is the head chef at Morito, a very popular restaurant on Hackney Road, in London. She was born on the island of Crete, in Greece. Her father was a Cretan fisherman and her mother was Scottish. Together they ran a seafood restaurant, which is where Marianna spent most of her childhood.
Interviewer With me today I have Marianna Leivaditaki, head chef of the Morito restaurant in Hackney…Marianna, what was your favourite food when you were a child?
Marianna At home we ate a funny mixture, because of my parents. Fresh fish, bacon and eggs for breakfast on Sundays, and traditional apple pies. But my favourite was fish. We ate fish every day, which my dad caught. In fact my dad still goes fishing every night!
Marianna Yes, we were very lucky because not all families could do that – could eat fish every day. Even on an island fish is expensive unfortunately.
Interviewer Did your dad catch fish for the family or for the restaurant?
Marianna For both. Except for lobsters. When he caught a lobster he never sold it, it was always for us. We boiled it and ate it with lemon and olive oil. You don’t need anything except lemon and olive oil when fish or seafood is really fresh. That’s how I cook lobsters nowadays in the restaurant, in Morito.
Interviewer Were you interested in cooking when you were a child?
Marianna Oh yes. I spent every evening in our restaurant, and instead of playing with the other children I usually helped in the kitchen. I wrote down recipes which I wanted to cook for the family in a blue notebook.
Interviewer So your love of food and cooking came from your parents?
Marianna From my parents and also from my aunt, and from many inspiring ladies who surrounded me when I was growing up. My aunt, Thia Koula, had animals, a garden, olive trees and grapes.
In the summer I often spent all day with her. She knew everything about wild food in Crete. She only ate what she had grown or found or made herself. It’s such a beautiful way to eat.
Interviewer Did you ever eat out as a child?
Marianna Never in the evening, because our restaurant was open for dinner seven days a week, but occasionally my mum used to buy me and my brother souvlaki for lunch, a sort of Greek sandwich with pitta bread. Inside it has pork, tomato, red onion and lots of thick yoghurt.
Interviewer So did you always want to be a chef, to have your own restaurant?
Marianna No, not at all. I wanted to be a
psychologist, and when I was 18 I came to the UK to study at Kent University. Then I decided I didn’t want to be a psychologist after all and I went travelling for a bit – I’d saved some money at university because I worked in the evenings.
- went all around southern Europe and also to South America, to Ecuador, I tried all sorts of different dishes and fell in love with food again, so I went back to Crete and worked in our family restaurant for two years.
Interviewer Why did you come back to the UK?
Marianna Well I wanted to continue working as a chef, but I needed a bigger challenge. And when I was a student in the UK and I missed good food, I used to save money and go to London to have dinner in the restaurant called Moro. It wasn’t Greek food, but it was Mediterranean, Spanish and North African, and I loved it. So
when I came back to London I went to Moro and I said ‘I want a job’ – and they gave me one. Interviewer And what happened then?
Marianna Well, really slowly, through hard work, and after seven years, I became head chef. It was magic. And then the owners of Moro, Samantha and Samuel Clark, suggested that I help them open Morito.
Interviewer How is Morito different from Moro? Marianna It’s the same inspiration, and many of the dishes are similar, but because I run the kitchen I have been able to have more Cretan dishes on the menu, dishes from my childhood. This week, for example, I’m making ntakos, a Cretan salad made with fresh goat’s cheese, tomato and bread. Interviewer Do you go back to Crete much? Marianna Yes, I go to Crete maybe four or five times a year. My family’s restaurant is closed now, but I go out for lunch with my friends, the people I miss when I’m in London. Food comes, and we share everything. We always order too much, and by the end of it we feel incredibly full. Interviewer Well, Marianna it’s been great chatting to you, and thanks for coming in.
Marianna Thank you very much for having me.