The first time I spoke with Maria Kardamaki Robertson, she pointed out the lack of Greek food on Territory’s menu and that perhaps our customers would like that gap filled. She couldn’t have been more right. Partnering with Chef Maria was an easy sell since her food standards are so closely aligned with ours. On top of that, she’s an expert at cooking for crowds — she and her staff crank out thousands of meals a week for Whole Foods Market.
Maria’s first business in the US was importing artisanal and organic products from Greece. After being approached by Whole Foods to import authentic Greek food as part of an ethnic expansion of the hot bar, Maria offered a better solution: she would cook traditional Greek food from her own kitchen. She named this new arm of her business, The Greek Table.
She joined our DC chef network a year and a half ago, and though that makes Maria the newest kid on our block, her value and expertise couldn’t be farther from rookie status. Maria brings something rare and precious to the table — her use of original family recipes to cook authentic meals at large scale.
We’re incredibly lucky that Territory now has a seat at The Greek Table.
I got the chance to catch up with her to learn more about her journey.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
Chania, a city on the island of Crete, Greece.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THE U.S.?
I came to America to study and to follow a boyfriend I met in Greece. I came to the DC area because of my husband’s job.
AND SINCE MOVING TO DC, WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT THIS AREA?
How multicultural it is.
WHAT DID YOU DREAM OF BEING WHEN YOU WERE A KID?
Different things at a different ages. First, I wanted to be a mom … I guess I accomplished that! Then a flight attendant, I always liked to travel. By my teenage years, I had decided I would work in the hospitality industry which I did for several years in Greece. I worked in large resort hotels and then our own hotel and restaurant.
YOU’RE NOW AN EXPERIENCED BUSINESS OWNER, BUT TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR VERY FIRST VENTURE—IMPORTING ORGANIC GOODS FROM GREECE.
I worked with small farms in Greece that had converted to organic agriculture. Many of them were women’s cooperatives. I helped them find products that would potentially be successful in the U.S., helped them design the packaging for the products, and then brought them to the U.S.I loved supporting the women’s cooperatives. A lot of times in the villages in Greece, even though they work really hard, they have no money of their own because everything goes to their husbands. The money they were making in the cooperative was personal income for them.The work was tough and it was hard to make a living, but it was very inspirational. You really felt like you made a difference.
SO, SOUNDS LIKE FOOD, IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER, HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PASSION. WAS THERE A PARTICULAR MOMENT WHEN YOU REALIZED YOU WANTED TO SHIFT TO BECOME A CHEF?
Not really. I grew up with good food. I helped my grandmother, who was an amazing cook, make the daily meals and cook for parties.I didn’t train to become a chef, I trained to become a manager for establishments that used chefs. I always loved to cook, but it’s not exactly the same.
My informal cooking, where I learned how to cook Greek food, was through my grandmother. The Greek food I cook is the cuisine of the island, which is much more vegetable oriented than the mainland, which is mostly meat. That has shaped The Greek Table line — some of the recipes are the very ones my grandmother passed down. The white bean stew for example, we made at home.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST ABOUT FOOD?
It inspires me to see the pleasure in people’s face when they taste something they love. I’m inspired by how food helps break barriers, it brings people together. Food is the universal thing we all need and enjoy.
SPEAKING OF FOOD … IF YOU COULD JOIN ANY OTHER CHEF IN THE WORLD’S DINNER PARTY, WHOSE WOULD IT BE?
I love sushi, I‘d love to be invited to a master sushi chef’s party.
TURNING THE TABLES, IF YOU COULD COOK A MEAL FOR ANYONE IN THE WORLD, WHO WOULD IT BE?
I would’ve liked to cook for Anthony Bourdain, I felt like he was a person that really appreciated food. Food not only as a dish, but he appreciated it within its social context.
YOU’RE NOW A VERY SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS OWNER. WHAT’S THE KEY TO MANAGING IT ALL?
I think the key is appreciating the people that you work with. No business succeeds because of the work of one person.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TERRITORY MEAL THAT YOU MAKE?
The lemon garlic chicken with green bean stew is one of my favorites.
AND, FINALLY CHEF … WHAT’S YOUR TERRITORY? IF WE WERE TO FIND YOU IN YOUR FAVORITE PLACE AND/OR DOING YOUR FAVORITE THING, WHERE WOULD THAT BE?
Lying on the beach and listening to the waves. If a beach isn’t available, sitting in my garden at home. I love the outdoors.
In the DMV area and want in on the authentic flavors Chef Maria brings to the table? Use code CHEFMARIA for $30 off your first order.