What is your food philosophy?
For me it’s about the setting or the general context of where and how I’m eating. While I try to refrain from living by a firm food framework — because I find such joy in the narrative of eating and everything that leads up to the meal — what I won't compromise on is eating food that’s high-quality, organic and as local as possible. I try to lead with intuition, and follow the foods and ways my ancestors have been eating for generations. Since both my parents grew up in small villages in Greece with their own farms and livestock, they really had no choice but to eat what was seasonal and available to them. Nothing was being flown in, and the legumes they didn't grow they bartered for with the local communities for. To not eat seasonally was just not possible for them back in the '50s. Fruit and vegetables had their timing, and it was within those windows that they were the ripest and most nutritionally beneficial to consume.
Fortunately, the foods I love and feel indulgent about happen to be good for me: nuts, matcha, high quality dark chocolate, eggs, wild and bitter greens (and really all vegetables), honey, berries, sourdough bread, wild fatty fish like salmon and sardines, and occasionally grass-fed meat that’s been painstakingly sourced. When I’m in the mood for dairy, I prefer raw goat or sheep's milk which I find more digestible. In the US, I tend to eat more coconut-based dairy, however in Greece I will happily eat thick Greek sheep's yogurt with walnuts and local pine honey every day and feel great. I tend to avoid gluten and soy, however if I'm a guest at someone’s home and they have lovingly prepared a meal for me, or if I’m traveling and want to explore a culture through its cuisine, then the experience takes precedence over any of those rules. There’s a story in that meal — an invitation to something revealing that I don't want to miss out on. I wasn’t raised with any foods that were prohibited, for better or for worse, and somehow that freedom has allowed for some space to enjoy eating without guilt or dogma. I also find eating foods like gluten when you’re stressed out in New York is very different than eating a delicious bowl of pasta when you’re fully present in Italy in late August.
Have you always been interested in food? Where does this interest stem from?
I think spending so much time on our family's farms really wired me from a young age to appreciate all the acts leading up to the meal. As well as the sense of presence that a long meal inevitably commands. Lunch is a two-hour affair every day, accompanied by wine and banter and then a nap. A slowdown in the middle of the day to rest and reconsider, compared to the salad I’ll grab and eat standing up in between meetings in New York. But mostly it’s about sharing and community. In Greece, neighbors would show up unexpectedly every afternoon for coffee and treats. The conversations were always simple and mostly involved what everyone had had for lunch that day, and what they were going to make tomorrow. Our refrigerator never had a lot of food in it, as we had a daily ritual of coming up with the menu and sourcing.
From a young age I really understood where food actually came from, and what to do with overripe fruit or some ugly but delicious produce. There was a deep reverence instilled in us, because we were involved in all the stages of harvesting and making food — we knew how long vegetables and fruit would take to grow, and that they weren’t going to be around for very long. So there was this excitement around the all the harvests and the marking of a season by its fruit, wine, nuts, and olives. Being able to walk over to our hens and pick fresh eggs, milk our goats, and watch my grandmother wake up at 5 am to make fresh bread every day — those were all practices that informed me from a very young age, as well as my father, who prepared most of all our meals growing up and cooked in and ran restaurants for the first 20 years of my life. My school lunches were always last night’s delicious leftovers in an '80s Thermos, with a note kindly asking if the school nurse could re-heat my lunch for me. My father can still take three ordinary ingredients and compose the most exquisite meal. That was always very inspiring to me: kitchen alchemy. Simple and fresh ingredients. Keep it minimal. Which is really what Greek cuisine is based on.
It seems like there is so much information about the health benefits of olive oil lately, have you always used it as a part of your wellness routine?
Yes, since we had our own olive groves growing up, olive oil was ubiquitous throughout my childhood. My grandparents ate a spoonful every morning — it was their version of a wellness tonic. We cooked and dressed everything with it; butter was mostly just for baking. Olives were out all day for snacking. We also used olive oil as a face, body and hair moisturizer after a salty day at the sea.
On the contrary, there is a lot of talk about the benefits of abstaining from oil. What are your thoughts on this?
I think that there's a lot of misinformation about fat, and it can be confusing to understand which ones are actually good for us. However, our brain is made up of 60% fat, and a big portion of that comes from omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in cognition, cellular restoration, healthy skin, happiness, and memory. Avocados, coconut butter, whole nuts and of course olive oil are good sources of plant-based fats that your brain, skin and body need to function optimally. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat (mostly oleic acid), which can help lower cholesterol and maintain the health of our cells. For a long time Americans have been told to eat a low-fat, high-carb diet, which is basically a sugar diet. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that those at high risk of cardiovascular disease could see a substantial benefit from consuming 1 liter of olive oil a week. The key is to be sure your olive oil is of the highest quality so you’re optimizing the oil’s benefits and avoiding pesticides and rancidity.
What do you eat that makes you feel your best?
High-quality fat and whole foods. Plus vegetables in all forms, lots of ferments, matcha, dark chocolate daily, CAP Beauty coconut butter, almonds and brazil nuts lightly toasted in Oracle Oil and sea salt, honey with propolis, plus my energy balls that I make and keep in the freezer: raw cacao, almond butter, tahini, almond flour, hemp and chia seeds, maca, manuka honey, coconut butter, Oracle Oil, and touch of ginger powder, rolled in black sesame seeds.
What do you do, outside of cooking, that informs your health?
Movement — mostly The Class — as well as meditation, acupuncture, supplements and infrared saunas. Another good resource are my integrative and holistic practitioners, and podcasts (Making Sense, On Being, Dr. Mark Hyman, Goop, Mindbodygreen, Tim Ferris). I also like to learn from cultures older than ours that seem to be having a good time in life.
Who do you look to for inspiration in the food world?
My grandmothers, Yotam Ottolenhi, Laila Gohar, Michael Pollan, Ignacio Mattos, Paul Pitchford, Alice Waters, Dan Barber, Nigel Slater, Jody Williams, Seamus Mullen, Suzanne Goin, Bon Appetit, and the people behind Gjusta and Gjelina, Rose Bakery, Botanica, Sqrl, and Il Buco.
Last best meal you had out?
Lunch at Alimentari Il Buco. They only use simple, elemental ingredients. I love their artichokes fried in EVOO.
Last best meal you had in?
The dinner I cooked last night: wild salmon with lemon-chickpea miso crust, kabocha squash with tahini, wilted chicories, and a simple arugula micro green salad from Lani’s farm.
What do you always keep in your fridge?
A rabbit’s feast of greens — dandelion, arugula, chicories, radicchio — plus as much pink lettuce as I can find, avocado, lemons, apple cider vinegar, wild blueberries, bone broth, at least three different dark chocolates, at least two different coconut yogurts, homemade pesto and hummus, mustard, garlic, shallots, kombucha, rainbow radishes, eggs, Siete cassava wraps, Kite Hill almond ricotta, Mother-in-Law's kimchi and other ferments, fresh oregano, lentils, nut butters, Seed + Mill tahini, almond milk, sparkling water, a funky natural pinot noir, Knead Love sourdough bread, Lazeez GF salted tahini cookies, probiotics, and a green tonic with maca, moringa, chlorophyll and some adaptogens.
What are your thoughts on how food relates to beauty?
I think it’s really difficult to treat them as separate, in my opinion. The gut-brain connection is hard to deny. Our microbiomes have an affect on how we feel both physically and mentally, and the communication between your gut and brain is really important, especially since a large part of our serotonin supply is made in our gut. Our faces are roadmaps to what’s happening inside us. What we eat can play out on our skin but most importantly, on our disposition.
What is the first meal you remember?
My mother's spicy dolmas with a dollop of thick greek yogurt drizzled with lemon, and of course, olive oil.