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Greek Chef Spreads ‘Good Food and Love’ at Miriam’s Kitchen

by Misato Nakayama

“This place is good food and love,” said Maria Loi, an executive chef in New York and an ambassador of Greek gastronomy who shared the healthy Mediterranean food of her homeland with more than 200 people at Miriam’s Kitchen in D.C. on Feb. 25.

The Embassy of Greece, in partnership with the Chef’s Club of Greece, hosted the philanthropic initiative at Miriam’s Kitchen, a Washington-based nonprofit providing services for the homeless, to mark the Greek presidency of the European Union. With the sponsorship of Kellari Taverna and Loi’s Pasta, chef Loi set up a menu of traditional and popular Greek recipes: Dolmadakia (Cretan grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs), Horiatiki (a traditional Greek salad), Orzo me Kima (a rustic pasta dish), and baklava for dessert.

Maria Loi, an executive chef in New York and an ambassador of Greek gastronomy, serves a menu of Greek favorites, including Orzo me Kima, a rustic pasta dish with a classic meat sauce and graviera cheese, at Miriam’s Kitchen, a D.C. nonprofit that provides meals and social services to 3,500 chronically homeless people every year and advocates for permanent long-term housing for those in need.
Photos: Embassy of Greece

“It has been proven time and time again that the Mediterranean diet can improve one’s health and vitality at any age. We find it prudent to make sure that this type of food, which is easy to make and satisfying to eat, is available and accessible to all walks of life,” the embassy said in a press release.

Making good food accessible to all is exactly what Miriam’s Kitchen strives to do as part of its mission to end chronic homelessness.

“Every year, Miriam’s Kitchen provides meals and social services to 3,500 chronically homeless people and advocates for permanent long-term housing for those in need. Homelessness is a community crisis, and the entire community has a role in helping find solutions,” said Tom Murphy, director of communications at Miriam’s Kitchen. “The Greek Embassy in D.C. provided a fantastic example that this commitment extends even to the global community in Washington. It was our pleasure to experience Greek culture through the embassy’s generous service to our chronically homeless guests.”

The Embassy of Greece, in partnership with the Chef’s Club of Greece, hosted an event at Miriam’s Kitchen, where volunteers served baklava, a traditional Greek dessert made of phyllo layers filled with walnuts and almonds and baked and soaked in a spiced honey syrup.

Once a renowned lobbyist for large multinational corporations, Loi embarked on a second life as a chef and culinary expert, opening her eponymous restaurant Loi in New York and building a Greek culinary empire, with her own pasta line, olive oil line and yogurt company. She’s also known as the official ambassador of the Chef’s Club of Greece, which was established in 1992 to support the growth of Greek gastronomy all over the globe and recently opened a U.S. chapter.

“When I heard this offer from the Embassy of Greece, I immediately said yes,” said Loi. “We have to give back something to society and people no matter how far apart we may be, because we are always receiving the benefits from the society. I believe that if we try hard, something will be open for us.”

Loi volunteers her time cooking once or sometimes twice a week. But she never cuts corner in her volunteer work, putting the same care into creating authentic dishes as she does for her Upper West Side restaurant.

Volunteers line up to feed those in need at Miriam’s Kitchen, which serves the city’s homeless via a breakfast program, case management, transitional housing and after-breakfast programs.

“Cooking is my life. I really appreciate and care about food, because you are what you eat. I believe that food is the best medicine. As an ambassador of Greek gastronomy to the U.S., every time I visit a city in the U.S., I check a Greece restaurant there to check who is cooking and whether they provide healthy food.”

She said her love of food was matched by the passion she saw at Miriam’s Kitchen. “I was very impressed by how much people at Miriam’s Kitchen warmly welcomed me. They all have a strong passion and motivation about their work and mission,” Loi said.

“This place is good food and love. My volunteer is not a help but just a gift,” she said. “I want to give a gift to people through my healthy cooking.”

Misato Nakayama is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.




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