Congress Gets Taste of Greek Diet

Maria Loi

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – The foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building at the U.S. Congress on the night of Dec. 5 was turned into a Greek-style feast to feature the Hellenic diet and foodstuffs prepared by famous Greek chefs.

It was the Greek Diet Goes to Congress demo arranged for the invite-only festivities in conjunction with Hellenic Caucus Co-Chairmen Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., and New York Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley.

The Omega Diet author Dr. Artemis Simopoulos was the headliner for the cultural exchange, accompanied by some of the biggest names in Greek cooking, Roll Call reported.

They included Food Network personality Cat Cora, Zaytinya chef Michael Costa, local restaurateur Mike Isabella, Kapnos chef de cuisine George Pagonis and healthy eating advocate Katerina Stai.

A Think Food Group aide said Team Zaytinya would serve olive oil-poached salmon with smoked walnut skordalia and pomegranate, as well as kale dolmades filled with butternut squash, pine nuts, short grain rice and parsley.

A spokeswoman for Isabella said the Top Chef offered a menu of marinated shrimp with fennel and grapefruit, melitzanosalata (featuring smokey eggplant, roasted peppers, walnuts, feta) and fava (yellow lentils, squash, spinach, pearl onions).

An embassy aide said Stai, who mostly works on kid-friendly eats, would dish out a modified pumpkin pie mixed with feta and wrapped in phyllo dough, and melomarakona — traditional holiday cookies fashioned from sugar, olive oil, honey, chopped walnuts, orange juice and cinnamon.

“This event will show that eating healthier doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor,” Simopoulous said in a release announcing the inaugural culinary extravaganza.

The event was designed to help raise awareness of the health benefits of the Greek diet, and promote stronger trade relationships in healthy food products between the United States and Greece.

“Ancient Greeks, including the world’s first Olympic athletes, recognized the benefits of healthy eating and exercise,” said Ambassador of Greece, Christos Panagopoulos, in announcing the event. “Their wisdom has lasted through the ages, and on this special occasion a new contemporary twist will be given by some of America’s brightest scientists and chefs.”

The culinary contingent also includes renowned chefs and health experts from Greece and the United States, also including:

-International television personality Maria Loi, owner of Loi restaurant in New York

-Renowned TV chef Diane Kochilas, Diane Kochilas in collaboration with Zaytinya Restaurant and supported by the Daughters of Penelope

-Argiro Barbarigou in collaboration with Mourayo restaurant

-Michael Costa, head chef of Zaytinya

“It’s crucial for good health and longevity to instill in children sound eating habits from an early age,” Cora said. But she added, “The Greek Mediterranean Diet is not just good for you – it’s good food. The rich flavors and high fat content make it a consistent crowd pleaser.”

The critical ingredients of the Greek diet include olive oil – dubbed the “natural salad dressing” and a fundamental staple of the Greek diet – whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products (principally cheese and yogurt), seafood and more white meat than red. Combined with an active life style, the traditional Greek diet promotes longevity, boosts the immune system, and reduces the likelihood of obesity and chronic diseases.

“The traditional nutritional habits of Greece, as exemplified by the diet on the island of Crete, restore our body’s essential nutritional ‘good fats’ and influence every aspect of our being, from the beating of our hearts to our ability to learn to remember,” said Simopoulos, former chair of the National Institutes of Health’s Nutrition Coordinating Committee. “This event will show that eating healthier doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor. The Greek Mediterranean Diet can play a big role in promoting a healthier lifestyle.”

The Greek Diet has been inscribed on UNESCO’s representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, recognized on Nov. 17, 2010, as part of the Mediterranean diet, but also “as a great contribution to the World, for the population’s health, quality of life and well-being.”