Chef Louis Mavridis is getting ready to teach a healthy cooking class at the Harvest to Home market. He’s getting some vegetable chopping out of the way before his students arrive. With speed and precision he reduces carrots and onions to piles of small cubes before pouring them into bowls to be used for soup.
He says he first discovered healthy cooking when he started preparing his own food at home rather than eating out.
“For a long time I didn’t know much about healthy cooking. Anything from a fast food outlet was good for me until I started to learn how to cook myself and I realized the difference,” he said. “The style of cooking that I want to introduce tonight is not just to fill you up. At the same time, what you eat has to have nutritional value and make you feel good, too.”
But Mavridis wasn’t always interested in cooking. He first moved to Canada from Greece in 1976 looking for adventure. A friend of his had a brother in Brooks, Alta., and when his friend was invited to move to the prairies, Mavridis tagged along.
Originally a mechanic, Mavridis was unable to practise his trade because he lacked Canadian qualifications and the language was a problem. In need of work, Mavridis was hired as a dishwasher in a Greek restaurant in Brooks, and he’s had a culinary career ever since.
But when he started, Mavridis didn’t know much about cooking, so he turned to familiar tastes from his childhood for inspiration.
“The only food that I used to make was a piece of bread and salami. I had no clue about cooking,” he said. “But the amazing thing is when I started cooking, all the tastes that mother or my grandma used to make became very familiar to me and I cooked those recipes without knowing the recipe. I just remembered the taste.”
Mavridis went from being a dishwasher to being a cook’s assistant, and three years later he moved to Lloydminster and started his first business, the Longbranch Restaurant in what is now the Econo Lodge. From there he and a friend opened the Greek Classic restaurant, where Bo’Diddley’s Pub and Grill now stands. After that, Mavridis spent 15 years working at what is now the Days Inn before “retiring,” although he now cooks and manages the kitchen at the Thorpe Recovery Centre.
On the menu tonight is bean soup, chicken, salmon, tzatziki, kale and mango salad, avocado salsa, sweet potatoes and fruit salad for dessert. He says healthy cooking doesn’t need to be complicated and time consuming.
“The ingredients you use are few. If you look at the menu, it’s probably four or five ingredients each or less,” he said. “For the chicken, for example, the only thing I have here is the chicken alone, cooked in a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon juice and a little bit of oregano and there you have it.”
Mavridis says he knows it can be difficult to force children to try new food and to eat healthy. But he says if they learn about what they’re eating and are a part of the process they may become more receptive to new tastes.
“What I do with my kids and my grandchildren when I cook is try to have them with me,” he said. “When they get involved they get interested and they want to taste it ... if they see you eat it, they will mimic. That’s how it goes. If you say ‘yuck,’ they will say ‘yuck.’”
Mavridis says healthy eating starts at home, and having control over what goes into one’s food and how it is prepared is essential living healthy as well.
“It’s not too hard to cook healthy,” he said.
“We have to learn how to cook at home again.”