, 2013 Updated: October 8, 2018

Maria Loi, owner and executive chef at Loi, comes from idyllic Nafpaktos, Greece. She has had a storied life, from laboring in tobacco fields to working as a lobbyist for multinational companies, before launching her culinary career. She had her own cooking show on Greece’s most successful morning TV program. She also authored several cookbooks, including “Ancient Dining,” on the occasion of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, and is involved in numerous philanthropic causes, especially involving youth.

Epoch Times: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Ms. Maria Loi: Actually, I didn’t have time to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up because I was working very hard in the tobacco fields, and my wish was always to be by the seaside, which I had never seen before. This made me to want to become a fisherman, because I was always fascinated by the fisherman who came to the village every Saturday with the fresh fish and octopus.

Epoch Times: What is one of your significant childhood memories of food?

Ms. Loi: I will never forget the first meatballs that I cooked for my father when I was 7 years old. I still use the same recipe, and everybody loves it!

Epoch Times: What is your approach or philosophy to cooking?

Ms. Loi: Philosophy—it’s a Greek word! I had to approach cooking from the Greek point of view. I am so blessed to have grown up in the countryside, where the pillars of the Mediterranean diet originate.

Epoch Times: What’s your current favorite ingredient to play with?

Ms. Loi: Well, there are many amazing ingredients that come from Greece, but olive oil makes life taste better! I use olive oil in everything, even as a beauty aid for my skin and my hair!

Epoch Times: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen happen in the kitchen?

Ms. Loi: There was this one time last year during Lobster Fest when Demetres brought us two cases of three-pound live lobsters, and while signing for the delivery after checking the order, the lobsters escaped, and we had about 50 lobsters clawing their way around our counters and sinks! One of the interns almost fainted, but we managed to catch them all, and taught her the humane way to cook them—now they are her favorite protein to work with!

Epoch Times: When you’re not cooking, what do you enjoy doing?

Ms. Loi: What do you mean, not cooking? I cook in my dreams, and wake up and try out the new recipe to see if it works. I’m always talking about food, ingredients, cooking, techniques—my passion is overwhelming and infiltrates all facets of my life, which I love!

Epoch Times: What’s an underrated/under-the-radar restaurant in NYC?

Ms. Loi: I can’t say that it’s under-rated or under-the-radar, but one of my favorite places to go when I’m not at Loi is Salumeria Rosi, right near my restaurant on the Upper West Side.

Epoch Times: What current trend do you find worthwhile?

Ms. Loi: The yogurt trend, because it’s tasty, healthy, and easy. I hope it’s not just a trend, but rather the beginning of a dietary institution, and I’m so glad it’s now in the American schools.

Epoch Times: What trend do you find overhyped?

Ms. Loi: For me, I think that butter doesn’t have a place in our lives. I think recipes that call for butter are losing their luster, because the health benefits of natural fats and oils far exceed the “flavor” that butter gives dishes.

208 W. 70th St.

This article appeared in our New York Summer Dining Guide, 2013 Special Edition. To see the complete summer dining guide as a pdf, click here.

Channaly Oum
Channaly Oum