Meet Kosterina's Executive Chef, Marilena Leavitt
Marllena Leavitt, a lifelong lover of the Mediterranean diet and our Executive Chef here at Kosterina sat down with us to share some of her thoughts about food, family and living a balanced life.
Before we delve into Marilena's passion for creating accessible, healthy meals for all -- let's learn a little bit more about her background.
Marilena was born and raised in Greece where fresh, seasonal food played an important aspect of her everyday life. Since then, she has traveled around the world learning about the intricacies of the Mediterranean diet, and sharing her passion with thousands through her blog and cooking classes. Marilena was formally trained in both Italian regional cuisine while living in Rome and in classical French cuisine by completing a culinary course at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland.
Besides creating beautifully simple Mediterranean dishes for Kosterina, Marilena currently runs a food blog called Marilena's Kitchen, and teaches cooking classes for adults, teens and children, promoting and emphasizing the benefits of the healthy Mediterranean diet and lifestyle.
Not only are we at Kosterina impressed by Marilena's extensive experience in the culinary world, but we are inspired by her passion for the Mediterranean diet. We asked her a few questions to learn more:
When did you first notice your passion for Mediterranean cooking?
I grew up in Greece watching my mother cook healthy, hearty meals for our family, and always knew that it was something I was interested in. It wasn't until I moved to college in Athens and had to learn how to cook for myself that I realized how genuinely passionate I was about it.
We know that you weren't always a chef. Tell us a little bit about your life before going to culinary school.
I actually worked at the American Embassy in Greece as an economist after college, which is where I met my husband. He had an influence on my passion for cooking - especially because he loved my mother's cooking so much! We ended up moving to Rome after we had my first child, where I had the opportunity to take a cooking course on regional Italian cuisine. That's where I realized that my passion was cooking, and I never looked back.
What would you say the most important aspects of a Mediterranean Diet are?
Well, at the Culinaria Cooking School where I teach they call me the Queen of Olive Oil! So, single origin, organic olive oil, preferably from Greece is my number one aspect of a Mediterranean Diet. Also herbs, like wild Greek oregano and spearmint are extremely important - you can even grow these in your garden. Mediterranean diets are based largely on vegetables and fruits, with a lot of lean protein like fish, beans and legumes. We use red meat sparingly. Finally, when it comes to dessert, consider baking with olive oil instead of vegetable oil.
What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting their cooking journey?
Be flexible, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. For me, I view recipes as loose interpretations, so it's important to be comfortable playing around with your cooking. Cooking shouldn't be rigid -- taste as you go, and you can't go wrong!
You can find Marilena's recipes each week on our blog, Once Upon An Olive Tree, and in our weekly email newsletter.