PORT WASHINGTON, NY – The Archangel Michael Church (AMC) Philoptochos Cooking Club welcomed the renowned Chef Maria Loi to lead a cooking class on February 23 at the AMC Fellowship Hall in Port Washington. The well-attended event brought together all ages to learn from the celebrity chef, cookbook author, Greek food ambassador, and healthy lifestyle expert how to make a simple, yet delicious homemade phyllo dough which can be used for any type of pita.
AMC Philoptochos Society President Chris (Chrysanthe) Ioannou gave the welcoming remarks, noting the continuing efforts and achievements of the society. She then introduced Vicky Giouroukakis, who first came up with the idea for the Cooking Club, which was established in March 2018.
Giouroukakis introduced Chef Loi who spoke about her life and career and shared her joy and passion for cooking with everyone present. Her engaging personality, great knowledge of Greek cuisine, and years of experience made the class, on how to make the horiatiko (village-style) phyllo dough from her own village of Thermo outside Nafpakto, entertaining as well as educational. Loi explained each step clearly and also answered questions from the audience in her candid way throughout the demonstration giving everyone the confidence to make the recipe on their own as soon as they got home.
Loi also spoke about the Greek diet, the healthiest in the world, pointing out her work with the Harvard University’s School of Public Health which through its research confirms what the Greeks have known for millennia. She noted her pride in being Greek and her pride in where she comes from. Though Loi has been in the United States for seven years, she is deeply connected to her roots and Greek culture and finds joy in sharing the cuisine and giving back. Referring to the connection between happiness and health, Loi observed, “Nothing is coming with you, giving is the best thing… you get such joy from giving.”
The audience was moved as she spoke about what her village gave her, including the values and confidence to pursue her career, as well as her grandmother’s spoon which she brought with her. Loi spoke about her former career path that brought her a great deal of material wealth but left her unhappy. Food became her focus and set her on the path that has brought her so much success. “I believe God gives me everything,” she said.
Of processed food, Loi noted, “If you have it in your homes, don’t even give it to your enemies, just take it to the garbage.”
Healthy eating habits begin at home and can save a fortune in health care costs, she pointed out, “if we can have good food in our homes, healthy, go back to the Greek diet,” adding that the food of Crete, especially Chania, is the best.
Loi also noted her upcoming PBS shows and specials which will be filmed in Greece. Her products are now available in 300 supermarkets, with her own yogurt to be launched this year.
When asked about cooking at the White House in 2012 for President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and 250 honored guests, she said she made many things including spanakopita, fish, and lamb chops, as well as baklava which Obama proclaimed “the best.”
Following the cooking demonstration, everyone had the opportunity to taste the freshly-baked tyropita triangles, mini-cheese pies. Loi signed copies of her book, The Greek Diet: Look and Feel like a Greek God or Goddess and Lose up to Ten Pounds in Two Weeks, and posed for photos with her fans.
About the AMC Philoptochos Cooking Club, Giouroukakis told The National Herald, “I was inspired to start this cooking club by my mother, Constantina Menexas, and mother-in-law, Anna Giouroukakis, who are both excellent cooks. My mother, especially, has a passion for cooking and sharing her love of cooking. Hopefully, my daughter, Anna, will continue to learn to cook by watching her grandmothers and me and then pass on her knowledge to her own children one day.”
“The Club tries to offer one cooking class per month between October and May in the state-of-the-art AMC kitchen,” she told TNH, adding that the response “has been overwhelmingly positive.”
The first class featured her mother’s Lenten gemista. Presiding priest of the community Fr. John Lardas led the popular tsoureki-making class, while last week featured Andriana Vamvakas and her leek pie with homemade phyllo. For the upcoming class, the community’s “Loukou-mamas,” the ladies who prepare the loukoumades for AMC’s annual festival will lead the class in making the beloved dessert.
More information about the AMC Philoptochos Cooking Club is available online: archangelmichaelchurch.org/philoptochos/.