LOS ANGELES – This fall, Saint Sophia Philoptochos Society’s signature culinary event, An Epicurean Journey with Friends, spotlighted acclaimed chef and Greek Food Ambassador Maria Loi.
A native of Greece, Chef Loi is a restaurateur, author, entrepreneur, philanthropist and healthy lifestyle expert. Well-versed in providing engaging interactive experiences, Chef Loi hosted a series of three online cooking classes highlighting her renowned healthy Greek recipes and cooking techniques, from her kitchen to yours, via Zoom.
The monthly classes, sponsored by ECOS, Loi Estiatorio and Loi Products, were held on October 10, November 7, and concluded this year on December 5. The event included an online auction and door prizes.
Dina Demetrius, the event chairperson and member of the Philoptochos Board gave the welcoming remarks noting that the online auction was extended to 10 PM PST that night and thanking everyone for participating, especially the event sponsors and Chef Loi. She pointed out that “Chef Maria Loi has made our An Epicurean Journey with Friends possible by graciously donating her time and expertise.”
She added that the proceeds from the event and online auction benefit the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation, and regional and national philanthropic activities of Philoptochos.
In the December 5 cooking class, Chef Loi prepared two delicious and relatively simple recipes, Melopita (Greek Cheesecake) made with anthotyro and Pita tis tembelas (Lazy Chef’s Pie) which can be savory or sweet. In this case, Chef Loi used feta for the savory version of the pie, but she noted that you can add honey or other toppings to make your own personalized version of the recipe. Once again, Loi team members Dara Davenport and Beckett Potter offered wonderful tips and nutritional information about the ingredients in the recipes.
Chef Loi used her award-winning Loi Extra Virgin Olive Oil for the savory recipe and also to oil the springform pan for the cheesecake which took just minutes to blend the ingredients in the stand mixer. She topped the baked cheesecake with sour cherry preserves, like her mother used to do. Loi noted that anthotyro is made from sheep or goat’s milk, but ricotta, which is made from cow’s milk, can be substituted. Full fat Greek yogurt is also the preferred yogurt to use in the recipe, as Loi pointed out.
The wine pairing with the recipes prepared was Karamolegos Vinsanto from Santorini, “one of the world's greatest dessert wines,” according to WineReviewOnline.com.
Chef Loi answered questions from the participants who all thanked her for her wonderful instructions and tips.
It should also be noted that Chef Loi was featured in the New York Post for her efforts promoting the healthy Greek diet, not only though her book and for the general public, but even among her own staff at Loi Estiatorio. In the article, several staff members noted that following Chef Loi’s advice and eating according to the recommendations of the Greek diet, they were able to shed pounds and improve their health, some even reducing or no longer having to take medications for common health issues like high cholesterol or type-2 diabetes.
Nicola Sambazis, 55, a server at the restaurant, told the Post, “I was morbidly obese and wouldn’t have been able to walk nearly half as much without puffing and panting and my whole body hurting. When I came on board here in July, Chef Loi put me on the road to saving my life.”
“When the pandemic hit, Loi set out to make her 10 employees, some of whom were dealing with serious ailments, as healthy as possible,” the Post reported.
Loi told the Post, “So many people were getting sick and eating and drinking to excess. As restaurant workers, we were at higher risk for contracting the virus than people who stayed at home. Food for me is like medicine.”
Dr. Stefanos N. Kales, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School co-hosts talks with Loi at conferences around the world and told the Post, “There is plenty of research indicating that a Greek Mediterranean diet reduces your risk of chronic illnesses, cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity. People who follow it live longer, sleep better and have a higher quality of life.”
Loi Estiatorio’s co-owner, Alex Antimisiaris, 56, has a family history of heart disease, and told the Post that “I was at my doctor a few weeks ago, and he looked at me in shock and told me that I had basically escaped my family history [by following the Greek diet].”
Chef Loi’s philanthropic efforts, including delivering meals to hospital workers and the homeless, were also noted during the event and in the Post article.
She concluded the cooking class on Saturday by thanking the organizers, noting that she plans to visit Los Angeles soon, and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
More information about the Saint Sophia Philoptochos Society is available online: stsophiaphiloptochos.org.