a little about me
From the age of four I knew I wanted to be a chef; food and cooking is in my blood having grown up in my parents restaurant in London. The kitchen fascinated me, I loved to watch my Greek -Cypriot dad rushing up and down the stove tossing pots and pans about like a whirlwind.
Having the good fortune of enjoying British and Greek cuisine my palate was honed from an early age, food fascinated me. My dad and I would often go shooting on Sunday’s returning home with rabbits, pheasants and pigeons which he would pickle; pickled pigeon a Cypriot speciality that I love!
Inspired by an abiding passion for food I left school and won a five-year scholarship with Trusthouse Forte. It was a rigorous apprenticeship combining catering college with fantastic on-the-job experience in some of London’s leading establishments. I worked in testosterone-fuelled kitchens where all the orders were barked in French, I got sworn at a lot and often had things thrown at me….I grew up and learnt French fast! During my apprenticeship I got to study wine and I discovered a new love: up until this point in my life all I’d experienced was Retsina! I was fascinated by the whole process and achieved the highest grades in the country for my wine exams It’s been a passion ever since and a second career choice; I’d love to own a vineyard one day, (my third career choice is to be a rally driver!). My love of cooking and a great training has given me the opportunity to work with some truly inspirational chefs in the UK and around the world. Cooking on the yacht of a multimillionaire as it criss-crossed the globe opened my eyes to sourcing unfamiliar produce in the markets and new ways of cooking in port-side restaurants.
Eventually a longing for the buzz of service and dry land led me back to London to work with Stephen Terry at Coast, followed by a sous chef position at Delfina, a trendy canteen for resident artists in London’s up and coming Bermondsey Street. During this time I was fortunate enough to spend an absolutely mind blowing season in Spain cooking with culinary maestro Ferran Adrià at El Bulli and Elena Arzack in San Sebastian. On my return to Delfina I took over as Head Chef. It was here I felt I could combine the wealth of my experience and experiment at developing my own eclectic style. I had the great pleasure of seeing Delfina evolve into one of London’s leading restaurants and event spaces-both gaining critical acclaim.
My TV and writing career also took off at this time and I became a regular on Great Food Live, Daily and Saturday Cooks, Daily Cooks Challenge, Food Poker, Ready Steady Cook and Market Kitchen. I also write for BBC Good Food, Olive, Food and Travel, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s Magazines.
Delfina was then sold and I decided the time was right to move on. I was approached to set up a fine dining vegetarian restaurant- a great challenge especially as I’m not a vegetarian! Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be and due to planning restrictions the project was pulled. At the same time, by pure coincidence, I’d was approached by Kyle Cathie and asked to write a cook book-which just happened to be Vegetarian! The Modern Vegetarian was published in April 2009 the same month I opened The Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room and Café as Head Chef. The restaurant received rave reviews and was awarded 2 AA Rosettes including a mention in the Michelin Guide. Here the emphasis was on the best of British ingredients using local seasonal produce, cooking them in my own eclectic style, and where I made a name for my ’textures of vegetable’ dishes. It was a wonderful year and we cooked up a storm.
I’ve now left to pursue some of my own dreams and write my second book. News of what I’ll be up to next will be shared with you in my forthcoming blog. It’s all really exciting! I am truly lucky to have a career I love.
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Maria Elia - benefit of the Whitechapel's expansion and refurbishment, the small, clean-cut room is an ideal backdrop to her healthy, thoughtful cooking distinguished by culinary riffs on a chosen ingredient.
Evening Standard (Fay Maschler)
Metro (Marina O'Loughlin) ****They’ve been lucky enough to score a true star to man the stoves: Maria Elia, latterly of lauded Delfina, a gal with a real visionary approach to produce, especially vegetables. My starter heads towards dish of the year status: ruby red quail without a shade of dryness on a hammock of dill and lemon scented broad beans with a ‘Scotch’ quail’s egg, the sausage meat replaced with salt cod. Utter genius. This is one gallery restaurant where the food is every bit as thought-provoking as the art it neighbours.
Times Online (A A Gill) ****The menu is that ubiquitous modern English that has colonised every dining room East of Tottenham Court Road: short and well made, and austere with treats...we were happy with the food.
Times Online (Giles Coren) 7/10The dish was called “Textures of English sweetcorn” and was not nearly so pompous as it sounds. On one of the funnest plates I’ve seen in ages there was a teeny bowl of gorgeous, tangy lemongrass and sweetcorn soup; a weeny parmesan “taco” filled with sweetcorn and salsa; a creamed corn and mushroom roll; a little puff of cornbread; a corn custard; and then also two sly little roundels off a plain old boiled corn which I left till last because I knew they’d be the best. It’s true that you don’t really need to faff about with a corn to make it delicious. But this multi-plate was by no means superfluous. It was a wholly positive expression of the potential of the great golden phallus, and I think it bespoke great talent. It was also clearly the work of a female chef (Maria Elia) determined to show that simply being long and hard counts for very little in the end.
The IndependentGastronomic girl power: 10 female chefs to watch - Maria Elia.
The TelegraphBritish chefs now have a formidable international reputation, and it’s no longer just the boys who are running the show. We talk to five women chefs creating a stir in the country’s kitchens. Claire Smyth, Skye Gyngell, Thomasina Miers, Maria Elia, Emily Watkins. Read full article here.
Reviews of my book 'The Modern Vegetarian' published by Kyle Cathie. Available to buy from Amazon HERE
Maria Elia’s elegant, inventive recipes will come as a breath of fresh air to exasperated veggies – and indeed to everyone else – because this isn’t so mucha vegetarian cookbook as one whose recipes happen not to contain any meat. The recipes would make for an impressive dinner party menu – one at which the ‘V’ word could go unmentioned, thanks to Elia’s unexpected and inspiring flavours, not many chefs can pull off such bold combinations. This is first-rate entertaining food that anyone can eat. In a way, it’s a shame the book has the word ‘vegetarian’ in the title, because with food this good, the absence of meat is neither here nor there.
The Modern Vegetarian’ is one of the most accessible and inspirational books of vegetarian food I’ve yet to come across. As I flicked through the pages I wanted to try almost everything I saw.
Sunday Times - Top ten cook books of the year, Ben WilsonVegetarian food has finally shaken off the nut cutlet, and embraced pleasure. For sheer originality, salute Elia, the exciting young head chef.Not since Peter Gordon’s The Sugar Club Cookbook has fusion cuisine been so confidently handled. Elia proves once and for all that vegetarian food isn’t dull.
Caterer.com - Tom VaughanNowhere in her biography does it suggest that Elia has ever turned her back on meat, However, by targeting the vegetarian market Elia has geared her lively, pan-global cuisine to an often-ignored area of cooking, and has given the book a creditable raison d'être among the piles of cookbooks published each year. For chefs unwilling or uninspired to jazz up their vegetarian option this book could be the catalyst to finally consign that goat's cheese tart to the annals of your restaurant's history.
Chef Maria Elia has some clever ideas using unusual combinations of flavours and textures. Her tomato, almond and date baklava might sound odd, but it tastes wonderful. This is a first-rate book by a future star.
The Spectator - Elfreda Pownall
Winner: Stephen Williams at The Harwood Arms
Tatler Laurent-Perrier & Taste of London Restaurant Awards 2010
Runners up: Tomonari Chiba at Dinings; Maria Elia at Whitechapel Gallery; Neil McCue at The Curlew; Stefano Turconi at Franco’s
London Restaurant Festival Award 2009Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room Head Chef Maria Elia's menu for the London Restaurant Festival certainly hit the right note with the judges as it was declared winning three course dinner for £25 beating off competition from well over 500 hundred restaurants in London.
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Marie Claire, Olive, Delicious, Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Somerfield, BBC Good Food, Food and Travel, The Independent, Guardian, Stella, You, Lady, Caterer, Sunday Times, BBC Easy Cook, Country File, Psychology, Bella, Home and Garden, Women's fitness, Health and Fitness, Sante. As well as various publications in the USA, Netherlands, Germany, Greece and Cyprus, including Greek Vogue and The Athens Times.
Published work includes recipe features in the following magazines:
Links to some of my online published recipes can be found on my 'contact' page.
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Some of the cookery schools I teach at include: Divertimenti in Marylebone, Thyme cooking school at Southrop, and Authentic Ethnic, London SW11. I also consult and teach at various professional food research and development workshops and events all of which are bespoke and unique to each client and their specific needs. I’ve taken part in large conferences on future food trends, which encompass brainstorming sessions, sensory training as well as hands on and team building workshops. Clients include: Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, The Coop, Tesco, Hazelwood Foods, and Geest amongst others. I also consult for Aquascot an Organic Salmon Farm developing recipe ideas.
I love to teach, I feel one of the greatest things is being able to inspire others.
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"Maria was great. Very natural and relaxed. She enjoys her subject and her enthusiasm is infectious."
"It was completely inspiring – I learnt a lot – it was presented in a happy way but with a strong underpinning of fresh ideas. Maria gave so many alternatives and suggestions I felt I learnt far more than the recipes she made."
"Maria is warm, friendly and funny which makes it easy and so pleasant to follow."
Co-operative Food Healthy Workshop:
"Excellent, very well presented and inspiring."
Practical ways to increase the use of vegetables and whole-foods
"Fab great flavours, ideas and Maria’s obvious passion for food."
"Amazing energy, real enthusiasm, inspiring to hear her talk about what to do with food."
Workshop: A look at naturally healthy global cuisines for a leading supermarket"Maria was a great inspiration to us and showed us how we could push the boundaries of flavours and ideas."
"Maria was excellent - great food, very enthusiastic and encouraged open thought."
"Really inspiring. Maria was a great presenter with great ideas and funny."
"Interesting and ‘eye opening, my outlook has changed on cooking."
In May 2010 I was invited to guest chef at the Sani Gourmet festival in Greece, an annual gastronomic event that brings together some of the finest chefs from Greece and around the globe, (celebrating it's fifth year anniversary with the first ever all female chef line up!). It was a wonderful experience and an honour to take over one of the resorts restaurants and showcase my specially prepared five-course menu to an international gourmet audience.
Sani Gourmet Festival Webiste
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